Innovation

Microsoft files patent for...computer mind control?

A new Microsoft patent explains the company's plans for technology that taps EEG readings to let users operate apps with their mind.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • A Microsoft patent explores technology that allows users to operate apps with their minds while wearing a headset that measures neurological activity.
  • With machine learning, users could essentially train the system to relate their neurological signals to different objects and activities.

A new Microsoft patent suggests that the company is exploring a decidedly sci-fi concept: Mind control.

The patent, titled "Changing an application state using neurological data," describes a device that measures human brain waves via EEG or other technology, and uses that activity to launch and control an application—with many potential implications for productivity in the enterprise.

This isn't Microsoft's first foray into this area: Last year, the company announced beta testing for Eye Control, which allows users to operate Windows 10 systems with their eyes only and could make the technology more accessible to those with disabilities.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)

The technology described in this new patent would work when the user trains the device via machine learning techniques to correlate their brain signal information to the corresponding app operations. This would involve the system learning which patterns relate to a user's intention to perform gestures such as finger swipes, head or limb movements, facial movements, or keyboard strokes and mouse clicks.

"In some embodiments, a gesture need not be actually physically performed by a user to give functional effect," the patent stated. "For example, in some circumstances neurological user intention data corresponding to a physical gesture is generated when a user thinks about and/or focuses on a movement in the same way an amputee might think about moving an amputated limb."

Applications that could be operated in this way include 3D modeling software, video games, virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) simulators, audiovisual services, word processors, spreadsheet applications, web browsers, database managers, and apps that operate mechanical tools, the patent stated.

Users could potentially move, build, edit, and animate objects in these applications, as well as control menus, audio, navigation, processing, and other factors, the patent also noted.

It's important to remember that this is only a patent for now, though it definitely signals an interest in this work from Microsoft, and could hint at products to come in the future. Companies have been exploring this type of technology for years, but recent advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) may finally make it possible.

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Image: iStockphoto/vasabii

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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