Intelligent computers

YOU may call them the sixth-generation computers — those that possess the sixth sense. Information technology is now poised for a giant leap forward when you will have computers that can read the human mind.

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Published: Thu 29 Jun 2006, 9:52 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:15 PM

At a London exhibition — the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition — visitors will be able to witness an ‘emotionally aware’ computer system designed to read people’s minds by studying their facial expressions. Visitors are being invited to help ‘train’ the computer to read expressions like joy, anger, and grief, among others. Its designers say there are potential commercial uses, such as picking the right time to sell someone something — apparently when they are in the right mood and open to influence.

But it is also expected to improve driver safety by reading when drivers are tired and sleepy, besides helping people with autism. The computer — connected to a camera — locates and tracks 24 facial ‘feature points’ such as the edge of the nose, the eyebrows and the corners of the mouth. A total of 20 key facial movements — including a nod or shake of the head, a raise of the eyebrow, or a pull on the corner of the mouth — have been identified. Combinations of these movements, which are thought to represent underlying emotions, are then fed into software and used to detect the same facial combinations in real-life situations.

While all this sounds like futuristic science fiction and it may still be some years away before such a computer is actually manufactured, it may not be as far out as we imagine. Technology is witnessing breathtaking developments every day, and the gap between imagination and reality is narrowing down gradually. But can human beings — confoundingly, amazingly complex as we are — be neatly packaged along with our thoughts, feelings and emotions into one bundle of bytes and pixels. Will we, as always, continue to defy any form of stereotyping, or will we become more like humanoids? Let’s chew on that.



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