Are you sad? Happy? Frustrated? Soon, computer software will be able to tell just by scanning your face.
Scientists at MIT’s Media Lab created software capable of accurately interpreting human emotions using facial recognition technology.
The “Mind Reader” software scans crowds as well as people, so politicians giving speeches or musicians playing concerts could gauge the reactions of their audiences and adjust accordingly. Experts say the software may replace opinion polls, which are conducted primarily over phone.
The scientists working on the project are developing a commercial version, called Affectiva, designed to offer advertisers information about consumer responses to their ads.
This technology has the potential to help people, but also carries troubling implications and possibilities.
It could prove enormously helpful for people on the autism spectrum by helping them recognize social cues and emotionally read the people around them. It could also help teachers understand how well their lesson plans work with children by identifying those who are not paying attention so they can adjust lesson plans.
The software could also aid militaries and intelligence agencies in discerning the intentions of their potential adversaries.
At the same time, this sort of technology could also wreak havoc in places with dictatorships or oppressive governments. Who knows what Kim Jong Un, for example, would do if he gets hold of the software and can read the desperation on some North Korean faces?
Authoritarian regimes all over the world already use technologies to monitor their populations, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director Jillian York. These include scanning crowd photos with facial recognition tools, which can have deadly consequences for dissidents and activists present at demonstrations.
And although it isn’t nearly as life threatening as riling an insecure despot, the Affectiva software could also give advertisers valuable feedback, inspiring them to create ads targeting the most easily manipulated people.
Unlike innovations like iBrain, which tries to interpret brainwaves to read the minds of people unable to communicate, Affectiva’s focus seems to be for advertisers, not the people it is scanning.
The technology could prove helpful in certain applications, but the fact that the team behind it is already bent on licensing it for commercial use suggests it cares more about how the technology is monetized than whether its potential for harm outweighs its potential for good.