In the future, computers will be emotional

University of Cambridge researchers are building emotionally intelligent computers. Is this the future of man and machine communication?
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

We are calculating. Continue 0.3 mile, then turn left.

Oh, the familiar, flat voice of the GPS device. Peter Robinson is frustrated with the machine that is supposed to keep him from getting lost in the city.

Unfortunately, the University of Cambridge professor can't turn left because there's a barrier in the road.

"You're fired," Robinson jokes, as he throws the GPS into the backseat.

"I love gadgets. I hate the fact that they are so difficult to use. The problem is that computers don't react to how I feel, whether I am pleased or annoyed. They just ignore me," Robinson said, as he settled into his Cambridge office.

Ideally, Robinson wants a computer system that can sense feelings. These so-called emotional computers could read a person's mind.

To do so, the computer would have to pick up on our facial expressions and tone of voice.

Computers with feelings?

In the lab, Robinson shows off a camera system that can track facial expressions. The machine looks for movements such as a head-nod, head-shake, head-tilt, head-turn, head-fwd, head-bck, lip-pull, lip-pucker, mouth open, teeth and BrowRaise.

Our gestures reveal our emotional state too. For instance, frowning and shaking your head is quite different from just shaking your head.

The computer needs to pick up on how a person speaks, and it can do this by looking at the tempo, pitch and energy of a person's voice. It's all in the intonation. Someone who is confused sounds different than someone who is angry or sad.

More Human, Less Machine

Would it help if the GPS system looked a little more like a person than a box? Robinson thinks people would respond to the machine better if it did look more human-like. The professor designed the almost-human-like robot named Charles.

Charles has motors in his face and cameras in his eyes. While he might be more friendly than a standard GPS system, he also looks a bit more creepy.

The Cambridge professor thinks differently: "The way that Charles and I can communicate shows us the future of how people are going to interact with machines."

Robinson turns to Charles in the car. "Hey Charles, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," he said.

via Kurzweil

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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