Eleven months ago I started paying serious attention to attention by reading the classic book Attention and Effort by former Berkeley professor and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman.
I now feel like my interest in attention has converged at many levels:
- I'm involved in two different research projects on attention.
- I've started worrying about the overload of information in our daily lives, as discussed by A VC in NYC on attention overload and by Om Malik on internet anxiety disorder, and have started using tools described in Lifehacker to try to keep order.
- Recently, I've also started focusing on how attention relates to presentations/talks, and how Powerpoint slides can be optimized by using basic attention principles derived from the cognitive research of Richard Mayer. A nice summary of his research is posted on this Visual Design for eLearning blog and the research is the basis for the Beyond Bullets blog. I find particularly interesting a Zen take on this issue described extensively at Presentation Zen such as this brilliant comparison of presentations by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
These convergences will be just the tip of the iceberg. I believe that cognitive science issues such as attention are going to have an even bigger impact on the average person in the future. New innovations are going to be driven by the integration of cognitive research into technology design. Traditional cognitive techniques of reaction times or dual-attention tasks have been applied in the past, and recently they have been used to investigate the effect of cell phone talking on attention while driving. But they are going to receive new applications in product development and more sophisticated techniques will be used. Current leading edge cognitive research incorporates electrophysiological measures of brain activity, such as fMRI or evoked potentials, that can be more sensitive to detecting correlations with perceptual stimuli and behavior than strict behavioral measures.
Whichever companies are the first to seriously integrate measures of cognitive behavior into their product design and marketing are going to obtain a huge lead over their competitors. Apple and IDEO without a doubt have cognitive scientists on staff. Google and Yahoo!, maybe. HP, Tivo and Electronic Arts, doubtful. Dolby and Lucas Film, no way. (Just to name a few companies around the Bay). All of these companies, however, can benefit from these techniques to improve their products and better understand their customer. The question isn't if cognitive techniques will become key R&D tools for consumer technology companies, it's when.
How I'm trying to incorporate cognition into the hearing aid industry is partly detailed in this interview I gave.