Skip to Content

A Gym for the Brain

December 1, 2004

Great basketball players aren’t just powerful athletes: they also have a “sense” of the entire court and the ability to make split-second decisions, which many people assume are innate. But a company in Netanya, Israel, called Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE) believes that these talents can be taught – and to prove it, it has created a video-game-like tool, based on training techniques used by the Israeli Air Force, that helps players learn when to shoot or pass the ball and how to work with teammates.

ACE’s program, called IntelliGym, bears no external resemblance to basketball. The player initially shoots down enemy spacecraft using the keyboard’s arrow keys. Over the span of a dozen or so 40-minute sessions, the tasks get more complicated, challenging the player to confront a variety of enemies with a range of weapons. That may sound like standard video-game fare, but there’s a carefully planned strategy underneath: each level is designed to exercise specific skills used in basketball, such as predicting an opponent’s trajectory, deciding when to shoot at an opponent who keeps changing direction, and working with other team members to defeat a number of opponents. Reports of player and team performance are automatically generated for review by coaches.

Daniel Gopher, a professor of industrial engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology who introduced a computer-based trainer to the Israeli Air Force more than a decade ago and found that it improved pilots’ skills by up to 30 percent, agreed to help ACE design a new tool aimed at the sports industry, where improved performance can mean big bucks. “We spend so much time in the weight room working on the physical aspect, but this is the one area that is pretty untapped – the cognitive and mental aspects of the game,” says Ed Schilling, assistant coach for the University of Memphis Tigers, one of two NCAA Division I teams that have already signed contracts with ACE.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station
Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station

Why China is still obsessed with disinfecting everything

Most public health bodies dealing with covid have long since moved on from the idea of surface transmission. China’s didn’t—and that helps it control the narrative about the disease’s origins and danger.

individual aging affects covid outcomes concept
individual aging affects covid outcomes concept

Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid

Drugs that rejuvenate our immune systems and make us biologically younger could help protect us from the disease’s worst effects.

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.