The dawn of the mind-reading computer

At next week’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, there’s a PC that could be the seed of a futuristic world in which computers understand human

At next week’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, there’s a PC that could be the seed of a futuristic world in which computers understand human emotions.

The ‘emotionally aware’ computer is being developed by a scientific collaboration between scientists at the University of Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to read an individual’s thoughts by analysing their facial movements.

It works quite simply. A video camera pointed at your face (somewhat like our sci-fi picture) is hooked up to the computer, which tracks 24 facial ‘feature points’ such as the edge of your nose, eyebrows and the corners of your mouth.

Key facial movements are identified, and any combination of these movements is taken to signal a specific emotional state. Then, using the specially programmed software, these combinations are used to detect the same combinations, and thus moods or feelings, in other individuals.

Peter Robinson, one of the team behind it, said the computer can already detect expressions made by different shaped faces since it’s honed using expressions created by actors.

Robinson believes the mind-reading capabilities could have far reaching implications for society. He said: ‘Imagine a computer that could pick the right emotional moment to try to sell you something, a future where mobile phones, cars and websites could read our minds and react to our moods’.

The technology is currently being developed for use in cars to improve driver safety. A wearable version is also being created to help people with conditions such as autism and Aspergers syndrome to read other people’s facial expressions and emotions.

Eventually the team hopes the computer will be able to interpret more subtle information such as gesture and movement.

If you’d like to meet the computer, hot foot it down to the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition to take part in the study which is now aiming to refine the computer’s analysis of facial expressions.

The Exhibition is taking place at The Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG next week from Monday 3rd July until Thursday 6th July.