Bye-bye, mouse. Hello, mind control

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For example, if the user is stressed or in a rush, a mailbox could sort itself to put the priority emails at the top -- then highlight the fun ones from friends when the user is relaxed.

"And if I'm tense and concentrating, it may delay my text alerts and messages instead of interrupting me," he says.

And it's not just facial expressions or mind scans that can be used to make computers switch modes. Today's smartphones and tablets are equipped with a variety of sensors, including GPS trackers, clocks, microphones, accelerometers, gyroscopes and compasses that can tell the device if it's moving, how it's being held, where it's located, what time of day it is, and much more.

For example, says Hamid Najafi, senior director of application engineering at sensor technology company InvenSense, a smartphone should be able to tell when the user is in a movie theater or on an airplane, or working out in a gym, or asleep, or tied up in a meeting. It could automatically switch to silent mode in theaters and during meetings, he says.

"And there are many, many other tasks the phone can do if it intelligently integrates the inputs from all sensors and becomes an active companion to you, rather than just a passive device that you can access when needed," he says.

Business adoption lags

According to David Hogue, a professor of psychology who focuses on user experience at San Francisco State University, business use typically lags behind other applications for new interfaces. "You'd think business is the leader, but what people are doing at home is setting their expectations," he says.

For example, the most advanced, mind-control interfaces are showing up for use in gaming, and to help the handicapped. Meanwhile, touch interfaces and speech recognition have become mainstream due to consumer adoption.

"Sometimes it's surprising to see that businesses are two or three versions of the software behind the personal world, because there are large costs to changing infrastructure," he says.

But the pace of change will speed up as businesses move to software-as-a-service and cloud-based applications, he says.

Korolov is a freelance business and technology writer in Massachusetts. She can be reached at

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

This story, "Bye-bye, mouse. Hello, mind control" was originally published by Network World.

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