What is Bionic Reading and How is it Possible?  by@asherumerie

What is Bionic Reading and How is it Possible?

May 24th 2022 2,547 reads
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Bionic reading takes advantage of the brain’s repository of optical information and context to ease the assimilation of text. The name was coined as a tribute to the collaboration of brain (bio) and technology to improve text comprehension. Bionic Reading is a software service founded and owned by Swiss typographic designer Renato Casutt. With the interplay of fixation, saccade, and opacity, visual stimuli can be transferred to the text, which decisively changes the type of type.
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Asher Umerie

Content writer and Editorial Intern at HackerNoon.

Senses are the tools we’ve been blessed with to navigate a complex existence. They become our perspective, the way we see the world - hear it, smell it, feel it, and taste it. People even attest to a sixth sense - a supposed intuitive faculty that affords awareness outside of ordinary perception. 

Our brain sits at the center of these senses in a half and half pool of grey and white matter, a repository of data collected by our senses over time. In short, brains give us context - makes sense that zombies are so obsessed with them. 

Bionic reading takes advantage of the brain’s repository of optical information and context to ease the assimilation of text. 

Stay with me.

What is Bionic Reading?  

It is important to establish, at this point, that while Bionic reading is a concept, it is also a software service founded and owned by Swiss typographic designer Renato Casutt. The name was coined as a tribute to the collaboration of the brain (bio) and technology to improve text comprehension. 

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Image source

The image above displays two identical paragraphs, a regular version and another enhanced with bionic reading. 

Notice anything yet? 

This Twitter user did.

I did too... 

The text in the image above describes the concept of bionic reading-

a new method facilitating the reading process by guiding the eyes through text with artificial fixation points. As a result, the reader is only focusing on the highlighted initial letters and lets the brain center complete the word. 

How is Bionic Reading possible? 

Do you remember seeing images on social media where you’re asked to look at a black dot at the center of your screen for 30seconds (or more)? After which you blink and then stare at a surprising after-image on your wall.

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Image source

Well, that and other optical illusions are possible because our brains are really good at recognizing patterns and ‘seeing’ familiar objects.

The brain and the eyes have a really good working relationship. And text comprehension is one of the ways they prove it.

Taking evolutionary trends into account, the fact that humans developed comprehension skills is a matter of cosmic luck one might say.
Although scientists have no real understanding of why humans are able to read and write, they do know what happens to the brain when we read.  

Summarily: One part of your brain makes it possible to automatically recognize words, while the other part analyses the word’s meaning. It’s able to do this with the help of some physiological and language tools like fixation, saccade, and linguistic transparency/opacity.

Let's demystify some of these terms

  • Fixation - describes the way the eyes move and stop while reading. Think of it as the target of your eye’s gaze. It follows that If the eyes make fewer fixations over a body of text the reader is able to read faster. Eye fixation is a naturally occurring physiological process, influenced by a    number of factors including the reader’s vocabulary, vision span, and familiarity with the text.
  • Saccade - Pause for a little while and look around the space you’re currently in. That in itself is an example of a saccadic eye movement. They are rapid eye movements that change the point of fixation - they can be small movements like scanning through text or larger scale movements like when you looked around your room. They can occur voluntarily (whenever you feel like it), or reflexively, even when your eyes are already fixated on a subject.

The Bionic reading website summarises the relationship between these tools

The eye is guided through text by means of typographic highlights. With the interplay of fixation, saccade, and opacity, visual stimuli can be transferred to the text, which decisively changes the typeface

Final Thoughts on Bionic Reading

As someone that struggles with focus for extended periods, I am excited about how this could affect my assimilation and productivity in the long run.

However, this is a piece of technology that is still in its early stages of development, with prototypes running on only a handful of apps. And as with any new piece of emerging tech, it will be subject to its share of criticism.

I, for one, will be keeping a very close eye on how things progress with Bionic Reading. Let me know what you think about it in the comments! 

Lead image via: Image source

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