Technological Developments Useful in Eventually Producing the Equivalent of Neal Stephenson’s “Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”

Michael Giberson

As any reader of Neal Stephenson’s book The Diamond Age knows, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer would be quite handy to have. Unfortunately, technology hasn’t quite advanced to the point necessary to actually produce such a thing.

A recently published research report seems like one small step in the right direction. From a summary:

Researchers report that they can predict “with unprecedented accuracy” how well you will do on a complex task such as a strategic video game simply by analyzing activity in a specific region of your brain.

The findings, published in the online journal , offer detailed insights into the brain structures that facilitate learning, and may lead to the development of training strategies tailored to individual strengths and weaknesses.

The new approach used established brain imaging techniques in a new way. Instead of measuring how brain activity differs before and after subjects learn a complex task, the researchers analyzed background activity in the basal ganglia, a group of brain structures known to be important for procedural learning, coordinated movement and feelings of reward.

Using magnetic resonance imaging and a method known as multivoxel pattern analysis, the researchers found significant differences in patterns of a particular type of MRI signal, called T2*, in the basal ganglia of study subjects. These differences enabled researchers to predict between 55 and 68 percent of the variance (differences in performance) among the 34 people who later learned to play the game.

More from Chris Kohler at WIRED.

The article, “Predicting Individual’s Learning Success From Patterns of Pre-Learning MRI Activity,” will be published in the journal PLoS One (but I couldn’t find a link to the article there this morning).

HT to Mark Thoma.