The Null Device

Social prosthetics

The latest innovation from MIT's Media Lab is a device that tells you when you're boring or irritating:
The "emotional social intelligence prosthetic" device, which El Kaliouby is constructing along with MIT colleagues Rosalind Picard and Alea Teeters, consists of a camera small enough to be pinned to the side of a pair of glasses, connected to a hand-held computer running image recognition software plus software that can read the emotions these images show. If the wearer seems to be failing to engage his or her listener, the software makes the hand-held computer vibrate.
The device was designed for people with autism and similar conditions who do not pick up social cues from facial expressions and nonverbal language; the computer in the device uses machine-learning software that is trained to detect states such as boredom and annoyance and alert the otherwise oblivious user to them.

If social prosthetics for the socially-challenged take off, perhaps soon clip-on cameras on glasses will become the new pocket protectors in the new nerd stereotype? Though this would only be the first generation; Mark II of the social prosthetic might offer additional functions, such as cue cards on how to play office politics, flirt or make smalltalk over a pint, for example?

There are 2 comments on "Social prosthetics":

Posted by: Greg Mon Apr 3 22:24:29 2006

I sometimes wonder about ways for teachers to monitor the interest/boredom level of students in lectures. The problem, believe it or not, is politeness. Most students would rather glaze over than appear to be bored or mystified by the lecturer's words of wisdom, so as not to offend him/her. Of course there are always a few students who are bored and don't mind letting everyone know, but it's hard to know whether they reflect the majority view and should be taken into consideration.

Perhaps our high-tech theatres could be fitted with something like the tv audience "worm": give each student a joystick on their desk, which they push up if they're interested and down if they're bored, the average push being displayed as a graph of interest against time. The skilled lecturer could adjust his/her delivery to suit.

Most UniMelb lectures are audio-recorded now, for students who miss the lecture or want to review it. Some lecturers might like to watch a playback of the "worm" alongside their audio recording.

Posted by: acb Tue Apr 4 09:08:27 2006

That's a good idea. Perhaps one could start it on a smaller scale by issuing random students in a randomly selected lecture (without the lecturer's knowledge, though with them having consented to their lecturing possibly being sampled that semester) with easily concealable handheld terminals and instructed to press buttons for events such as "interesting", "boring", "confusing", and so on.

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