Text 2.0: the book that knows it's being read

Text 2.0

A clever combination of eye tracking hardware and software could allow a book to react to the way you're reading it

The future of eBook readers could be text that knows it's being read, according to researchers.

Text 2.0, developed by Ralf Biedert from the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, uses an eye tracker to monitor your progress across the page.

When your eye hits certain keywords actions are triggered - Latin text in Dracula, for example, is complemented by a brief translation, while antiquated words are bolstered with an explanation on the side of the page.

Technology like Text 2.0 makes the computer smarter and more empathic. It's a way of giving authors, or maybe a new type of artist, additional tools to create an entirely new type of book

Also useful is the ability for the text to remember where you left off reading when you glance away, and highlight the spot with a red arrow when your gaze lands back on the page again.

Similarly, the software can detect when you're skim reading and blank out all but the key phrases - an unusual, but surprisingly useful feature during our hands on.

However, Biedert has grander ambitions for his project than simple textual aids. "People talk about the end of the mouse and the keyboard, but that's not necessary, they're perfect at what they do," he said.

"Technology like Text 2.0 makes the computer smarter and more empathic. It's a way of giving authors, or maybe a new type of artist, additional tools to create an entirely new type of book."

Hollywood book

Biedert calls this the Hollywood Book and gave us a demonstration using Dracula. When our eye scanned across the phrase "howling wolves" the sound sprung to life in the background, and when we read midnight the page darkened.

Though crude examples, Biedert imagined the text being applied to magazines and newspapers, allowing biographies and videos to be activated when you read over a person's name, or a description of an event.

While the technology was impressive, our brief hands on revealed it still needs work. Reading too quickly caused the software to miss its cues, and the reflection from glasses can too easily throw the eye tracker off - though Biedert claimed this was a flaw in the 27,000 euro eye tracker that the software is dependent on.

Still, he's optimistic about the project and claimed that as the software gets smarter and the hardware smaller it could ultimately find its way into eBook readers, or devices such as Apple's iPad, paving the way for an entirely new type of reading experience.

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