Whenever Microsoft makes the news, it's generally for upgrading or revising something it already markets or because the company is ready to release it. But this week, Microsoft is definitely in the emerging technology headlines, allegedly for wanting to "read your mind."
The reality is a bit more mundane, though still pretty off-putting if you're at all concerned about privacy and your brain.
Redmond filed a patent this week for the system, which would monitor, record and analyze your brain activity while you're using your PC. One assumes there won't be a Linux distribution.
The goal is to study how we interact with our computers, and use that information to design a better computer interface. Why not just ask us what we're experiencing, you may wonder. New Scientist Tech's blog includes this quote from Microsoft -- without specific attribution -- as to why:
Human beings are often poor reporters of their own actions.
Just gives you warm fuzzies, doesn't it?
Now, for my money, I'd think that my brain on PC wouldn't be a pretty picture. You know that scrunched-up face people make when they bite into a lemon? I think that's exactly what my EEG looks like every time I'm working on my PC.
This has been widely labeled -- only somewhat tongue-in-cheekly -- as an attempt at "mind-reading" in several blogs and news reports. Obviously, they're not reading your thoughts with an EEG. But they're definitely stepping over a line and into our virtual personal space.
On Microsoft's site, you can find a page about the research team that works in this area, including photos, an explanation of their work, graphs and pictures. The team includes the inventors, Johnny Lee and Desney Tan. Here's what it says:
We believe that the full potential of brain sensing as an input mechanism lies in the extremely rich information it could potentially provide about the state of the user. Having access to this state is valuable to HCI researchers because it may allow us to derive more direct measures of traditionally elusive phenomena such as task engagement, cognitive workload, surprise, satisfaction or frustration. These measures could open new avenues for evaluating systems and interfaces. Additionally, knowing the state of the user as well as the tasks they are performing may provide key information that would allow us to design context sensitive systems that dynamically adapt themselves to optimally support the user's current state and goals.
Again with the warm fuzzies.
That said, in theory this could be a wonderful breakthrough for those unable to use traditional computer interfaces.
The New Scientist blog includes a picture of the design. You can also see the picture and read the full patent application online