This Software Can Read Your Mind -- In A Good Way!


Bioengineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are working on software that would read your mind. However, they're using it for good, not evil.

The software is based on a mathematical algorithm that can use signals from your motor movements to tell what you are trying to do, whether it's driving a car down a highway, picking up a heavy box or writing a letter. Then, if you make a mistake or get interrupted, the software can steer you back on course.

The software would be especially useful to people who have had a stoke, or possibly people with neurological disorders like spastic cerebral palsy, where the messages sent from the brain to the body sometimes get garbled along the way, leading to involuntary movements.

Justin Horowitz, the graduate research assistant in bioengineering who developed the algorithm, explains that, when a person who has had a stroke develops involuntary movements, it's a lot like driving a car and hitting a pothole. 

"If we hit a patch of ice and the car starts swerving, we want the car to know where we meant to go," he said. "It needs to correct the car's course not to where I am now pointed, but [to] where I meant to go."

The software could be used, literally, to correct the course of an out-of-control car, but also for fine motor movements that are interrupted by inconsistent brain signals.

To develop the software, Horowitz hooked people up to a virtual reality system that had them sitting at a virtual desk (worst video game ever), and asked them to reach for an object on that desk. Then, their hand was pushed in the wrong direction. All the while, the machinery was detecting and recording the subject's movements, so that it could analyze what movement intention looks like and how to identify and correct when that intention is thwarted.

"We call it a psychic robot," Horowitz said.

The study, titled "I Meant to Do That," is published online in the journal PLOS ONE. It was funded by the NIH and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders.

Photo: David Shankbone | Flickr

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