Automated video-coach could help people be more sociable

Summary:MACH, a PC-based system developed at MIT, can coach people to improve their social skills and perform better in job interviews. It could also help people who don't have good interpersonal skills to be more successful at work.

It's a standing joke that many IT people have poor social skills, but MIT has developed a software system that could help by providing automated coaching. MACH (My Automated Conversation coacH) uses a computer-generated face plus facial, speech, and behavior analysis software to simulate face-to-face conversations. It then provides users with feedback on their interactions.

One of the developers, doctoral student Ehsan Hoque, told MIT News: "Interpersonal skills are the key to being successful at work and at home." MACH could be one way to help people to improve them.

The system runs on a standard laptop using its microphone and webcam to capture the user's speech, facial expressions and movements. MIT News says: "The MACH system then analyzes the user’s smiles, head gestures, speech volume and speed, and use of filler words, among other things. The automated interviewer — a life-size, three-dimensional simulated face — can smile and nod in response to the subject’s speech and motions, ask questions and give responses."

The system was tested with 90 MIT students split into three groups, of which only the third used MACH and received its coaching feedback. All the students were given before and after interviews by MIT career counselors. The third group "showed statistically significant improvement" in their performance in their final job interviews.

While the test implementation was based on job interviews, systems could be developed for, for example, IT help staff, programmers and other groups.

Hoque is presenting a paper on MACH (PDF) at next week's UbiComp (International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing) conference in Zurich.

It would be possible to develop a much more sophisticated system using the Kinect 2 that will ship with Microsoft's Xbox One system, which has capabilities far beyond webcams. For example, its infrared component can detect heart rates and blood flow under the skin, perhaps showing stress or embarrassment.

Topics: Software, Education

About

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first webs... Full Bio

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