Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Future computers – mind reading instead of touchscreens

While Intel is still concentrating on making chips that'll continue to push the performance limits of our desktops and laptops, there are researchers at the chip company looking at the next step ahead – reading our minds. New technology could allow people to dictate letters and search the internet simply by thinking, according to researchers at Intel who are behind the project. Technology for toughts “identification” currently exists as Functional MRI or functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)[youtube], but Intel wants to make this ability more sophisticated and also practical for personal use by developing the portable mind-reading gadgets.



Thought controlled devices are pretty primitive at this point. The idea here is that the activity generated in the average person by individual words can be mapped and stored in a database which later would be used in the thought controlled interface. So far, results have been promising - an early prototype can differentiate between words like screwdriver, house, and barn, by using a magnetic resonance scanner that measures approximately 20,000 points in the brain. “In tests, it guessed with 90 percent accuracy which of two words a person was thinking about”, said Intel Labs researcher Dean Pomerleau. It seems that anything more effective than this, such as dictating letters or searching Google with our minds alone, has to wait for years in the future.

Dean Pomerleau, a senior researcher at Intel Laboratories, is part of a team developing a computer that's able to 'read' the human brain of what word it is thinking about.
"The computer uses a form of 20 questions to narrow down what the word is", Pomerleau explained to the Telegraph. "So a noun with a physical property such as spade, which you dig with, produces activity in the motor cortex of the brain, as this is the area that controls physical movements. A food related word like apple, however, produces activity in those parts of the brain related to hunger. So the computer can infer attributes to each word being thought about and this lets the computer zero down on what the word is pretty quickly."

While we're still lusting after the best laser mice and mechanical keyboards, Intel's CTO Justin Ratner said, "Mind reading is the ultimate user interface. There will be concerns about privacy with this sort of thing and we will have to overcome them. What is clear though is that humans are not restricted any more to just using keyboards and mice."

Pomerleau says the aim of the research - a joint project for Intel, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University - is to develop a portable mind-reading gadget. "Imagine if you could think of a query, look it up on Google and have the answer without going to a computer," he says.


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