Microsoft Files Patent on Brain Wave Monitoring System

Loraine Lawson

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


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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 24, 2008 11:27 AM Prosenjit Adhya Prosenjit Adhya  says:
Dear Editor, I feel this information could be one of the prime achievements in terms of technology. But, again is the computer being a machine could be efficient to measure the cognitive workload? This is a million dollar question as the brain is most complex CPU existing so far and trillions of impulses are sent across various nodes at nodal points and intersections. The slighest sensation in terms of reacting to a particular situation, could that be measured?A person could be surfing the Net, checking mails and at the same time could be working on a particular assignment like writing a software program so it could be in a span of 60 seconds he could be multitasking various things rather defined as events. This subject is interesting and I am interested to know more about it. RegardsProsenjit Adhya Reply
Jan 19, 2009 7:45 PM bill Rose bill Rose  says:
HI...To keep the history straight....In 1982 I invented a brainwave to speech computer system. seewww.lulu.com william h rose My system could put a word I was thinking on the crt and turn on a printer and print the word. (a printer is a robotic device) I copyrighted 3 books on the subject and sold many. The book clearly states that you can build one system from the information provided for personal use but if you went commercial with the idea you needed to contact me for a license.Microsoft never contacted me nor have any of the other companies now selling brain wave systems. Wonder what i can do about that?Nevertheless I am the Father of this technology proving that the BETA range of brain waves can be used to do work and that contact electrodes can be used instead of invasive ones. I have also authored the book Electronic Speech for intelligent canines and it is available for $19.95 and teaches how to build one system for personal use. thanks Bill Rose engineering electronic tech Reply
Jan 19, 2009 7:49 PM bill Rose bill Rose  says:
p.s. I am willing to sell all rights and intellectual properties and have offered them to Microsoft with no reply.Bill Rose Reply

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