This program can detect if you're bored – which is going to make annoying ads, articles so much more annoying

Just for education? Yeah, right

Scientists at the University of Sussex, UK, have developed computer software that monitors the movements of the user to tell if they are bored with what's on the screen.

The code works by measuring non-instrumental movements, the involuntary twitches and tics we all make subconsciously. If someone is mentally engaged with what they are viewing, these movements diminish, and this can be picked up by a camera on the computer and one to the side, which cover how a test subject's body moves.

To test this, 27 subjects were shown three-minute segments of content on their computer, ranging from exciting games to reading drafts of European Union banking regulations, then quizzing them on how engaged they felt. When watching something interesting, non-instrumental movements fell by 42 per cent.

"Being able to 'read' a person's interest in a computer program could bring real benefits to future digital learning, making it a much more two-way process," said Dr Harry Witchel, discipline leader in physiology at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS).

"Further ahead it could help us create more empathetic companion robots, which may sound very 'sci fi' but are becoming a realistic possibility within our lifetimes."

That's cute, but you don't have to be an academic to see that the real seller for this technology is going to be the advertising industry. Slipping this software into an advertising focus group would be a first-case use, but the possibilities are huge for general use.

Plenty of companies are going to be very interested in something like this that can monitor user interaction, and there's already hardware that could do the job. Microsoft's Kinect development kit can read your heartbeat already, so simple movement would be a doddle.

However, this raises some potentially worrying possibilities. Get bored with something and the software might flash up an alert or blare a loud noise to get the user's attention back. That's going to make internet adverts and article webpages a lot more irritating. ®

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