Similar attention sensing technology has begun to

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Unformatted text preview: e systems that can automatically prioritize, reschedule or forward incoming phone calls and digital messages, much as a personal receptionist might. Similar attention-sensing technology has begun to appear in cars and may lead to more “considerate” everyday appliances. Monitoring a person’s attention requires sophisticated reasoning based on indepth surveillance. The work thus raises issues of privacy and reliability. and interns at work. They videotaped the subjects and periodically had them rate their “interruptibility.” The amount of time the workers spent in leave-mealone mode varied from person to person and day to day, ranging from 10 to 51 percent. On average, the subjects wanted to work without interruption about one third of the time. In studies of Microsoft employees, Horvitz has similarly found that they typically spend more than 65 percent of their day in a state of low attention. Today’s phones and computers, which naively assume that the user is never too busy to take a call, read an email, or click “OK” on an alert box, thus are probably correct about two thirds of time. (Hudson and Horvitz acknowledge, however, that it is not yet clear how well these figures generalize to other jobs.) To be useful, then, considerate systems will have to be more than 65 percent accurate in sensing when their users are near their cognitive limits. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to require strapping someone into a heart monitor or a brain scanner. Fogarty and his collaborators have found that simply using a microphone to detect whether anyone is talking within earshot would raise accuracy to 76 percent. That is as good as the human judgment of coworkers who viewed videotapes of the subjects and guessed when they were uninterruptible. When Fogarty’s group enhanced the software to detect not only conversations but also mouse movement, keyboard activity and the applications running on machines, the system’s accuracy climbed to 87 percent for the two managers. Curiously, it rose only to 77 percent for the five scientists, perhaps because they are a chattier bunch. Bestcom/Enhanced Telephony, a Microsoft prototype based on Horvitz’s work, digs a little deeper into each user’s computer to find clues about what they are up to. Microsoft launched an internal beta test of the system in mid-2003. By last October, Horvitz says, about 3,800 people were using the system to field their incoming phone calls. Horvitz himself is one of those testers, and while we talk in his office in JANUARY 2005 56 SCIENTIFIC A MERIC A N COPYRIGHT 2004 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC. Attentive Autos irst the eyelids droop, then the head begins to bob. The car drifts out of its lane, then jerks back erratically. The signs of a drowsy or distracted driver are not hard to spot, but one must look for them. Many vehicles soon will. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) figures that 20 to 30 percent of crashes reported to the police — ab...
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