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

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

Stay connected

Illustration 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.