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Bored? Soon Your Smartphone Will Notice

September 15, 2015 By Molly White in

Smartphone app developers continue to express their creativity, mathematical and programming skills, giving rise to an ever wider range of apps that not only track physical locations and network communications, but behavior and, according to a report from MIT Technology Review , your state of mind.

A group of researchers at Telefonica Research in Barcelona have apparently developed an app that can tell whether its user is bored with 83 percent accuracy. Incorporating factors such as the amount of time since the smartphone user last had a call or text, the time of day and how intensively they are using the phone, the researchers developed a boredom-detecting algorithm which was presented at the UbiComp ubiquitous computing conference in Japan, according to MIT Tech’s September 2 report.

The researchers took things a step further. Upon determining its user is bored, the app can initiate a process that results in the user receiving a text alert with a link to an article on BuzzFeed. The researchers found that people who the app determined were bored clicked on the BuzzFeed link more often than those who weren’t.

The Telefonica research team collected data from study participants by using an Android app that they used to rate their level of boredom several times a day over a period of two weeks. The researchers then compared this data with other data revolving around their smartphone usage, such as how many apps they used.

A second Android app was developed to validate the boredom detector. Determining that the user was bored, this app pushed out an alert asking if the user wanted to read an article on Buzzfeed’s news app. Those determined bored were more likely to click on the link, and spend more time reading it than other smartphone users randomly sent the same alert.

The researchers point out that this type of app could prove helpful to Internet and bricks-and-mortar businesses, as well as other types of organizations and facilities. Upon detecting a smartphone user is bored and where he or she was, for instance, it could push out content relevant within the context of their present location, as well as combine that with personal data on the user’s interests, hobbies, what they buy, where they tend to shop and for what, etc.

M. Ehsan Hoque, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Rochester, pointed out that the method the researchers’ used may not be measuring true boredom, however. Often subconscious, he added that a more objective way of determining boredom would be just to repeatedly ask smartphone users if they wanted to play a game on their smartphone, recording how often they say yes and how often they played in each instance.