Bring back Clippy

Summary:Computer scientists have created a digital artwork that changes based on the mood of the viewer. The system uses a camera to track eight facial features and then changes a digital image in response.

Computer scientists have created a digital artwork that changes based on the mood of the viewer. The system uses a camera to track eight facial features and then changes a digital image in response. So if the person's expression is happy, the image's colors become more vibrant; if angry, the colors go dark. The researchers from the University of Bath call the technique "empathic painting."

So what?

This technology might have saved the ill-fated Microsoft Paperclip, which made its debut in Office 98. For the benefit of people born since 1998, I'll explain that Clippy worked like this: If it sensed you were (for example) writing a letter ("Dear Microsoft Bob,..."), it would manfest itself chirpily and offer to insert the Letter template. Unfortunately, it often gave what some users considered irrelevant or even counter-productive advice. It soon became reviled in many quarters, and was disabled by default in subsequent versions of Office. (Though it's still there if you want to activate it.)

It needn't have been thus. If Microsoft had waited a decade to introduce Clippy, it could have taken advantage of the empathic software and of the webcams that stare unblinkingly from the tops of so many monitors. Two ways it could work: First, if Clippy sensed that you were having trouble (furrowed brow, foaming at the mouth), it could safely assume that help might be appropriate and pop up with some hope of a warm welcome. Second: If it appeared with advice ("You seem to be writing a Dear John letter..."), it could watch your reaction. If you looked irritated, it could scarper ("Whoa! Never mind!") even before you had a chance to click its little close box, thereby giving you the visceral satisfaction of having "stared it down." Under many circumstances, dominating inferiors is good for a primate's health -- unlike its predecessor, Clippy II could actually do a lot of good in the world.

Topics: Microsoft

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