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Predicting Human Errors From Brain Activity

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the good-with-shock-collars dept.

Medicine 123

Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers report that brain activity can be used to predict the likelihood of someone making an error about six seconds in advance, with gradual changes starting as much as 30 seconds ahead of time. The team used an imaging machine to scan the brains of a group of volunteers who performed a task in the presence of distracting information. When performing correctly the volunteers' brains showed increased levels of activity in those parts associated with cognitive effort, as would be expected. However, these areas gradually became less active before errors were made and at the same time another set of regions in the brain became more active. These regions are part of a so-called "default mode network" and show increased use when people are resting or asleep [PDF]. While imaging machines are far too big and complex to be used in workplaces to monitor the brain activity of people engaged in important tasks, the team hopes to correlate errors to changes in electrical activity in the brain with electroencephalography (EEG), using electrodes placed on the scalp. If EEG features can be found that correspond to the change in brain activity, then a hat that gives warning of an imminent mistake might one day become reality. We've previously discussed similar studies of brain activity."

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I don't believe it (5, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193138)

I've seen some stupid research in my time, but actually believing you can predict errors in advance is like saying you can predict which leaf will fall off of a tree in the next 6 seconds.

I agree (5, Funny)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193168)

The parent post makes a very good point. I agree with him wholeheartedly. You may be able to predict actions, but how can you predict whether an action will be an error?

Mod parent up!

Re:I agree (5, Funny)

i kan reed (749298) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193186)

Like the error of forgetting to click "Post Anonymously" when making a post agreeing with yourself.

thats a Bad Analogy, Guy! (3, Funny)

infonography (566403) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193374)

oh wait.

Genius, he has it (3, Funny)

OMNIpotusCOM (1230884) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193560)

No no, you see, he was proving that you can't predict mistakes before they happen. If someone could, why would they allow him to agree with himself? He's... taking one for the team, if you will.

Re:Genius, he has it (1)

JosKarith (757063) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195214)

Taking one for the team - and harvesting two "+5 Funny"s while he's at it.

Absolutely! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23193562)

Boy, you really said it! You're a genius!

Though I don't know about the time you turned down Famke Janssen for those Bulvarian twins...

Re:Absolutely! (0, Offtopic)

OMNIpotusCOM (1230884) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193614)

I knew Famke when she was named Frank. The surgeries and hormones did very well with everything except his face. Good ol' Frank Janssen, always good for a laugh. After the sex change, he was the first person to be accused of having a "butter face"

Re:I agree (1)

Atti K. (1169503) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195368)

twitter forgot to switch accounts?

Re:I agree (5, Interesting)

GeffDE (712146) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193300)

Parent makes sense intuitively, but there are parts of the brain that are very sensitive to conflict; the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is one of these.

If you have ever take part of a Stroop test, your ACC has been activated. In a Stroop test, the word for a color is printed in a different color i.e. the word green is shown in the color red. A participant is asked to say either the word or the color. As the speed of doing these discriminations increases, so do errors; interestingly, cognizance of errors is nearly instantaneous, however. You know that you made an error, even before the neural circuitry committed to speaking the words has finished forming the words.

The ACC becomes more active in Stroop tests because Stroop tests cause conflicts in two neural circuits. The ACC arbitrates these circuits. Therefore, an increase in ACC activity (which will happen in advance of the error occurring) correlates with an increase in likelihood of mistakes...more in-depth research and some algorithms (I haven't RTFA) means that an error can be predicted, but of course, not with 100% success.

Re:I agree (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23193384)

I hate pdfs, so here is a screencap of the brain imaging picture from the pdf:

http://img105.imageshack.us/img105/1130/brainimagingwz8.jpg [imageshack.us]

Re:I agree (3, Funny)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193442)

Therefore, an increase in ACC activity (which will happen in advance of the error occurring) correlates with an increase in likelihood of mistakes.
I get distracted and make mistakes when I'm watching basketball games too.

Re:I agree (1)

GeffDE (712146) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193544)

Who cares about ACC games? The only games I care about are Big 10...

That said, I vote for an increase of TLAs ;-)

Re:I agree (3, Insightful)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194106)

As someone who has taken too many of these tests, the problem ends up being your mind gets bored with the whole exercise withing minutes... these test take hours. After about 10 minutes at MOST, your brain starts to wander. You can NOT focus on the test no matter how much mental effort you put into these. It simulates situations like driving a car where actions and attention become so repetitive that there is an autopilot mode that kicks in. Bit in the same regard it can't be applied logically to situations like being in a boxing ring, because in those circumstances your brain is constantly adjusting to vectors that can't possibly be predicted, therefor always being up to paying attention at the task at hand.

Re:I agree (1)

GeffDE (712146) | more than 6 years ago | (#23196014)

Yeah, /. does the same thing for me...

But seriously, the effect is still there in those first 10 minutes. Any psychological test that lasts an hour (and they all do, or at least seem to, anyway) really fatigues your mind. I haven't read any psychology papers, and I don't know if psychologists correct for this in their data analysis but they definitely should.

LOG (1)

barocco (1168573) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194146)

LOG STARTS<br>
24-04-2008 22:20<br>
Parent makes

22:21 | ACC activity increase detected | Signal seq #1
sense intuitively, but there are parts of the brain that are very sensitive to conflict; the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is one of these.

If you have ever take

22:22 | Subject commits error | Signal #1 confirmed
part of a Stroop test, your ACC has been activated. In a Stroop test...

Re:I agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23194768)

The concept is dumb nevertheless. They only measure internal conflict, which might well be a sign of a broad insight into the problem at hand, which in all likelihood inherently doesn't have an easy black or white solution, while a person with less insight might make a high-confidence decision that is totally wrong.

To make a bad idea even worse, they want to add an external feedback loop which warns of uncertain decisions. That would not only favor confident people over people with actual problem solving capability, it would also "punish" the person for having a broad dataset to work with.

Continuing your Stroop test example: an illiterate person will tell you the colors of the words without problem (without internal conflict), but is that what you want? A "successful" test exposes the conflict which stems from two desired cognitive abilities.

Re:I agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23196058)

I still want to install one in the Oval Office.

Re:I agree (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195434)

Those are not errors you're talking about. You're talking about internal conflicts within the subject.

It's true that in some trivial cases errors are easy to identify by a person making them, but, well, those are trivial cases, like errors in psychological experiments about colours.

It's impossible to predict errors, because errors don't even exist (conceptually) until some formal framework for judging an action has been defined. So to predict that person X has made an error implies that person Y's judgement of that action must in fact be predicted, for all possible values of Y, in the past as in the future.

Re:I agree (2, Interesting)

GeffDE (712146) | more than 6 years ago | (#23196100)

But there are some subset of errors that are known to be errors when they are performed. Your analysis is for a certain type of error that, realistically, can't be predicted. So why bother. Here's the usage scenario for this type of "error" prediction...

You are using a computer, and you are presented with a dialog to either delete a file or cancel the dialog. You do not want to delete the file, but you click the delete button anyway. In your brain, before your finger clicks the mouse button (because the neural and muscular circuits responsible for setting that in motion take some time), you know you made an error, but you are already committed to the action and cannot stop it. A machine monitoring your brain will know you do not mean the input you are providing and will therefore disregard it, saving your file.

If you want to be ornery about something, be ornery with the vagueness of the headline...but then again, the headline is just about as vague and sensational as all /. (and even regular news) headlines.

Re:I agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23195916)

Take off your glasses. When asked for the color, the word will be blurry and you will only see the color and not the word. When asked for the word, squint your eyes and the word will become clear.

Re:I agree (1)

phpmysqldev (1224624) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193898)

This almost seems like common sense to me.
I mean wouldn't your cognitive activity decrease right before you make an error?
I don't know about everyone else but that is when I make my errors - immediately after becoming distracted.
Did we really need a research study for this?

Although perhaps they could use a large amount of this data to build a prediction model that could predict a possibility of an error sometime in advance. But I still question the usefulness of such a prediction.

Re:I agree (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195072)

I think it just predicts a lack of concentration. Though funnily enough, the times when I screw up in Guitar Hero are the times when I start thinking too much about what my fingers are doing instead of letting them get on with it, and then I panic when I realise how crazy it is trying to do 20 hammer ons in a row precisely (The Metal on Expert is crazy.. completed it twice now though in the last couple of days :) ).. it's a similar situation on a real guitar.. a song can be in muscle memory, but I can't always figure out the notes individually after not playing it for years.. I can only 'play' it rather than think about playing it :P Which is kind of the opposite of what this summary is talking about, so it shows that not all tasks require the same type of concentration?

Re:I don't believe it (2, Insightful)

Narpak (961733) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193194)

The point as I understand it is that the machine notes when there is a drop in activity in the part of the brain responsible for whatever action you are preforming. A drop in brain activity increases the Likelihood of an error, but it does not say exactly when or how; just that the subject is no longer fully focused on the task and therefor errors will occur.

If you're falling asleep... (2, Insightful)

Etherwalk (681268) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193210)

If you're falling asleep on the road, you're more likely to make the error of driving to one side. Similarly, if you're getting distracted by a stray thought, your concentration can suffer and are more likely to make errors in your primary task. You may not predict the exact error, but you can reasonably forecast an increased probability of error.

Why else would car insurance rates rise when you get into an accident? Um... you know, aside from evil insurance companies?

Re:If you're falling asleep... (1)

umghhh (965931) | more than 6 years ago | (#23196154)

so solution to this is not to have primary task in the first place, just relax and drink another one - you cannot make a mistake there, can you?

Re:I don't believe it (3, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193420)

I don't know. This research is more like predicting whether leaves will fall in six seconds... when it can tell a big breeze is six seconds away.

From TFS, it sounds like people are getting distracted and bored doing stupid mind-numbing tasks and when they do so, they make errors. As such, they have invented a bulky and expensive way to tell when you're drifting off (and that is fairly well correlated with making errors.)

Re:I don't believe it (2, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193482)

Exactly. The problem with getting bored / distracted isn't so much that you make errors, but that you don't usually notice until after you start making mistakes -- but the distraction is already clearly present, and I see no reason it shouldn't be detectable.

Re:I don't believe it (2, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195756)

We've already shown that people typically DECIDE something like a second prior to when they THINK they decide. Matching up brain activity to verbal responses as to when a subject said he/she made a decision reveals the brain activity associated with making said decision occurs BEFORE they were consciously aware of it.

If some specific mental machinery leading up to that were to be shown to lead to errors, it seems plausible that errors could be predicted.

Re:I don't believe it (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193760)

I don't know about that... I can predict errors in some limited domains:

My wife starting the weed whacker... error inbound!
My daughter drinking... error inbound!

I can predict those types of errors well in advance of seconds... geez, that's not rocket science at all.

Re:I don't believe it (1)

drfireman (101623) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194264)

This may or may not be stupid research, but it's far from implausible. Despite the sensational headline and the fact that the authors got their article in a good place, this kind of thing (brain activity predicting future behavior) is commonplace in functional brain imaging. I'm not saying your "I don't believe it" critique isn't well thought out, but perhaps you would like to be a little more specific about where you think the authors have gone wrong.

As an aside, I don't know much about trees and leaves, but I think if we put a small tree in an MRI scanner, I could find some information in the image that would help me do better than chance at predicting which leaf would fall next.

Re:I don't believe it (2, Informative)

venicebeach (702856) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195092)

Basically this particular task (the "flankers task") is so easy that people only make errors when they stop paying attention. You see something like SSSHHSSS or HHHSSHHH and you have to respond to the central letters while filtering out the outside letters. So what is essentially happening is they are measuring when people's attention wanes and errors happen to be reliably associated with this.

Keep in mind that in this study errors are not actually predicted before they happen in real time. That's virtually impossible with fMRI. What's happening is that after the subject completes the task, the experimenters find data which comes from before the button press and reliably predicts subsequent errors. This happens in post-processing, so the experimenters do not actually know what is going to happen before it happens.

Re:I don't believe it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23195340)

In this case, "error" refers to the brain's interpretation of an error. It's a study of the the system that allows the brain to realise that it has made a mistake.

Re:I don't believe it (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195956)

I think the research shows more when you are being focused or careless in your work. Being focused reduces errors being careless creates more errors.

So much for... (1)

i kan reed (749298) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193140)

So much for reading slashdot from work. It was nice knowing you guys.

Put electrodes on your scalp to detect errors? (4, Funny)

tg2k (895772) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193206)

Given what it's supposed to tell about people, let me be the first to dub this device "the asshat".

And I certainly hope it never hits the market.

Re:Put electrodes on your scalp to detect errors? (2, Funny)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193240)

I want one when talking to women.

Re:Put electrodes on your scalp to detect errors? (2, Funny)

Ox0065 (1085977) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193912)

or maybe the con-dome

Re:Put electrodes on your scalp to detect errors? (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194996)

Dammit you beat me to it!

Great Name.

I was going to say you would need to take the hat off to install Vista cuz of the noise, but THAT would be just begging for +FLAMEBAIT wouldn't it? :P

I also wonder if the hat will know you will make the mistake of ignoring it's warning. Kind of like an infinite loop of stupidity?

P.S - To the MS Fans, i'm just kidding about Vista. Loosen up a bit :)

an idea... (4, Funny)

theheadlessrabbit (1022587) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193220)

Will they ever be able to make a hat that lets slashdot users know if they will be modded '+1 funny' vs '-1 flamebait?' 6 seconds before clicking 'submit?'

Re:an idea... (-1, Flamebait)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193238)

It's called a "brain" you fucking asshat.

-1 flamebait.

Re:an idea... (1)

Artuir (1226648) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193360)

Yes, but what would that be in, oh let's say.. Libraries of Congress vs. Office Depot employees?

Re:an idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23193428)

There is great potential for meta-humor here.

My hat's broke :(

Re:an idea... (1)

theheadlessrabbit (1022587) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194514)

well, you were correct, so your post SHOULD have be modded '+1 insightful' however, if that were to happen, your post would no longer be insightful,it would become flamebait.

that is a paradox so unimaginable, it is making my brain hurt...
Please...Provide me with some form of analogy so i can make sense of it all...

Re:an idea... (2, Funny)

dfm3 (830843) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193436)

Yes. In fact, I knew that this comment would be modded up, so I just had to post it. *crosses fingers*

Re:an idea... (1)

clickety6 (141178) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195890)

You can guarantee your +1/-1 modifiers with my new system - HMPAPA - (Have mod points and posting anonymously)

Re:an idea... (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 6 years ago | (#23196410)

Sure. It has a sign attached, which hangs in your line of sight, and has scores:

Linux + "good": +2
Linux + "sucks": -2
Windows: -2
Complicated argument: -4
Women: +5, funny
Women + Geek lack of sex: +5 insightful

everything made by man'kind' fails (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23193226)

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corepirate nazi execrable costs outweigh benefits
(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

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meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;

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all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

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Seems obvious to me (1)

Gutboy (587531) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193264)

So their research found that you don't make errors when you are paying attention but when you aren't you do.

Re:Seems obvious to me (2, Informative)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193474)

It sounds to me that the key finding is that they can detect when a person is distracted by monitoring their brain waves. A much more interesting finding than that distracted people make errors.

Nonsense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23193308)

I'd like to know how to get a research job where I can be paid to work on pointless crap like this. How much do these "researchers" get paid anyway?

Seriously, the cleverness of this "discovery" stretches about as far as claiming that the sky is blue. The fact that money gets wasted on useless stuff like this annoys me. :(

Re:Nonsense (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194320)

Is that some sort of canned response? Just unimaginative trolling? Because research into how the brain works is fascinating and has countless implications as far as self-understanding and self-improvement go. In no way could this be construed as pointing out something as obvious as "the sky is blue."

uh oh (1)

the brown guy (1235418) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193316)

Small, portable EEG monitors are already available. Indeed, they have even been incorporated into baseball caps. A lightweight head device is also being developed for people to interact mentally with computer games. So, if EEG features can be found that correspond to the change in brain activity which the researchers have observed, then a hat that gives warning of an imminent mistake might one day become reality.


I think that if this becomes more realistic, and employers get a hold of this then they would be able to screen applicants for their prone-ness to mistakes (sorry english is not my first language :/)

Re:uh oh (2, Informative)

billcopc (196330) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194516)

I can make an EEG monitor that IS a baseball cap. By carefully measuring the angle of the visor relative to the wearer's head, as well as a few environmental factors such as precipitation, temperature and altitude, I can identify half-bred imbeciles with shocking accuracy.

I can also tell with 100% certainty that a person wearing a ballcap will make a mistake. That mistake is asking me to fix their computer.

Re:uh oh (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195954)

PHB: "Programmer #1001011001, you were coding without your ECC-Helm plugged into your USB4 port."

Jake: "My name is Jake; I'm a human being, not RAM. Those things don't work anyway; they just buzz when your mind gets creative."

"You are hereby terminated. All your code is scrapped, and you will never code anywhere on the internet again. You've been branded as a No-hat."

"WTF? You're making the biggest mistake of your life!"

"Who's wearing the ECC-Helm here?"

Errors? (2, Insightful)

E. T. Moonshade (591333) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193324)

My question is this: Will the knowledge that an error will occur cause the person in question to be even -more- likely to cause an error? Belief can be a dangerous thing in this case:
"You're gonna make an error."
*user has minor panic, nervousness, etc*
"See? You errored. You suck."

Makes me wonder if it would self-perpetuate if it were a self-monitored system rather than an externally monitored one - and once externally monitored, would the reaction time be sufficent to prevent the error? Sounds like some slick science on paper, but it seems like it'd fail in practical use.

Re:Errors? (3, Informative)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193496)

The device actually predicts when you are not concentrating on your work, and that is what people would be told if they ever were to use such a thing in production. I think the notice that you are losing concentration would probably be enough to get you concentrating again on your work. Especially if the workers were penalized for time spent not concentrating.

Re:Errors? (2, Insightful)

Bill Dog (726542) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193556)

But it would be hard to concentrate if I was constantly worrying about losing concentration and being startled at any moment by a machine yelling "CONCENTRATE!!!!!!!!!!" at me.

Re:Errors? (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194798)

I don't know, that's not how my mind works. I can concentrate just fine when I have too. YMMV.

Re:Errors? (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 6 years ago | (#23196792)

[...] and being startled at any moment by a machine yelling "CONCENTRATE!!!!!!!!!!" at me.

Cue image of George's dad in my head, screaming "SERENITY NOW!!!!"

Re:Errors? (1)

darkfire5252 (760516) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195250)

Especially if the workers were penalized for time spent not concentrating.
Am I the only one to think that this would be disastrous for the workplace? With the 'I need a job so I put up with X' attitude of most of the low to mid-range earners in the US, can you imagine what would happen?

Bob, we're going to have to let you go. Now, I know what you're going to say, and yes, you have produced more work units than any other employee this quarter, and they have been of acceptable quality, but you simply weren't paying enough attention.

Now offering the WorkAlert 2010! This revolutionary 'assistance hat', or 'asshat', can provide your employees with negative feedback (via a small electronic shock) when they doze on the job!

Re:Errors? (1)

Plutonite (999141) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193892)

See? You errored. You suck.
I'm afraid you erred quite atrociously in the spelling of the above. You suck.

Re:Errors? (1)

KGIII (973947) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195286)

It seems only logical that they could predict spelling and grammar errors here with every front page topic. My grammar is awful by the way. My spelling is awful too. But, am I the only one who notes the irony that this is a site about 'geeks' or 'nerds' and way too many of us don't use a spell check?

But can it predict (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23193330)

when the editors will err and post a dupe [slashdot.org] ?

Nope. Different research. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193524)

This is not a dupe. (At least not of the previous one you linked.)

The old article you linked is about detecting a signature corresponding to an early stage of decision making. This one is about detecting a signature of the brain going into a resting / attention wandering state that causes decisions to be error-prone.

What what what? (1)

remain_unbroken (1273746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193350)

Where's all the good research these days? Everyone's sick of bloody brain scans. Give us something new you sons of bitches!!!! Earn those research grants. zzzzzzzz

That's good news! (2, Insightful)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193402)

While imaging machines are far too big and complex to be used in workplaces to monitor the brain activity of people engaged in important tasks...
Thank God!

Re:That's good news! (1)

wanax (46819) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194418)

It actually turns out this is relates to fairly important issues. For example a person's ability to detect guns or explosives is inversely correlated with the frequency of the same (data: go look at Wolfe & Horowitz). People perform badly in low frequency testing.

If there is some relaible way to 'perk them up' for their stint, or wake them up when they're dosing, it'll be a good and cheap way to improve real security.

W7 (3, Funny)

powermacx (887715) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193410)

"You are about to make a mistake. Cancel or Allow?"

Tinfoil hat (1)

DogsBollocks (806307) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193486)

Where's my tinfoil hat?

" If EEG features can be found that correspond to the change in brain activity, then a hat that gives warning of an imminent mistake might one day become reality. "

Oh crap!

"Default mode". We got it in spades. (1)

mnemotronic (586021) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193532)

... While imaging machines are far too big and complex to be used in workplaces to monitor the brain activity of people engaged in important tasks ...

Not necessary. I can verify that our upper management will, when given the opportunity, make entirely the worng decision nine times out of ten. If an opportunity is not present, they'll keep attritting smart, capable people (not that there were a lot around here to begin with) until they create an opportunity. It's called "default mode management".
Now if you'll excuse, our C in C wants another cheeseburger pizza.

The "error detection" hat may be misinterpreted. (3, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193598)

The descriptions of "the error-detecting hat" look like the intent is to train the brain to stay alert and not make errors - or to refocus it when it wanders. (DING DING DING! HEY! WAKE UP! PAY ATTENTION!) The hat may be useful, but that use of the feedback may be the wrong approach.

The signature they're describing corresponds, not just to a lack of alertness, but specifically a lack of alertness because the brain is going into a resting state. Seems to me that might be because all this decision-making has made the working regions of the brain tired and the brain is trying to clear them out so they'll operate properly again. So the problem is not the lack of alertness, but the attempt to continue to make decisions during the resting cycle.

Given that, a better use of the feedback might be to tell the wearer that it's time to stop making important decisions and take a break, rather than trying to overuse a "mental muscle" that's exhausted - and perhaps train him to recognize the mental state himself so he can then dispense with the hat.

The "break times" in working days were set up when studies showed that taking breaks, despite the "work time lost", resulted in more and better work in the work time remaining. This looks like a way to optimize the process, rather than running breaks on a clock.

Re:The "error detection" hat may be misinterpreted (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194300)

Yes, that's very interesting. But will it tell me whether or not I'll be in Griffendor?

+5 HP quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23195566)

Sorry I used all my mod points yesterday

Re:The "error detection" hat may be misinterpreted (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195408)

I agree, my most productive mode when I code is 15min coding/5 min slacking off periods for about 1.5 to 2 hours, then a real 15min pause (walking, drinking some watter and chitchatting) then back to the 15/5 periods for the rest of the morning, and non-coding activities during the aftermoon (usually documenting my code or writing its test plan).

But there are people who cannot adapt their work schedule to their needs, such as train drivers (they already have to punch a button a couple of time every minutes to prevent their train from entering in emergency mode) and cannot physically be 100% alert all the time, so it would be usefull (and saffer for everyone) if the could have a better way to manage their attention level according to the planned needs.

I have a request (0)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193616)

brain activity can be used to predict the likelihood of someone making an error about six seconds in advance

      Any way to make this technology mandatory for use on voters just before they cast their ballots so that they don't elect the "wrong" candidate (again)?

      Yes, it was a feeble attempt at humor disguised under a veil of sarcasm. Mods, go to hell.

Farts (1)

Nick Driver (238034) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193664)

So, since the beginning of humanity itself, the plain old unaided human ear can listen for stomach and intestinal rumblings that come right before, and predict the coming of a big old juicy butt fart.

Now we can use a portable EEG scanner built into a baseball cap to detect when a brain fart is about to occur.

Ain't technology wonderful?

Over-Reaching a Bit (2, Interesting)

Nemus (639101) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193674)

I have to agree with other people who've posted that this is over-reaching a little bit. This is nothing more than a correllational study: all they can say is that these systems, in this particular series of trials, showed increased activity shortly before an error took place.

The main problem as I see it is that since they can't determine causaltiy, and only conducted this experiment with a small sample population, and with a specific task, is it could have been the task itself causing the particular regions to become active after a certain period of time. I just gave the article a quick look through, but I'd be curious to see if the errors came in distinct, set intervals. It could be simply the nature of the task that caused the activity. Furthermore, what about left handed participants? What about age groups outside of the twenties (which are a particular cohort, and can be expected to have similiar results/activity as such)? It seems like they failed to counterbalance either their participants or their trials in any meaningful way.

Also, I'm not familiar with this journal or whatever it is, but I've never seen one where the methods section came last, which is a little strange. That's almost always the first thing I go to after the abstract.

Re:Over-Reaching a Bit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23195354)

1) If you aren't familiar with PNAS then you really don't know much about science.

2) If you aren't familiar with journals that list method sections at the end, then you don't read a lot of papers.

PNAS is one of the best known and respected general science journals there is. It is one of the standard ones like Science, Nature, Cell, NEJM etc. The fact that you don't know that pretty much suggests you are an undergrad or amateur at best.

"Error Detection" or "Distration Detection"? (1)

supernova_hq (1014429) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193690)

This doesn't sound like much of an "Error Detection" system, but more of a "Distraction Detection" system.

Walking (2, Interesting)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193908)

There are activities that can be handed off to the unconscious mind. If you are doing something so often that it seems like you could do it in your sleep, well, there's no reason not to hand it off to a subprocess and think about more important stuff.

I think they are detecting abortive hand-off attempts: A training process for a different part of the brain than one's conscious mind. More complex motions or actions require more training. I think what we need isn't more concentration, but more error tolerance.

Integration with UAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23193946)

You are about to make an error. Cancel or Allow ?
[Allow]

You are about to erroneously confirm your error. Cancel or Allow ?

Odd (1)

fishthegeek (943099) | more than 6 years ago | (#23193974)

I've always found that most of the mistakes that I have seen made or made myself were caused by moments of brain INACTIVITY (e.g. Hey y'all watch this)

The Head of the Microsoft Vista development group (2, Funny)

monoqlith (610041) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194048)

was wearing an in-house version of this hat before he decided to release Vista. Unfortunately, the hat was running Vista.

I Can Do This, Too, Sometimes (2, Interesting)

Pooua (265915) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194132)

I've noticed that before I make certain mistakes, or completely forget what I was doing, I will experience a spike in confusion. Sometimes, the ramp up the spike is slow, taking most of an hour; other times, it comes on me suddenly, taking only a minute. I feel confused and doing simple tasks are difficult. Then, it passes. Often, I will have completely forgotten what it was I was attempting to do, until much later when something reminds me.

Re:I Can Do This, Too, Sometimes (1)

Cragen (697038) | more than 6 years ago | (#23196782)

I have similar experiences which my wife claims are ADD experiences. On a more micro-mental note, (and the real reason I am replying to your message) I started meditating a couple of years ago. Recently, (in the last six months) I have noticed that after I go through the process that quiets the mental noise down to a minimum, every so often (from every 30 seconds to every five minutes, at least) there is (what I call) a "mental confusion spike", for lack of a better phrase. If I am counting my breaths, usually by the time I get to 30 or 40, I have an instant of total confusion where I completely lose track of the count, no matter how hard I am trying to keep that count, knowing the "confusion spike" is coming. My memory can usually later remember that count within 5 or 10 counts, but that spike of confusion is inexorable. I wonder if the study is referring to something like I am experiencing. I wonder how many people experience this sort of thing? Happy weekend to all, Cragen Being an old fart (55), it could be a succession of senior moments.

Magic Hat (1)

buildguy (965589) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194280)

Say you time-traveled with this to the early middle ages. Other than it obviously not working, you can always pull a Merlin and call it a magic hat.

NOW they develop it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23194350)

This could have been used nearly 8 years ago on the bloody American voters. This could have prevented the mess that the world is in.

Well if you're so SMART... (1)

billcopc (196330) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194488)

How about a machine that does the job correctly FOR ME, instead of a machine that tells me I'm wrong ?

I thought that's what the wife was for!

<cfif coldfusion LTE garbage><cfthrow type="chair"></cfif>

Innacurate Study? Bad article? (1)

emance (1279126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194628)

It seems to me that the device is designed to detect lulls in brain activity in such a manner:

a. As we think critically on a complex subject our brain works harder, so the system detects this.

b. While we are day dreaming ('brain-fart', 'writer block', 'brain freeze', 'mind short', etc.) our brain relaxes for a moment, and the system detects this as well.

c. The study uses sleep as the control, at which it is assumed we are using our brains the least.

This may not be accurate because:

a. The test cannot accurately determine critical thought

Assuming the study uses a constant 'test' as a control, the participants will approach said test differently. The measured activity can not depict how challenging the material is because its difficulty is relative.

b. The test cannot accurately determine an 'error'

Suppose participants' lulls are composed of different thoughts. Perhaps one subject drifts into near unconsciousness, while another is mesmerized by the surroundings. One subject will have a noticeable drop in activity, while another seems to remain constant.

c. The low point of activity may be incorrectly measured

As you all know, certain phases of sleep will utilize the mind's power. It is assumed that the study determines the lowest point of brain activity during the participants' sleep cycle as a constant of zero. This may be the only valuable thing the study could have determined.

It seems that the PNAS [pnas.org] is the best place to learn the specifics of the study.

I want it when they get it down to hat size (1)

WATist (902972) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194748)

I would just love something that will tell me when to take a break or a nap.

Aldous Huxley eat your heart out (1)

dontmakemethink (1186169) | more than 6 years ago | (#23194858)

Scientifically, it seems like a significant discovery. I'm far more worried about how it is used.

Tonight I'm going to have a nightmare about a Tom Cruise infomercial selling an L Ron Hubbard book that guarantees you'll score higher on the EEG stupidity scale for only 3 EZ payments of $99.95...

"Are you sure you're not getting stupider?"

EEG, Prediciting and Probability (2, Informative)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195112)

"Prediction" is not accurate because that implies an absolute. The activity correlates with an increased probability of making a mistake. The study relies on statistics throughout, from the analysis of the fMRI data on, and so can only deal in probabilities.

An Israeli team found that an increase in degree of synchronization of midline frontal theta EEG varied inversely with the probability of making a mistake. Such theta synchronization occurs over spans of 10 to 30 seconds. They also found that when a response occurs during the rising or falling slope of the synchronized theta (as opposed to near a peak), the person was more likely to make a mistake. The latter probably is the source of the evoked potential called the Error Related Negativity; it is the brain preparing to notice the error. The former seems to indicate a lagging in attention, which is when errors are most likely to occur. The two are related, meaning the brain "knows" when it is starting to droop and is more likely to make a mistake, and tells itself to get ready to notice a mistake if it happens.

Feedback Sabotage (1)

tyl (520631) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195184)

To me the feasibility of predicting errors doesn't seem that unnatural, BUT...

Say that a device is created which starts beeping, or (more in keeping with western political evolution the last few years) gives you an electro-shock which is recorded by the camera pointed at you for later perusal by management who will be laughing there asses off.

Won't this essentially be a self-defeating learning device ?

AFAIK, the better you know your job, the more all operations will be moved into the more subconscious regions of your brain, and the less concentration this requires.

However, at the point where you have internalized the operations so much that they are nearly totally at the subconscious level, you will no longer need the concentration levels as required before, so you may start triggering the device.

If the device cannot be adjusted to lower the concentration threshold at that point, you will be forced into a state of higher concentration all the time, which may start messing with the learning process, since I'm guessing that the brain wiring does kind of expect the negative stimulation to stop at some optimal point of internalization...

So you end up in a feedback loop whereby the learning process may well be sabotaged.

So a device which detect errors may well be feasible, but if there is any feedback to the wearer (or container, if the device is inserted in uncomfortable areas of the body) it may not be very effective in the long run...

Xeers !

Philip

Radio podcast covering this topic (1)

ZorroXXX (610877) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195316)

If you do not understand Norwegian the following is probably not of interest, but they covered this in the populat science radio program Verdt å vite [www.nrk.no] yesterday and you can still listen to the podcast [podkast.nrk.no] .

Cooking and Counterstrike. (1)

bronney (638318) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195572)

I've seen my parents cook, they do not concentrate at all. Usually listening to the radio, dancing, or watching tv at the same time. Yet I didn't taste errors.

I've seen myself playing CS, or Street Fighter 2. I never concentrate when playing games as it's a mean of relaxation for me to pwn some noobs. Yet I constantly head shots.

I didn't RTFA, but after the headline I was thinking, "so what?". Have you ever had errors in your life where it changes your behavior, and made you a better person overall later? Had errors that cost you your job, and made you find a better one that pays double?

This is just fsking weird to me. I don't see where this could be applied, where the error occurred can be so great, that the person wasn't paying enough attention in the first place. If I was a fireman, I don't think I would listen to horse races while fighting a fire.

I've actually got one of these... (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 6 years ago | (#23195788)

I actually have one of these... for some reason it's going off right now...

I'm sure there is real science to this. (1)

misterjava66 (1265146) | more than 6 years ago | (#23196732)

I'm sure there is real science to this. When I'm playing Guitar Hero (love it!), I can tell a few seconds before I miss a note that I'm going to miss a note. Sometimes (rarely), I can "calm myself down/refocus" and avoid the miss. I've seen this same phenom in others and talking to them, they are aware prior to making a mistake that 'one is coming soon' :-)

Cross-check (1)

Wormholio (729552) | more than 6 years ago | (#23196766)

It may be a stretch to say this thing predicts errors. It seems more like it can tell when you are likely to be distracted or more prone to making a mistake.

How best to use that information? It may be possible to train people to recognize they are off focus, so they can get themselves back on focus. Or maybe it won't.

It may be more useful for knowing when someone's work needs to be cross-checked, because we all naturally get distracted sometimes, either by internal or external stimuli. Imagine an air traffic controller using this device. A warning to him that he may not be focusing might only add further distraction, but a signal to a back-up controller who can cross check the first guy's work could save lives.
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