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Hardware Science

"Brainput" Boosts Your Brain Power By Offloading Multitasking To a Computer 121

MrSeb writes "A group of American researchers from MIT, Indiana University, and Tufts University, led by Erin Treacy Solovey, have developed Brainput — a system that can detect when your brain is trying to multitask, and offload some of that workload to a computer. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which is basically a portable, poor man's version of fMRI, Brainput measures the activity of your brain. This data is analyzed, and if Brainput detects that you're multitasking, the software kicks in and helps you out. In the case of the Brainput research paper (PDF), Solovey and her team set up a maze with two remotely controlled robots. The operator, equipped with fNIRS headgear, has to navigate both robots through the maze simultaneously, constantly switching back and forth between them. When Brainput detects that the driver is multitasking, it tells the robots to use their own sensors to help with navigation. Overall, with Brainput turned on, operator performance improved — and yet they didn't generally notice that the robots were partially autonomous. Moving forward, Solovey wants to investigate other cognitive states that can be reliably detected using fNIRS. Imagine a computer that increases the size of buttons and text when you're tired, or a video game that slows down when you're stressed. Your Xbox might detect that you're in the mood for fighting games, and change its splash screen accordingly. Eventually, computer interfaces might completely remold themselves to your mental state."
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"Brainput" Boosts Your Brain Power By Offloading Multitasking To a Computer

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  • by characterZer0 ( 138196 ) on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:48PM (#39996239)

    the ~90% which is unused

    Citation needed.

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:55PM (#39996351)

    Considering how much more capable even an average person's brain is than any computer we can build today, this is a bit silly.

    The average person is also "more capable" than a tanker truck, but I know which one I'd prefer if I needed to move 5,000 gallons of liquid across the state.

    Enhancing the brain by waking some of the ~90% which is unused would almost certainly yield more practical results.

    Which 90% would that be?

    Consider the numerous, very complicated instructions the brain is able to run just to walk, ride a bike, or breathe. If we can gain conscious control over that kind of functionality, we'd be formidable.

    If you gained conscious control over that particular functionality, you'd probably die in short order. Especially if you were trying to multitask.

    There are a lot of things that the brain does very well. There are a lot of things the brain presently does better than any computer -- but that list is getting shorter every day. More to the point, computer capabilities are improving much faster than human capabilities. TFA suggests one way to take advantage of this.

  • by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Monday May 14, 2012 @01:10PM (#39996533)

    Not to pick nits, but offloading functions to a computer does nothing to boost brain power. Brain power remains constant in this scenario. However, the productivity and ability of the individual is enhanced, but technology has always done that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 14, 2012 @01:24PM (#39996723)

    But somebody proved that your brain actually overclocks when you are in a stressful situation. They took a LED display, had it flicker between two states at 30Hz. Normally, these would be indistinguishable to anyone in relaxed situations. Then they had the volunteers experience a sudden shock (sliding down one of those fairground attractions. If time really slowed down, the volunteers would be able to read the LED display.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"