Computers that understand us – wouldn’t this be the invention of the century?! Scientists from Tufts University are currently trying to put together a type of technology whereby computers can determine when we are tired and give us a brain boost as required. They would also eventually be able to provide for tailor-made experiences based on our individual stress levels.
The technology that would equip such computers would determine whether the brain is working hard or not. One form thereof has been used in a Google Glass app that halts notifications when finding that the brain is already busy. It does so with the help of the technique known as functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS): sensors are placed on the skull to emit a red light into the skull. Thus, the number of blood vessels in the brain can be calculated, and eventually oxygen concentrations which indicate high brain activity when in larger amounts and low activity when in smaller amounts.
The researchers would use a process known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) which works by pushing electric current (one milliamp) into the brain via electrodes. This has been used for treatment purposes and could potentially assist us in connecting with our device.
“We want to just crank [brain activity] up for a minute or two and then crank it down,” says lead author of the research, Rob Jacob in a statement to New Scientist. “We’re looking for this very fine-grained control… We’re looking to measure you with fNIRS and, based on what we measure, slowly tweak this. It’s a sort of two-way communication with the brain.”
Neuronal activity would be boosted in test situations entailing piloting a group of virtual drones. When the system notices decreased concentration from the user, it will boost neuron activity.
The tDCS results have, however, been inconsistent, and other research works put forward the concept that the technology might not work for some people. So, even if the system will be cheap to make, it will have to be meticulously calibrated to fit the needs of each individual – this, in itself, is a great obstacle to get past. Therefore, before our gadgets can interact with us, we will have to wait a considerable amount of time before the researchers figure it out.