Brain-scanning headset reads your mind to ease information overload

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 21, 2013 09:00 hrs

A headset that reads your mind to gauge your concentration could some day ease information overload in stressful jobs like air-traffic control, according to researchers.

Evan Peck and his colleagues at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, are building a system that will give computers the ability to directly monitor your brain as you work, responding to your needs in real time.

In other words, it will act as a filter, letting through information when you want it while keeping the rest at bay, according to the New Scientist.

The system consists of a headset that beams infrared light from emitters on a user's forehead into their prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with planning and decision-making. Some of the light is absorbed by oxygenated haemoglobin, some by the deoxygenated version of the molecule, and some is reflected back out.

By measuring the amount of light reaching receivers on the forehead, the system can tell when a user is concentrating intently or not mentally engaged.

Then matching the readings to what a user is looking at on a screen, the system is able to determine what is useful info and what is getting in the way.

The technique, known as functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), is a crude brain imager compared with its better-known cousin, fMRI.

Peck and his team believe that they can glean enough information from their fNIRS rig to turn computers into mind readers.

For Peck, the next step is to build a brain interface that can handle more complex interactions, like filtering emails and the other rivers of information that threaten to overwhelm the modern worker on a daily basis.

Their work will be presented next month at the Augmented Human conference in Stuttgart, Germany. (ANI)

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