‘Psychic robot’ knows what you want to do before you do

A computer algorithm could one day make your life a lot easier by predicting and acting on what you meant to do before your brain has even worked it out, like psychic robot.

12th October 2015

‘Psychic robot’ knows what you want to do before you do (iStock)

It knows you didn’t mean to do that. But fortunately, it can help.

‘It’ is a computer algorithm designed by engineers in Chicago, and it could one day be making your life a lot easier.

Publishing in PLOS ONE, engineers Justin Horowitz and James Patton describe technology that could correct our actions before we can, by observing what we meant to do in the first place. The research could be used to design ‘smart’ machinery, like cars that self-correct on slippery roads, planes that correct for turbulence, or movement-correcting prostheses for people with muscle spasms.

Humans take a while - over a tenth of a second, in fact - to react to disturbances in their movement. Imagine, for example, being nudged as you reach for a cup.

“Your eyes take time to adjust; your nerves take time to process what has happened; your brain takes time to process what has happened and even more time to get a new signal to your hand,” said Horowitz, a graduate student at the University of Chicago.

A computer could calculate the necessary adjustments well before you’d even realized you’d lost control.

To build their algorithm, the pair conducted experiments in which they shoved the arms of people trying to reach in a particular direction. For about 150 milliseconds after being shoved, people’s hands kept moving forward, even though they were now reaching in the wrong direction. Then they began to course-correct.

As the intended direction was known in the experiments, the researchers could identify an algorithm that predicted the intended direction from people’s movements in those milliseconds post-shove.

Horowitz said a machine programmed with this algorithm, what he calls a “psychic robot”, could then use these predictions to complete your action before you can.

Unfortunately, the technology uses extremely sensitive equipment to measure your movements, making it unlikely to appear in personal vehicles for a while.

Ample time to design a bionic version of yourself though.

by Catherine E. Offord