Computer input: a heads-up

For about a year, I’ve used voice recognition software off and on while working at my computer. I’ve been doing more of that lately, and one of the unexpected side effects is that my typing skills seem to have deteriorated a bit.

I learned to type when I was in junior high — it seemed easier than trying to improve the quality of my penmanship. So typing, now known to everyone except Mavis Beacon as keyboarding, may well be my most finely honed psychomotor skill. It’ll be a shame to lose that.

A skillful typist can hit 80 or so words a minute, meaning 400 characters or spaces. That’s better than six per second, though that’s a difficult pace to sustain for very long. With my speech recognition software, even speaking at a relatively slow pace, I beat that with less effort. And in fact the software is able to keep up with a virtually normal rate of speech.

The Emotiv EPOC headsetIn today’s New York Times, Moving Mountains with the Brain describes a headset and translates it into onscreen commands. the headset uses electroencephalography technology to pick up electrical signals, interpret them, and convert them to computer-interface actions.

(And who would have expected the voice recognition software to be able to spell “electroencephalography?”)

You can view a demo at the Emotiv Systems site.

The specific technology, in a way, doesn’t matter. Whether the device works by picking up electrical impulses from the brain or from facial muscles, what’s important is that it provides another way for human to interact with the computer.

The developers of the headset provide a team that includes practice exercises. After less than a minute of training, you can lift an on-screen block with your thoughts. As with the speech recognition software that I use, the headset learns about how you think as you use it, and adapts to your specific “configuration.”