Microsoft applies for brain scanner patent

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

The New Scientist and Ars Technica, among others, offer details of Microsoft Corp.'s latest patent application: a process to read the brain functions of computer users.

The purpose behind the application, filed at the US Patent & Trademark Office, is to build a better user interface. As Microsoft says in its patent application, evaluating the way people interact with computers is difficult to assess given that "human beings are often poor reporters of their own actions."
As the application explains:

"Asking a user questions after a task is performed may result in losing information because the user is likely to forget details about the task and his or her reactions to a user interface. An alternative approach, asking a user questions while the user is performing a task, is likely to distract the user from the task and the user interface. In either approach, the verbal information a user provides may not be accurate."

Microsoft's proposed patent covers a method of filtering the electroencephalograms (EEGs) that are used to record signals to the brain. These signals could potentially give the company more accurate information of how performing certain actions on the desktop affects the user cognitively. Here's some background on the technology, from a paper co-written by a Microsoft researcher.

Microsoft isn't the only company experimenting with interfaces that attempt to read our minds. Earlier this year Hitachi unveiled a "brain-machine" interface, which allowed users to operate a remote control train by performing simple calculations using the frontal cortex region of the brain.

Feel free to insert your Windows Vista jokes here.