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Microsoft Science

Microsoft Wants To Read Your Brain 162

Simon Night writes "Microsoft has entered the realm of brain machine interfaces, attempting to patent a method of classifying brain states from EEG input. 'Human beings are often poor reporters of their own actions,' the patent application notes, so reading directly from your brain is a preferred option."
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Microsoft Wants To Read Your Brain

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I mean, no ones gonna read your eyes!
  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Monday October 15, 2007 @03:54PM (#20986617) Homepage Journal
    I've spent a fair amount of time looking at this problem (as have others with certain agencies who have invested not insignificant amounts of money) and I can tell you that this is pretty much up in the night kinda speculation. Technical issues of obtaining clean EEG signals in a convenient manner aside, the origins of techniques like this to classify comes from the epilepsy literature, where folks attempt to classify interictal seizure spikes, but also from the sleep and awareness literature (both of which have been reasonably successful, yet are still lacking optimal tools). Granted, there are rather dramatic global state changes that occur with different states of consciousness, but this application focuses principally on the awake EEG. Specifically they quote the P300 signal which the FBI and CIA are using (trying to use) for lie detection, but the problem here is that the P300 is only an evoked potential that simply tells you whether or not someone recognizes an input (audio, visual, tactile etc...). So all questions or inputs into the system have to be crafted to understand that one is looking for an evoked potential with no necessary context in place to explain that evoked potential.

    So, this is not mind reading per se nor is it a means to break cognitive processing into temporal windows to determine intent in any of those potential epochs. At its very basic fundamentals this is simply a rehash of signal detection theory doing simple Fourier analysis to "classify" brain waves. But the thing here is that there is no science behind using these signals to interpret what one is thinking even with the invocation of Bayesian networks. There are a number of other more promising methods for classifying data that have been in the literature and commonly used by a number of other disciplines that I am surprised have not made it into the EEG literature yet.

    In short.... in my assessment, this is a patent proposal without much in the way of novelty or benefit to the problem at hand.

    • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @04:09PM (#20986901) Journal
      I liked their use of that highly technical term: "too squiggly".

      But the thing here is that there is no science behind using these signals to interpret what one is thinking even with the invocation of Bayesian networks.

      It sounds like they were using this method to optimize the complexity of interfaces depending on the user's level of "confusion". (E.g., when the user is in a state of panic, the graph wizard in Excel could offer three or four styles of graph, instead of 12. One of the Linux makers with Microsoft patent licensing could adapt it to look at such a user and decide "Y'know, you probably don't need the GIMP...") I doubt they've tried anything as ambitious as knowing what the user is thinking.

      • by BWJones ( 18351 ) *
        I liked their use of that highly technical term: "too squiggly".

        Yeah, like uncorrelated noise of artifact are too technical details for the Patent Office.

        It sounds like they were using this method to optimize the complexity of interfaces depending on the user's level of "confusion". (E.g., when the user is in a state of panic, the graph wizard in Excel could offer three or four styles of graph, instead of 12. One of the Linux makers with Microsoft patent licensing could adapt it to look at such a user and d
        • ...and this is some sort of effort to patent what essentially amounts to nonsense.
          And this why Patent applicants should be required to have a working demonstration available at request (at least until the Patent is approved).
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        TFA is pretty misleading (though not as bad as the summary). This "mind-reading" would apparently take place at the design stage. Ars's coverage [arstechnica.com] is a little more level-headed.
      • by s4m7 ( 519684 )

        I doubt they've tried anything as ambitious as knowing what their users are thinking.
        Fixed that for ya. But don't forget old "it looks like you're trying to..." Clippy.

        Honestly I'd be happy if they could just get straight knowing what's on my filesystem.

        • It's bad enough when the grammar nazis kick in, now we got the thought police, fixing other peoples comments.

          Is there some subtle meaning I'm missing in the fixed sentence? I think it would be obvious that they are talking about 'their' users.

          ----------

          Reminds me of this conversation...

          Q: How do ya get to Pismo Beach?
          A: From here?
          R: No from somewhere else, ya moron!
          • by s4m7 ( 519684 )
            It was supposed to be a stab at microsoft for not listening to their customers in the first place. I guess changing tense didn't really make that clear, sorry.
      • by davburns ( 49244 )

        So... if the user is confused because they cannot find the graph their looking for, hide it from them! But when their tech support comes to calmly help the poor user, they just step them through finding the graphs... and there it is. The user feels silly/stupid, and tech support gets more and more calls.

        Is this really what Microsoft is trying to do? We accuse them of all kinds of evil, but this seems more outlandish than normal.

        • Welcome to XBox720! Now with Enhanced Brain Analysis Game Play! Please put the MS Brain Sensor Headband (tm) on. Now plug it in to the XBox720. No, not in THAT plug - that's the 120 volt AC auxilary power outl...ooops. Hello? Hello? Oh oh. (boss, can I blame this on Clippy?)

          Ballmer: "Another happy though silent Microsoft customer! YEEEEEEHAHHHHH!" (dances)

        • by Otter ( 3800 )
          Is this really what Microsoft is trying to do? We accuse them of all kinds of evil, but this seems more outlandish than normal.

          Ummm, that's an example I made up. If you're going to get so angry over it, at least blame me, not Microsoft.

          • by davburns ( 49244 )

            Is this really what Microsoft is trying to do? We accuse them of all kinds of evil, but this seems more outlandish than normal.

            Ummm, that's an example I made up. If you're going to get so angry over it, at least blame me, not Microsoft.

            I understand that you made up the example of the graphs. But... what else do you use it for? Maybe you could figure out that "now" is not the right time to remind the user about rebooting so updates will take effect. Maybe change the background color to something more soothing? Any change to the UI beyond that will probably cause users more stress.

      • Or, they could be looking for some kind of evoked potential similar to the "Q"-meter response to tell what ads are really getting through!
      • One of the Linux makers with Microsoft patent licensing could adapt it to look at such a user and decide "Y'know, you probably don't need the GIMP

        Interesting astroturf.

        I haven't seen that one before. Is it going to be part of a campaign

    • and I can tell you that this is pretty much up in the night kinda speculation.

      Well, so is an operating system and applications that don't crash, and intuitive user interfaces, and that doesn't stop companies from claiming success in those domains either.
    • Precision (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DrYak ( 748999 )
      One must keep into account that :
      - EEG only records surface activity (you only "see" what's visible on the "outside". Deep structures that also play important roles in the way the brain works, mostly by working as filters and first step analysis are not visible on the EEG)
      - No matter how much different tracks you analyse, what you read is an overall tendency (you only "see" blurred image. You can get very high resolution, but it's still a high resolution of a blurred out-of-focus image).

      The only advantage o
  • . . . run down the back of my spine.
    • by MoonFog ( 586818 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @03:59PM (#20986717)
      No no no, that was a sense of joy and happiness

      Yours truly, Microsoft.

      'Human beings are often poor reporters of their own actions,'
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )
        You would think after all the /. postings M$ would be able to guess what their users are thinking.

        BSOD - a!@e h#$e, s%^m s^%&*(g, f^%&*(g c)%k s^%&}!s.

        Random reboot - a!@e h#$e, s%^m s^%&*(g, f^%&*(g c)%k s^%&}!s.

        Product Activation - a!@e h#$e, s%^m s^%&*(g, f^%&*(g c)%k s^%&}!s

        WGA - a!@e h#$e, s%^m s^%&*(g, f^%&*(g c)%k s^%&}!s.

        Vista (FU)DRM - a!@e h#$e, s%^m s^%&*(g, f^%&*(g c)%k s^%&}!s.

        M$ EULA - a!@e h#$e, s%^m s^%&*(g, f^%&

    • Hum...your reader must not be calibrated properly. Normally they prevent you from preserving them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by apt142 ( 574425 )
      That's just the power cord. You'll get used to it.
    • Don't worry, thet's just because the technology is in its arly stages.
      They'll fix that once they figure out how to write and execute.
  • I for one... (Score:1, Informative)

    by the0 ( 1035328 )
    Welcome that. They are welcome to read my mind, just so they will know HOW MUCH VISTA SUCKS ASS.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      > Welcome that. They are welcome to read my mind, just so they will know HOW MUCH VISTA SUCKS ASS.

      Can you read my mind now, Bill? BECAUSE I'M THINKING IT AS HARD AS I CAN!

  • At least at time of writting :) Reading brains? Do they really need that to tell that their GUI just pissed you off. Wouldn't throwing a "Windows.Keyboard.Bashed" event work just as well?
    • AWESOME!!! Use the hdd's shock detection mechanism to determine when someone is banging on the desk!

      "Would you prefer us to reinstall linux?" LOL
  • by dottyslashdottydot ( 1008859 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @03:56PM (#20986651)
    ...where the Bill-Gates-as-Borg icon truly applies.
  • by realdodgeman ( 1113225 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @03:56PM (#20986653) Homepage
    "'Human beings are often poor reporters of their own actions,' the patent application notes, so reading directly from your brain is a preferred option." Translated: Humans are often trying to keep personal secrets from us, so stealing it all directly from your brain is a preferred option.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It would be interesting if they would be liable if there was a bug that left the system easy to hack. I mean your wife finding out your thoughts about her friend, are can't wait for our date this Friday, probably wouldn't go over too well. And the user could agrue they made personal information available that they didn't wish to disclose. Damages: ~50% of life time salary, ouch.
    • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @04:24PM (#20987147)
      What it doesn't say is that humans are also great at altering their own memories -- false memories -- I have experienced this myself where, say I remember someone like a Highschool friend doing something at my 18th birthday party and then when I view the tape and he wasn't even there!

      I don't know about others, but I certainly don't put a lot of stock in human memory past a certain point. It's like an analog signal and everytime we re-remember something, we write a new record down that may introduce random errors (perhaps associations) that shouldn't be there.
      • by Kelson ( 129150 ) *

        I don't know about others, but I certainly don't put a lot of stock in human memory past a certain point. It's like an analog signal and everytime we re-remember something, we write a new record down that may introduce random errors (perhaps associations) that shouldn't be there.

        I tend to look at it in terms of fractal compression. Instead of storing exactly what happened as data, you store an algorithm that approximates it. Then when you think back and remember the event, your brain reconstructs it fro

      • You are right, and in fact if the study about planting false memories about a Disneyland visit isn't a classic yet, it will be.

        For those who don't know this one, the researchers exposed test subjects to an ad about Disneyland describing warm fuzzy childhood memories about being hugged by the Bugs Bunny character (well, someone dressed in the costume). Later, they found that as many as 1 in 3 people ended up remembering the event as actually happening to them, rather than just something they read in the ad.
    • Well, one positive outcome would be if they use it in testing of new products.

      Allow this action? Yes
      Allow this action? Yes
      Allow this action? Yes
      Technician: Sir, the test-subject's EEG is spiking Allow this action? Grrr, yes
      Allow this action? Yes, damnit!
      Technician: He's red-lining sir! Cerebral reading critical
      Manager: Wow, so customer's really aren't happy with that feature. OK, scrap it and throw in some more eye-candy and perhaps a fluffy kitten or two
      Technician: Yes, sir!
    • Not necessarily. I've often clicked the wrong button/used the wrong command and thought to myself "Why couldn't the computer have known that I really meant to hit the button just to the left of that?" Of course it's nearly impossible, and probably won't be done this decade, but I would certainly like such a system, provided I could control the information flow.
    • Humans are often trying to keep personal secrets from us, so stealing it all directly from your brain is a preferred option.

      Just wait till the RIAA hear about this...
  • Report this
    format c: /fs:fat32 /v:nocrap
    Seriously the only thing that happens when Microsoft products try to guess what you are thinking is annoyance.
    • Seriously the only thing that happens when Microsoft products try to guess what you are thinking is annoyance.

      No, no, you don't understand the concept here. What you are reporting as "annoyance" is, in fact, a state of enlightened bliss. Our EEG says so. It also says you love Vista, and have a desire to be abase yourself before the Supreme Overlord, Bill Gates.

  • by StarfishOne ( 756076 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @03:58PM (#20986699)
    "It looks like you're writing a letter. Would you like help?"
  • Can you imagine trying to update the firmware? (With Microsoft's update) Update fails... 'User is now a mad.. oohhh so madddd......' RAWRRRRR HULK SMASH !
  • As soon as they read my mind to find out exactly what I think about their company.
  • I'm all for direct my brain/Microsoft linkage. If installed on my work computer it could drastically reduce the delay between using Microsoft products and relaying the resulting anger/discomfort to Microsoft... Which will then continue to be ignored. Lovely.
  • Prior Art? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hostguy2004 ( 818334 )
    I didn't see any "references" in the application. There is numerous patents relating to EEG technology. I work with Quantitative EEG technology as part of my day job. There is definitely prior art for "de-artifacting" EEG data.
    • Do I count as prior art?
      From the patent...

      11. The method of claim 9, wherein individuals are neurologically healthy individuals.
      12. The method of claim 11, wherein the neurologically healthy individuals are users in tests to evaluate user interfaces.
      OK neurologically healthy can be argued in my specific case. This claim appears to be patenting just being a healthy person? I think there is plenty of prior art on #12 - just about ANY focus group?
  • Knew this seemed familiar [slashdot.org] This is a whole can of worms I don't want Microsoft in. As we've all pointed out, that we don't want ANYONE in. As soon as someone finds a generally good idea(tm) someone has to come around and make it worse...
  • I really question if Microsoft would like to know what I REALLY think about them... :-)
  • Microsoft always knows better than the user! Hence installing patches which Microsoft knows are important but the user might have decided not to install, or telling you to reboot when you don't need to, or throttling your net connection when you play an mp3, making paperclips compulsory because those pesky users might want to turn off this useful feature, disabling software which the stupid user installed because windows knows it's a pirate copy, etc etc ;-)

    Prediction: Microsoft patent to tell them what t
  • Time to put on that tin foil hat! Who is laughing now!?
  • I mean, any attempt at humor just detracts from the unintentional comedy laid at our feet.

    -John Mark
  • reminds me of this [assetbar.com] delightful comic courtesy of Achewood [achewood.com].

    -WFL
  • ... though probably more down to earth.

    Berlin Brain-Computer Interface [fraunhofer.de]

    Quote: "For several years, research groups in Europe and the USA have been working on systems which allow for a direct dialog between man and machine. To this end, a "Brain Computer Interface" (BCI) has been developed. Cerebral electric activity is recorded via the electroencephalogram (EEG): electrodes, attached to the scalp, measure the electric signals of the brain. These signals are amplified and transmitted to the computer, whi
  • Ass-IMMOlated.

    Don't know about YOU, but I don't want mshaft plugged into MY ass.

    Let's see them try it on their EMPLOYEES first. Not even on criminals, but on THEIR employees, then politicians...

    Instead of wasting money on this, maybe we could use more programs for endangered/at-risk youth, young adults, and the homeless who WANT to work, go to school or be sheltered.
  • But then again, perhaps they'll finally figure out why I'm so frustrated with Windows. Nah, that'll never happen.
  • Oh god no! (Score:4, Funny)

    by CFBMoo1 ( 157453 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @04:10PM (#20986933) Homepage
    *Tink tink tink!*

    GET OUT OF MY HEAD YOU ROTTEN PAPER CLIP!

    *Tink tink tink!*

    ARGHH!!! It's in my head! Aarrggghhh!

    *Tink tink tink!*
  • Microsoft-think (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <(spydermann.slashdot) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday October 15, 2007 @04:10PM (#20986935) Homepage Journal
    Human beings are often poor reporters of their own actions

    I find it very interesting that this reflects Microsoft's thinking. "You say no to this update, when you really mean yes", "You don't know what's best for you", "You don't need that feature, trust us".

    What is creepier is that this patent application will grant Microsoft the exclusive right to read your brain... at least in the way the patent describes.
    • Take it to the next obvious level.

      With their sensor, they can decide when you need a jolt, either good/bad.

      With Microsoft Biological Advantage, you now know why you suddenly feel like ...

      OW!!! WHAT THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS WAS THAT?

      I mean, Now you can Enjoy Microsoft Every Day.
    • by Kelson ( 129150 ) *
      Actually, it's fairly standard for any sort of behavioral study. People forget things, people don't notice things, people do things without thinking about them. Sometimes people even lie -- they don't want to admit they didn't notice something, or forgot to do something, or did something they weren't supposed to. (Consider any sex-related survey: some people will under-report out of embarrassment, while others will over-report in order to brag).

      You'll always get more accurate data if you can track what s
    • .... We have a patent on that thought. $20 has been deducted from your Microsoft Wallet.
  • Stocks in tin foil producing companies soar! I think if users use this machine while doing usability testing with Vista the machine will explode, so the problem will take care of itself.
  • Microsoft is not the first player in this market. Two Californian companies have already started producing devices that could be used to produce mind-controlled computer games [quizzes-online.com]. The technology has existed for some time and has been used to treat/assist people with severe disabilities.
  • oh my... with microsoft messing with brains the BSOD term get a whole new meaning
  • by nobodyman ( 90587 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @04:20PM (#20987097) Homepage
    Holy cow, I was just joking [slashdot.org] around, honest! Now I'm gonna have IP lawyers knocking down my door. And's it's not like I'm going to be able to lie to get myself out of this one 'cus, like, they'd know.
  • by Trelane ( 16124 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @04:22PM (#20987117) Journal
    We told you, but you just called us paranoiacs and laughed at our tinfoil hats! This fall, the fashion accessory is foil!
    • "... record high stock prices for the Reynolds aluminum foil company.

      And in other news, Microsoft reports that their new software has identified a 400% increase in their users wanting steak, enjoying "walkies" and thinking about leg-humping."

  • You mean they don't?
  • You look at what scientists are researching - robots to replace people, computers that can think like people, scanners to read our minds.... I mean, for what benefit? Corporate compliance? Government security? These things are being built solely for the sake of building them, and, the frankenstein world that will emerge from them makes the Dark Ages sound pretty and distant goddamned good. Let's see, burn the witch, or have my mind read to get a job. Sorry witch, but you're toast!
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @04:27PM (#20987203)
    So what happens, you think of Linux, piracy, or boobies and you get a shock through the Windows Genuine Advantage Testicle Electrodes, aka MS Testitrodes(tm)?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pembo13 ( 770295 )

      So what happens, you think of Linux, piracy, or boobies and you get a shock through the Windows Genuine Advantage Testicle Electrodes, aka MS Testitrodes(tm)?
      By 2010, the technology will be available. By 2015, you will get a discount if you accept it. By 2025, you will not be allowed to use a computer without it.
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday October 15, 2007 @04:38PM (#20987361) Journal
    "This copy of Windows will expire in 10 days unless you register your brain with Microsoft"
    • by Kelson ( 129150 ) *
      Or one of the classics:

      Brain A is not a system brain. Abort, Retry, Sleep?
    • Give me a break. Everyone knows that registration is optional. Just hope they don't make you activate your brain!
  • "You are thinking about LINUX. Cancel or allow?"
    "You are thinking about switching to MAC. Cancel or allow?"
    "You are thinking about Ballmer and him dancing across a stage yelling developers and throwing chairs. Cancel or allow?"
  • Umbrella corporation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jonfr ( 888673 ) *
    Microsoft is this world Umbrella corporation. It is a extinction for our species. The clue, why do they want to mess with peoples brain to start with.
  • For example, you harbor thoughts of harm towards someone. You know in your own mind you would never do it. Does the computer know that. Would it report it? If so to whom. Could you incrimate yourself by your thoughts?

    Suppose your a terrorist sympathiser, having done no bad stuff yourself, just understanding why they did it, you bet your ass the FBI would be knocking.

    Ok this isn't exactly what we are saying, but this is the thin end of the wedge. Feature creap. You are telling me MS will not slip in a report
    • by Kelson ( 129150 ) *

      Suppose your a terrorist sympathiser, having done no bad stuff yourself, just understanding why they did it, you bet your ass the FBI would be knocking.

      Not to mention that understanding doesn't imply sympathising. You can understand someone's motivations without agreeing with them. Sorry for going off-topic, but that's one of those memes that really annoys me, just like the idea that explanations are nothing more than excuses.

  • Quick! Lets all think "Format C:"! See how long they want to read our minds with that. :-)
  • This puts a whole new light on the WGA program...
  • "We're not unreasonable. Nobody wants to read your eyes."
  • there, saved you the investment.

    where do I want to go today? www.apple.com/switch
  • to allow Microsoft to make you want what they can deliver. Finally some people will actually want their products!
  • ... in his book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [craphound.com], in which everyone has has neural hooks to the Internet, and everyone walks around with HUDdies (heads up displays) revealing their whuffie (think /. Karma points.) The only difference with Cory's world: he assumed that Free Open Source Software was everywhere, so there were no issues with patents.

    Unfortunately for us all, we are not that far away from Cory Doctorow's vision, because HUDdies are already in wide-spread use, for example, in aviation, acco [wikipedia.org]
    • So, because aircraft use transparent displays, we're not far away from everyone's brain being hooked into the internet?

      I don't buy it. Try again, buddy. HUDs are a super non-issue and have been around for a long, long time. They're not the harbingers of the neural nets.
  • ...when they pry them from my cold, dead fingers!
  • Missing the point (Score:2, Insightful)

    by orkybash ( 1013349 )
    I think most of you are missing the point - I got the impression from the article that this is only being done in the context of usability studies so that Microsoft's interface designers can improve the quality of their feedback. Traditionally in usability studies users are asked to "think out loud", which gives good data as long as the users remember to talk/aren't distracted by having to talk. I guess Microsoft is developing this as an alternative, hoping it will give them more accurate data as to what
  • the blue screen of death.

    Ummmm, No. No, they can't have my brain.
  • What happens if it doesn't recognize the file system? Prompt to refomat the media?

    This gives a whole new meaning to the term 'FAT head'.

  • Slashdot wants to lick your butthole to get you to use Linux. Why is this such an outrageously pro-Linux site? The slogan isn't "Stuff for LINUX nerds that matters"...

    Then again, maybe it helps stop some virgins from plotting to blow up the planet with anime spacecraft...

    Pathetic, guys, really.
  • Nothing to read here, move along....
  • I think it would be fun to use something like this on Polititians while they are in session writing laws. I wonder what they are really thinking about? How many audio streams of Polititians thoughts can we fit down a single cable connection?

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