In today's busy, modern lifestyle there are so many pings, alerts, and flashing screens vying for our attention, our day-to-day lives can easily descend into a non-stop series of distractions that aren't necessarily good for us. So researchers in the US have developed Phylter - a piece of software that actually checks your brain to see if it's busy before interrupting.
The whole system is based around a wearable headband that detects changes in blood flow in the brain's prefrontal cortex, Duncan Geere at TechRadar reports. These modulations offer clues as to whether a person is concentrating on something or not, and they enable Phylter to keep alerts in the background until you're ready to take a look at them. Thanks to some pretty advanced machine learning that runs in tandem with the headband, the software can adjust itself to each individual's brain, and determine with greater accuracy when you're in the zone and when you're just zoned out.
The technique is officially known as functional near-infrared spectroscopy, and Phylter can use it to act as an automatic 'do not disturb' sign. Muting and unmuting notifications on a smartphone is simple enough, but this system does it on your behalf, based on the activity of your brain.
"As wearable computing becomes more mainstream, it holds the promise of delivering timely, relevant notifications to the user," explain the researchers from Tuft University in Massachusetts. "However, these devices can potentially inundate the user, distracting them at the wrong times and providing the wrong amount of information. As physiological sensing also becomes consumer-grade, it holds the promise of helping to control these notifications."
"To solve this, we built a system 'Phylter' that uses physiological sensing to modulate notifications to the user," they report. "Phylter receives streaming data about a user's cognitive state, and uses this to modulate whether the user should receive the information."
A prototype of Phylter has already been shown off at the Human-Computer Interaction International Conference in LA, and eventually the plan is to hook it up to other devices, such as fitness trackers. Imagine being able to get all your emails after you've finished running rather than while you're still jogging around. It could also help people focus on single tasks more efficiently, because they're not suddenly switching their attention between last-minute dinner date plans, a new electricity bill, and their actual work.
The team behind Phylter suggests it could prioritise messages to bring you the most important emails or Facebook updates first; additionally it could be tweaked to provide a summary of everything that's competing for your attention until you're ready to look at it more closely. High-priority alerts (as customised by the user) could be given VIP treatment and shown no matter what the level of brain activity.
An adapted version of Google Glass was used as the foundation for the first Phylter prototype - volunteer testers were asked to accept or dismiss notifications as they wished while playing a video game, which helped the scientists figure out a usable correlation between blood flow and concentration levels.
If there's one thing we know all too well, it's the feeling of being in notification hell. Here's hoping that something like this app will swoop in and save us from ourselves.