Aug 30, 2007

the computer knows you better than you know yourself

Don't worry: computers haven't stolen your free will just yet. But they're trying:
The researchers then used neural networks to analyse the biofeedback signals and input records, to see if they could predict the moment that a player would click the jump button in the game. To their surprise, they found that skin conductance alone is enough to predict a jump up to 2 seconds beforehand....

Laufer says the approach could have useful applications: "There are quite a few situations in life where there would be a need to provide a support for making a good decision at a good time. I have military applications (e.g.pilots) in mind, but surely we can find others as well."
I had thought there was only a 200-odd millisecond "lag time" between unconsciously beginning and consciously willing an activity like lifting a finger, so this two second prediction is a remarkable turn.

What might make the difference: so far, researchers have focused on a fairly linear scenario--lining up a jump--in a game with a fair amount of repetition. The neural network is predicting your behavior only when, ironically, you're at your most robotic.

A recent summary of neurological research on conscious free will here [pdf].

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