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‘Diff Displays’ Computer Program Can Tell When You Aren’t Looking at Your Screen

A new computer program called Diff Displays can tell whether or not you’re looking at your screen.

The program, developed by researchers at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, uses a computer-vision algorithm in your computer’s built-in camera to detect when your eyes aren’t looking at the screen, Dr. Per Ola Kristensson explained.

Kristensson created the program with professor Aaron Quigley and Jakub Dostal, a Ph.D. student.

But Diff Displays wasn’t designed to catch office workers slacking off, Kristensson said. Rather, it’s intended to reduce distraction and increase productivity.

How does it do that?

If you’re working around multiple monitors, the ones you’re not looking at will be dimmed. However, the program will still subtly visualize activity on the dimmed screen. When you look back at the screen, it returns to its original display.

The idea is to keep you aware of new information without being overly distracted by it, Kristensson said.

The program’s creators say they hope it will be especially useful for people who monitor lots of displays at once, such as flight controllers or workers at nuclear power plants, according to a university press release.

When asked if the program could be used for nefarious purposes, Kristensson replied, “Technology is neutral. It’s all about what people want to do with the software.”

Similar technology has been employed recently by Samsung’s for its new smartphone, the Galaxy S4, which is also able to detect whether you’re looking at the screen or not. In the case of the Galaxy S4, that capability is used in two innovative ways: to pause a video when you glance away from the screen, or to scroll up and down on an article by a simple tilt of the device (the scroll feature is disabled when you’re not looking at the phone.)

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