Sunday, July 05, 2009

How will society react to robots with emotional responses?

I thought I could answer this question fairly easy until I read this article in NewScientist sent in by Shaun Saunders.

Outside of science fiction, the idea of technology that reads emotions has been limited. In the 90s computer scientist Rosalind Picard at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology expressed interest in the science and technology of gaging human emotional responses. However her contemporaries were uninterested and in some cases outright hostile. When she suggested pursuing this sort of research. She was greeted with scepticism. "It was such a taboo topic back then - it was seen as very undesirable, soft and irrelevant," she says.

However the advertising business was vitally interested in how to gauge how effective a certain products ad are being received.

from the article:
  • Picard published a book in 1997 called Affective Computing, which laid out the case that many technologies would work better if they were aware of their user's feelings. For instance, a computerized tutor could slow down its pace or give helpful suggestions if it sensed a student looking frustrated, just as a human teacher would.
Simple versions of responsive tech are very familiar to us. Take for example the Microsoft paperclip. Ideally it was there simply to help you work more efficiently, however Microsoft wisely killed it off because people found it so irritating.

But what would it be like if a like featured robotic device or software started gauging how fast you typed or how hard, or using your web cam determined that you were upset or disturbed...could this undermine personal relationships? Is it possible that said technologies might serve to isolate you from human interaction even more so?

Saunders of course can clearly see a downside to this tech. That emotion-sensing technologies might be used covertly. Security services could use face and posture-reading systems to sense stress in people from a distance, even when they're unaware of it. Imagine if an unsavory regime got hold of such technology and used it to identify citizens who opposed it.

A classic piece of reading on the extreme is Jack Williamson's classic 'With Folded Hands'

Read the complete article

1 comment:

Shaun said...

Or, Paul, on a more mundane level, imagine the use of this tech at a company's annual board meeting or simple weekly staff meeting... perhaps there would be an opportunity for more honesty (i.e., knowing that your lies might be caught out by the software)?

"So, who agrees with the proposal?" takes on a new meaning!

'Private thoughts' might not stay private for long!

Or its use at a debate between political contenders! Now that would be interesting!