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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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  • the hard part (Score:5, Interesting)

    by samjam ( 256347 ) on Monday May 14, 2012 @11:47AM (#39996225) Homepage Journal

    The hard part was finding an experiment where they could use the phrase "offload some of that workload to a computer" without a needing cogitative brain interface for the experiment.

  • Sounds useless to me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:44PM (#39996993) Journal
    Sounds useless and contrived to me. It detects high "brain cpu" load for a specific task and then takes over controlling the robots. The computer might as well take over most control of the robots in the first place, since it HAS ALREADY BEEN PROGRAMMED to be able to do that!

    If you really want computers to augment humans,
    once you have a wearable computer+sensors that are sufficiently advanced you can have them do the following:
    1) Continuous video+audio recording in high res of past X minutes, and low res for longer periods. This way you don't have to miss stuff - you can tell the computer to switch to high res till further notice (the past X minutes would already be in high res) and then save it. Eidetic memory for the masses!
    2) Continuous background image recognition (look for faces or objects - military version = gun muzzle detection, vehicle detection, anti-camouflage )
    3) Continuous background audio recognition (voice etc[1]).
    4) GPS+ map + compass direction feedback.
    5) Work with "area/location computers" (so that you can more easily control/access location specific stuff - lights, jukebox, climate control, menus, ordering systems).
    6) Many more stuff - see below too.

    If brain computer interfaces become safe, reliable and good, you could use stuff like "thought macros". For example a fancy computer program would let me link certain thought patterns with certain actions or objects.

    That way I can do: [start command][recall object]<some thought pattern>[go][end]. And then the computer recalls the relevant object which could be a video, photo, sound, file or whatever.

    I can also do [start command][recall previous][go][send to]<thought pattern of friend>[go][end]. Or get the computer to help calculate stuff, search databases. Or even do "rain man" counting (you could get the computer to highlight/mark the objects it is counting so that you can countercheck that it is counting correctly - humans are OK at detecting if something should be highlighted by the computer and isn't - counting large numbers of stuff fast isn't our forte ).

    Thought patterns in square brackets are commands. Though patterns in angle brackets are various thought patterns you choose to associate with a person or item.

    Someone smart can probably work out the details and improve on the idea - I hope someone does soon - I'm getting old waiting for the future to arrive. Put it all together you'd have humans with eidetic memory, telepathy, telekinesis, and other super/magical powers. The technology is already mostly there - we've already got some sort of telepathy with mobile phones etc. Heck in the 1990s I was hoping wearable computing would take off and we'd already have this "magic" by now.

    The main hindrance to progress I see would be copyright and patent law. You'd be crippled by DRM and you wouldn't be able to walk into a cinema without all that stuff being forced off.

    [1]Military versions could also do sniper location assistance from "crack-thump", possibly more accurate if sharing data from teammates - assuming all clocks are high res and synchronized - and teammate positions are known accurately (could be possible with UWB).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:53PM (#39997093)

    I think it got twisted to "we only use 10% of our brains" when the original probably was "we only know the function of 10% of a human brain, we don't know what the rest does". And we're seeing the repeat of the same phenomenon with the DNA fragments that we don't understand yet.

    Even NDT succumbed to this notion when he asked Dawkins, [something along the lines] "If human and chimp DNA differ by only 1.5%, imagine how much advances we can make if we improved by another 1.5% in same direction". Dawkins responded, a lot the other 98.5% is core stuff that you can't discard. There's a youtube vid of the entire talk.

  • by bd580slashdot ( 1948328 ) on Monday May 14, 2012 @02:01PM (#39997915)

    Our pattern recognition abilities are still better than computers, although the gap is closing. Much of our pattern recognition capabilities are not conscious but can be utilized anyway.

    I think most people mean the 90% we "don't use" is part of our mind that is not conscious. That's pretty accurate in a way.

    There's a good BBC Horizon episode called "Out of
    Control" How Big is the Unconscious Mind? It gives some awesome examples of harnessing the power of our unconscious mind.

    One intriguing example is using a person wired up to measure brain response to identify objects of interest to the military in satelite imagery. These are very high resolution images and take a long time to analyze using normal means. But you can use the pattern recognition powers of the unconscious mind to speed up the process without compromising accuracy. One image is cut up into many smaller images and these are then shown in rapid sucession to the analyst. Some images trigger neural patterns which are associated with interest, object recognition and so on. These images are then set aside and further analyzed using traditional methods including brute force human scanning of the images. Accuracy stays good and output is increased.

    Cool huh?

    Horizon magnet link:

    and torrent: []

    Oh yeh ... a weird thing about breathing is that it's the only autonomic function that is fully wired with somatic nervous control too. Our breath works unconsciously but unlike other autonomic functions like heartbeat and so on it can be consciously controlled without lots of practice. This can be used to practicle advantage. By using the breath as an object of attention during meditation and by consciously controlling our breathing we can help to reprogram the autonomic functions of our bodies. This happens because both sets of nerves are firing together (the somatic and the autonomic) so the autonomic system is trained too.

Lo! Men have become the tool of their tools. -- Henry David Thoreau