Predicting Human Performance

It turns out we humans are fairly bad at predicting our own physical and mental performance. Just look at the number of car accidents caused by drowsy driving in the U.S.: 77,000 per year. Or consider the 39 percent increase in workplace accidents when employees work 12-hour shifts. And, despite the copious amounts of coffee consumed by college students, all-nighters are no way to better grades.

But, it’s not just the average person that could do a better job, scientists have been grappling with the problem of predicting human performance for years. They know that a better understanding of human performance would allow us to do everything from improving the well-being of medical students to changing the way athletes train, perform and recover. 

Now, a wealth of new technology is promising to fundamentally change our basic understanding of human performance and pave the way for a variety of applications that will increase our health, safety, and productivity. (And, just for fun, it might also make us run a faster marathon.)

“Our goal is to use basic science along with new technologies — wearables, apps, omics data and advanced computation — to reveal something transformative about human performance,” said Daniel Forger, Ph.D., a Professor of Mathematics and Professor of Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics at the University of Michigan.

But, to leverage these new technologies will require researchers from disparate fields to break down academic silos and work together. To achieve that goal, the University of Michigan invited 25 experts from across its campus to participate in the 2019 Predicting Human Performance Ideas Lab, giving them the chance to receive a portion of the $3 million in funding available from the campus’ Biosciences Initiative (BSI) for teams formed at this event. 

The three-day, KI-facilitated workshop was held October 13th-15th and brought together faculty from 11 different schools and colleges — including Medicine, Engineering, Law, Business, and Art & Design. Participants created interdisciplinary teams around the innovative research ideas they developed and worked on pre-proposals they presented at the end of the week. 

“The intense creativity throughout the workshop was amazing. The high-risk ideas that were generated were well beyond anything I originally imagined,” said Forger, who directed the workshop. The diversity of background made the event particularly exciting, he added. “To see a top notch dance professor debate with a neuroscientist over what’s scientifically interesting was thrilling.”

For junior faculty Julia J. Lee, Ph.D., interacting with top-notch researchers from outside of their discipline was a valuable experience. She is an assistant professor of Management & Organizations and Assistant Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business. “These are people whom I would not have met otherwise, and being able to envision what interdisciplinary research could achieve was a transformative experience for me.”

Full proposal submission is underway and teams will learn in about a month whether their project received a portion of the $3 million in funding support. Stay tuned!