Catherine Armitage June 12, 2012
COMPUTERS are pushing us to unprecedented levels of work achievement and productivity, so it is only fitting that they can now be used to monitor ''cognitive overload'' at the desk.
Workers suffering cognitive overload stop accepting new information, become emotional and stressed, make more mistakes and their reasoning is impaired.
Many become adept at masking the signs, unfurrowing their brows and smiling through clenched teeth, although ''ums'', ''ahs'' and drawn-out sentences are harder to hide.
But technology developed at the National Information and Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence monitors voice signals humans cannot hear.
The voice's resonant frequency through the vocal tract can be picked up via desktop microphone headsets and measured, allowing employers to tell when their workers' brains are being overtaxed and, if necessary, intervene to avert disaster.
The technology, marketed as BrainGauge, is being sold as a recruitment tool for call centres. It has been used by NSW Roads and Maritime Services to monitor the cognitive loads of people managing traffic jams, by a telecommunications company to improve service quality, and in Australian defence research to assess the mental strain on individuals during flight operations.
Usually, less than 1 per cent of calls in call centres could be manually reviewed by management, the managing director of BrainGauge, Bruce Whitby, said.
''But with the technology you can do 100 per cent screening of the calls, and highlight the calls with a very high cognitive load.''
A 15-minute, web-based assessment that analyses candidate overload when faced with specific tasks means that ''by selecting the right candidate in the first place, you can save the money of training people who eventually will leave anyway. So you get a more stable workforce which will serve the customer [better] in the long run,'' the research group general manager of BrainGauge, Fang Chen, said.
The technology also has applications in health - to monitor cognitive progress after a stroke, for example.
In learning, it would enable teachers to ''identify how loaded you are and change the pace and complexity of delivery to make sure you are [learning] at optimal level,'' Dr Whitby said.
''If your cognitive level is too low, you will be bored; if it's too high, you will get overloaded and shut down'', he said.