Two years ago, some high-functioning patients with Alzheimer’s disease were generous enough to spend a few days showing me how they coped with their condition. Common computer software, they said, was a big help: Things like e-mail, which retains a long thread of replies, aids memory.
Microsoft Research, in recognition of the possibilities, has just given a total of $300,000 to scientists at five universities and one research institution, to support projects that use technology to assist damaged minds. These are the university endeavors:
Carnegie Mellon University is exploring a system to help Alzheimer’s patients recall episodic memories more effectively.
Claremont Graduate University and Old Dominion University are developing software for smart cellphones that enhance communication between autistic people and caregivers.
The University of Washington is working on “wayfinding,” which involves machine-assisted personal navigation for people with cognitive impairments, enabling them to find their way through life independently.
Princeton University hopes to create a device with a personalized and searchable visual vocabulary to help people with language deficits, like aphasia.
The Georgia Institute of Technology is looking into an automated system for coding video of social interactions with people thought to have an autistic-spectrum disorder, making evaluations more consistent.
In addition to the universities, the Institute for Cognitive Science and Technology, in Italy, and the Italian National Research Council are studying a digital assistant for memory training.—Josh Fischman