Brain-Scanning Software Blocks Your Notifications While You’re Busy

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Photo credit: CDC/ Amanda Mills acquired from Public Health Image Library via freestockphotos.biz

By Alexandra Ossola

In the time between when you start and finish reading this article, you might check various social media notifications, gaze at your texts, maybe read another few paragraphs of that article on potatoes you meant to read last night. You might think you’re multitasking when you do that, but your brain is actually just switching quickly between tasks, and that means that you’re probably doing all of them pretty poorly. Now computer scientists from Tufts University are developing a system that detects your brain waves and, if your mind is busy, the software can quiet the frenetic beeping of your devices so you can actually concentrate, according to the New Scientist.

The project is called “Phylter” and it uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIS), a measurement of how the blood flows in the brain. It works by attaching a monitor to the user’s forehead with a band, which shoots beams of light into the brain. The data gathered by this process is parsed with an algorithm, which tailors the device to each specific user. That way the system knows, based on the fNIS activity, if you are hard at work or simply staring into space.

In a study reported by the New Scientist, the researchers connected Phylter to Google Glass and had participants play a video game. Then they were bombarded with notifications; when they decided whether or not to take them, they taught the algorithm what was important enough to ping the players, and what could wait for later.


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6 COMMENTS

  1. “In the time between when you start and finish reading this article, you might check various social media notifications, gaze at your texts, maybe read another few paragraphs of that article on potatoes you meant to read last night.”

    I found this first sentence of the article somewhat disturbing. Is the average person nowadays really such a scatterbrain?

  2. I found this first sentence of the article somewhat disturbing.

    Your are right Cairsley. I concur. I wonder if it’s possible to compare the attention span of today with the attention span of yesterday. Maybe the rate of success with the Standford University marshmallow test has change over time. Can the people of today, spend long enough reading an in-depth article on an important topic that they can gain enough knowledge to come to an informed position. Or do they just parrot the 15 second news grab and follow the 24 hour news cycle.

  3. David R Allen:
    “. . . Or do they just parrot the 15 second news grab and follow the 24 hour news cycle.”

    Thanks, David. That worries me too.

    The research that the article describes is interesting, but I have learnt to distrust journalists writing about science. The ability to measure bloodflows in the brain to determine how busy in thought one is is, no doubt, very clever and may have useful applications. But, seriously, do we need such clever scanners to quieten our many attention-grabbing devices while we are busy with something, when all we ever needed to do was to turn the bloody things off until we want to pay them heed? The picture at the head of the article illustrates my point most aptly. It is not for nothing that what the young woman is doing there (driving a car and using a cellphone) is illegal where I live. That cellphone should have been turned off before she started the car.

  4. That cellphone should have been turned off before she started the car.

    Who in their right mind expects a car to drive itself?….(hint: stay tuned to this channel)

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