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Microsoft has sent in a patent application where no patent application has gone before. It wants to own the rights to read your mind.

More specifically, the firm says it wants to understand human computer interaction better, and has opted to read our minds. The psychic approach is the best option, the firm says, because questions asked while someone is using a computer will invariably produce the result that people find surveys very distracting, and asking later doesn't get the goods.

In fact, asking people what they think of a machine and the way it works is absolutely useless as a technique because "humans are often poor reporters of their own actions", says Microsoft. That is to say, we mis-remember, and make stuff up.

The mind reading stuff is tricky, though. Although it is simplicity itself to monitor brain activity ("Would Sir care to don this striking electrode hat?"), making sense of the data is tougher. For a start, although all your thoughts are being transcribed, so is all the extraneous stuff, like blinking, remembering not to fart in the office, fidgeting in your chair, and so on.

What Microsoft wants to do is filter the noise and study the cognitive signals. And this is what it has applied for a patent to do.

The firm says its method will make it easier to characterise brain activity, and will not require users to sit very still, close one eye, or be shielded from EM fields, for example. The technique is also much cheaper than traditional methods and can be carried out with off-the-shelf components.

If this sort of thing continues, we'll all be sending the Beast of Redmond a monthly cheque for the privilege of using our own brains. Obviously, some people's cheques will be smaller than others, and some folk may get away with paying nothing at all... ®

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