Pressing a button is more challenging than appears

Pressing a button appears easy, but the brain needs a probabilistic internal model to control a press. The action appears effortless and one easily dismisses how challenging it is. Researchers at Aalto University, Finland, and KAIST, South Korea, created detailed simulations of button-pressing with the goal of producing human-like presses.

The researchers argue that the key capability of the brain is a probabilistic model: the brain learns a model that allows it to predict a suitable motor command for a button. If a press fails, it can pick a very good alternative and try it out.

"This research was triggered by admiration of our remarkable capability to adapt button-pressing", tells professor Antti Oulasvirta of Aalto University. "We push a button on a remote controller differently than a piano key. The press of a skilled user is surprisingly elegant when looked at terms of timing, reliability, and energy use. We successfully press buttons without ever knowing the inner workings of a button. It is essentially a black box to our motor system. On the other hand, we also fail to activate buttons, and some buttons are known to be worse than others."