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Meta’s Brain Reader Could Help it Understand Users’ Mental State

This data could help Meta understand your response to advertising, one expert told Patent Drop.

Photo by Mediamodifier via Unsplash

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Meta wants to get to know its users inside and out. 

The company filed a patent application for in-ear “spectroscopy” for “cognitive load estimation.” To put it simply, this uses an in-ear device to measure a user’s brain signals to better understand a user’s brain activity. 

Meta’s system relies on what’s called “functional near-infrared spectroscopy” sensors in a user’s ear to capture data related to “hemodynamic changes,” or blood flow changes, in the user’s brain. The system then uses EEG electrodes on a user’s temple to collect electrical signal data corresponding to brain activity. The blood flow signal data is filtered based on the electrical signal data, which is then used to estimate the “cognitive load” of a user. 

Cognitive load correlates to a user’s “vulnerability to background sound,” Meta said. Understanding a user’s cognitive load could be useful for estimating things like a user’s intent, how much a user is focusing, “listening fatigue,” or whether the person is struggling to hear at all, the company said. 

Meta also noted in the filing that this device could be implemented as part of an artificial reality system, whether that be a set of smart glasses, an artificial reality headset or a set of over-the-ear headphones. Meta said that its system is lighter than typical devices that measure similar signals, as they’re mounted via a headcap or straps and “are bulky, and not suitable for use in a portable, wearable device setting.” 

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

By understanding a user’s cognitive load, Meta can learn a lot about a user’s mental state, said Jake Maymar, VP of Innovation at The Glimpse Group. It’s essentially a stress tester, he said, indicating how exactly their mind is reacting to the content in front of them. 

But with a company like Meta, “it’s all about advertising,” Maymar said. As you use the device, “It gets to know you. Your device starts to really understand you as a person and can customize these experiences for you, so they really appeal to you.” 

Meta makes the bulk of its money from advertising, bringing in $33.6 billion in the recent quarter, up more than 23% year-over-year. And as we’ve seen from past patents for tracking user engagement in the metaverse, they’re likely looking to make back some money from its $46.5 billion metaverse bet with mixed-reality advertising. 

Plus, these ads will likely target you closer than just being placed in your favorite games, said Maymar. While this patent provides one example of a way to collect highly valuable data, it’s not the first time we’ve seen patents like these from Meta, with some of its filings including EEG readers and muscle signal detection.  

“All of these different patents, by themselves, are pretty powerful,” said Maymar. “But take all those data points from all those different sensors and put them together, you start assembling a person, and that person now has depth.” 

Though this may seem like Meta is getting too close for comfort (especially given Meta’s history with mishandling user data), what may drive people to Meta’s mixed-reality devices over a company like Apple’s is the price point. The Meta Quest 3 starts at $500, while Apple has priced its upcoming Vision Pro at $3,500. “If you’re getting that discount, if you’re buying something that’s a little bit cheaper, you are the product,” said Maymar.