Emotional machines - Do we want them?

An Australian company called Mindsystems has a revolutionary software package they claim can replicate human emotion, and the implications go beyond entertainment

An Australian company called Mindsystems have devised an Artificial Intelligence system for simulating human emotion. It can apparently be used to quite convincingly replicate a person's feelings in a variety of situations. Called EMIR (Emotional Model for Intelligent Response), it is based on real-time data collected by researchers in the psychological sciences. Imagine a "friendly fridge" that could have its own personality, or a child's toy that would do more than imitate feelings. Mindsystems predict their system could be used for virtually every system which has a human-machine interface. They go as far as imagining a stock market simulation which could predict the emotional reactions of thousands of investors to certain information. Angry robot
The system includes simulation for feelings that are somewhat surprising. For example, the system can simulate boredom as a possible emotion. The Mindsystems team state that EMIR has over 259 "emotion terms" it can show. It works by looking at factors influencing the character such as success at achieving goals and the levels of the character's control over their own situation. This "state of mind" is then compared to a database of human responses mapped over time, which was assembled by a US research psychologist Dr Albert Mehrabian of UCLA. The system is initially intended for entertainment applications, such as toys that display emotion and videogame characters that respond emotionally to their virtual circumstances. The company has assembled technological demos of the system such as a search engine that uses certain language cues to find information of a particular emotional flavour. Another demo called "Robby the emotional thermostat" allows the user to control the environment that influences a virtual character, causing emotional responses such as anger when the environment gets beyond the character's control. Although the system is initially being targeted at toys and game software, the project was originally intended to revolutionise warning systems. For example, the EMIR software could allow a system to deliver various degrees of urgency in its voice in order to alert bored operators of a problem situation. This is especially important in "terrain warning systems". ZDNet Australia conducted a short Q&A with Mindsystems representatives. Q: Can you tell us about a system that will soon go live with EMIR integrated and what it does?
A: At the moment we only have EMIR running on our demo systems. We are currently looking for adventure game developers who would like to benefit by their software expressing emotion. I take it you will be selling the system as a licensed framework that software developers can use?
Yes, we have the library in Java, COM and C++/C packages for game machines; and it can be tailored for custom hardware, such as, warning systems or even house hold appliances like "Smart Fridges". Do you charge on a product-by-product basis?
The software will be sold by per-copy licenses at a low rate similar to the way Dolby-C is licensed. Can you describe in detail what "terrain warning" systems are?
Terrain warning systems currently use a synthesised voice to tell jet pilots when they're too low, or warn them if they are about to hit the side of a mountain. Our software would enhance this type of system by adding emotional inflection to the system triggered, by the situation as it progresses. The purpose would be so that the pilot could be alerted to increased levels of danger, allowing them to concentrate on flying the airplane.

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