What if smartphones could sense our moods?


It’s a provocative question, but the answer might be even more so. Truth be told, the technology already exists. Computer programs are now able to discern human emotion by listening to our voices or watching our various facial expressions. Although we haven’t implemented these programs in a way that realizes their full potential, we’re getting there fast.

Rana el Kaliouby led a team of scientists and computer engineers in the creation of a computer app capable of reading your facial expressions by searching a pool featuring billions of facial data points. From there, it can figure out whether you’re happy, sad, disgusted, or feeling pretty much anything else.

smile duration sense moodsThrough their work, data was collected on how often males emote versus females. For example, women smile more often than men, and those smiles tend to be broader and last longer. Shocking, right? Okay, not so much–but that’s not the point.

Rana came up with the idea when she was in London, far away from her family in Egypt. The only thing that kept her company for much of the time was a smartphone, and the only way she could connect with family and friends was texting. This experience, however, led her to consider the possibility of creating software that can interact with us on a deeper level when we are alone. Rana knew there had to be a better way, and so she started working to make this possible.

Building an app that can sense your mood, and more

Mood sensing AI has greater implications as well. If computers can recognize when we’re angry or sad or in a weird funk, then how could we program them to help us live emotionally and psychologically healthier lives?

Consider those doing extended research at the International Space Station or at a remote outpost in Antarctica. Psychologically, seeing the same people day-in and day-out can take its toll. This computer application could lead to new technology that allows us greater freedom to vent our frustrations without punching someone in the face or using a slew of words to psychologically eviscerate someone getting on our nerves.

In Rana’s TED Talk, she suggests that the visually impaired or those with autism could finally find help in reading and interpreting the facial expressions of others. She imagines that the technology could provide learning assistance to those who are confused or bored when in class. But be careful what you wish for, an app might one day even let your teacher know that you don’t have a clue what she’s talking about.

Rana believes the technology could also save lives. If your vehicle could sense that you’re tired, it could automatically open the windows, turn on the air conditioning or blast obnoxious music to wake you up. Of course, it could also alert the authorities, but let’s save the pessimism for another day.

She jokes that your fridge might one day realize you’re stressed and automatically lock the door to prevent you from orally assaulting your best friends Ben & Jerry. And here are a few other mood sensing possibilities:

  • facial recognition 2Let parents know if their children show warning signs of depression or exhibit violent tendencies.
  • Automatically call for emergency assistance when we’re injured or in pain.
  • Use surplus funds in our bank accounts to surprise us with gifts when we’re in a funk–and it’ll know exactly what we like.
  • Play soothing music when we’re ready for bed, or uplifting music when we’re sad.

This program could also provide a weird electronic friend with whom we can chat. While real therapists can put us on edge or leave us rolling our eyes, an electronic therapist might not give some people the same reservations about seeking aid.

So what can computer programs do to make us happier, healthier individuals more likely to contribute to society? The possibilities are endless. Imagine Siri, Cortana or the Amazon Echo, and then imagine what they could be capable of in five years.

That’s exactly how long Rana estimates it will be before all of our devices are preloaded with this game-changing technology. Five years.

Check out her TED Talk here:

We’ll definitely hope for the best and eagerly await the arrival of our new digital significant others.

About Author

Jeff is a self-proclaimed pragmatic futurist; that is, he has high hopes for absurd life-altering technologies which sound too good to be true, and probably are. Although he writes on a variety of subjects, his real passion is for technological innovation and the people who make it happen. By day, he enjoys fuzzy bunnies, kittens, puppies, roller coasters and a sardonic written word or two. By night, he's busy running memyselfandrobot.com, replaying a random Final Fantasy game, or pretending to be Batman. He currently resides in Upstate NY.

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