The days of staring intently at the computer screen pretending to be interested in an assignment even though you are bored out of your mind may soon be coming to an end. That's because if Dr. Harry Witchel, Discipline Leader in Physiology at England's Brighton and Sussex Medical School has his way, computers of the future will be able to detect boredom and even react to it real-time.
But before you get concerned, the machine is not reading your mind. It is just keeping track of the constant involuntary movements that people exhibit when in front of a computer or even a television. These are not the bigger instrumental actions like moving a mouse or using the remote, but subtle barely noticeable movements like scratching, fidgeting, or stretching. Witchel says the level of movement is directly proportional to how absorbed the person is in what he/she is reading or watching — The higher the interest level, the lesser the movement!
To test the theory Witchel and his team invited 27 people and exposed them to a variety of digital content for three minutes at a time. The activities ranged from playing online games to reading documents like the EU banking regulations that most people would find boring.
A video motion tracker monitored their movements as they powered through each assignment. Just as the researchers had suspected, the involuntary actions decreased dramatically, by as much as 42%, when the subjects were totally absorbed in what they were reading or seeing.
Fortunately, the scientists are not planning to use the findings that were published in the online Journal Frontiers in Psychology on February 23, to create machines that report students who are not focusing at school. Instead, they believe that incorporating the motion detecting technology into future computers will help enhance the digital learning experience.
The scientists say that being able to gauge the student's interest level, will enable educators to adjust the materials real-time and re-engage the student. Witchel also believes that the technology can provide filmmakers with honest audience opinions and in the future, also be used in developing more empathetic companion robots.
Resources: huffingtonpost.com, bsms.ac.uk, sciencedaily.com