Catherine Armitage June 11, 2012
Computers are now being used to monitor 'cognitive overload'. Photo: iStockphoto
COMPUTERS are pushing us to unprecedented levels of work achievement and productivity, so it's only fitting that they can now be used to monitor ''cognitive overload'' at the desk.
Workers suffering mental 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, though ums, ahs and drawn-out sentences are harder to hide.
But technology developed at the information and communications technology research centre NICTA monitors voice signals humans can't hear.
The voice's resonant frequency through the vocal tract can be picked up via desktop microphone headsets and measured, allowing employers to tell in real time 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 use in call centres.
Usually, less than 1 per cent of calls in call centres can be manually reviewed by management, explained Bruce Whitby, managing director of BrainGauge.
''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,'' says Fang Chen, BrainGauge research group general manager.
The technology also has applications in the health field to monitor cognitive progress after a stroke, for example.
In learning, said Dr Whitby, it could tell which students had to think the hardest even if they get the same mark.
It would also 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''.
''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.