Big Brother software: The ‘social X-ray’ glasses that let you know exactly what another person is thinking
Posted July 14, 2011on:
Could emotion identification software take the guess-work out of making first impressions? Originally designed to help autistic people interpret body language, researchers are now hoping “emotional x-ray glasses” could be used by the general public.
Engadget explains the mechanics.
“…these specs use a rice grain-sized camera to pick up on a person’s 24 ‘feature points’ — facial expressions that convey feelings… Once recognized, these signals are analyzed by software, compared against a database of known expressions and then relayed to users via an attached headphone. If their date starts to feel uncomfortable, a blinking red light lets them know that it’s time to shut up.”
MIT’s Director of Affective Computing Research Rosalind Picard helped to develop the glasses.
She explained how the technology could help those with autism or vision disabilities to communicate.
“For a person on the autism spectrum, usually they can see — although some could be blind also — they can see you but they may have a very hard time reading what the thousands of combinations of movements on your face actually mean. In fact, most of us don’t know what all those combinations actually mean and yet somehow we infer that, ‘It’s ok for me to keep talking,’ or ‘Uh, oh, you’re getting bored. I’d better back off.'” (Video source: Test of FAITH)
As it turns out, the software may know us even better than we know ourselves. Using a list of basic expressions developed by Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, they compared their software with the average person to see who’s better at reading faces. New Scientist gives us the results.
“The average person only managed to interpret, correctly, 54 percent of Baron-Cohen’s expressions on real, non-acted faces. This suggested to them that most people — not just those with autism — could use some help sensing the mood of people they are talking to. … The software, by contrast, correctly identifies 64 percent of the expressions.”
So the technology could help us read each other better, but is that really the best way to make new friends? A writer for Good says the ability to hide our emotions is a vital part of getting along.
“The idea of these glasses is terrifying. They essentially declare war on the white lie, something we often use to smooth over social interactions. Why does your aunt need to know you didn’t like her Christmas present? These specs would seem to consign us to a life of involuntary radical honesty…”
Luckily, Picard says the software is not universal yet. Currently the algorithm is based on a sample of British actors, so emotional responses from different cultures would need to be recorded in order to make the software more universal. CNET explains — they’re already working to remedy that issue.
“The company is also in talks with a Japanese firm that wants to use the software to distinguish between 10 different types of smiles on Japanese faces.”