Robots can now pick up the mood of their users, and can even tell if they’re drunk.

Refreshing News Blog
February 2, 2010

Now computers can sense the mood of their users. Already they can identify smiles, frowns and blushes.

Many people have commented on the contrast between Tony Blair’s urbane comments to last week’s Chilcott Enquiry and his physical unease in its first minutes as manifest in blinks, foot-tapping, crossed legs, and soon. Body language – non-verbal communication – is a valuable clue to innerfeelings (a truth, or half-truth, that men’s magazines often use when advising their readers how to tell whether a young lady might be interested in body language of another kind).

[efoods]Their claims are dubious, but now science is getting in on the act. It began with Darwin, whose 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and other Animals showed how blushes, smiles, raised eyebrows and the like add spice to the banal messages of the spoken word.

Now, computers can sense the mood of their users. Already they are able to identify smiles and frowns and even blushes (a subject of much interest to Darwin, who devotes many pages to it). Their programs generate well over a million combinations of facial expressions and head position and, on a good day (or with an expressive face) can. nine times out of ten, correctly identify looks of fear, sadness, happiness, anger disgust and surprise. They even do better than humans in differentiating the expression of a puzzled person from that of a drunk.

Researchers at MIT have made robots that smile, wink or raise their eyebrows at a human when they interact, and make eye contact when playing a recorded message. They nod when the subject gives the right answer to a question (which will be useful when academics are replaced by electronics – a process already well under way). The machines point at unfamiliar objects, or at particular shapes and colours, and follow the gaze of their human partners. Babies are entranced by them, for non-verbal messages play a large part in their world.


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