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I don’t know about you, but I’m rather disturbed by the idea of mind-reading technology. Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing a computer that will have the ability—you guessed it—to read your mind.
So why am I so freaked out? Well, if you remember back in 2000, Mel Gibson played Nick Marshall in the film, What Women Want. His character suffered electrocution from a hairdryer, and then lo and behold, was given the power to hear what every woman was thinking. At the time, I just laughed, because I never thought that anyone or anything would ever be able to tell what I was thinking—good or bad. Sure, sometimes it’s convenient to know what’s on a person’s mind—say on a job interview or on the day of your wedding. But honestly, I don’t want to know what’s on the mind of my boyfriend, brother, my friends…okay, so maybe I’d want to know what the heck my cat thinks about all day, but that’s it.
This “mind-reading” technology can already be programmed on computers to recognize different facial expressions generated by test subjects who look bored, interested, or confused. But the researchers want to go a step further by figuring out how a computer can also recognize body movements, posture and gesture.
Here’s why I’m skeptical: This emotionally-aware computer “could enable Web sites to tailor advertising or products to your mood… For example, a webcam linked with our software could process your image, encode the correct emotional state and transmit information to a Web site.” Great, more targeted ads! Why would consumers be excited about that? And do we really want machines to know our innermost emotions that even those who are close to us aren’t aware of?
But I don’t want to complain too much, because there is a lot of good that can come out of it, such as online teaching to show whether someone understands the material, or improving road safety by determining if a driver is confused or sleepy. Plus, it could also help with autism.
Currently, Professor Peter Robinson of the University of Cambridge is working with a “big car company” to install a camera into the dashboard of a car with this kind of technology within five years. Don’t panic yet: he explains if you don’t want the camera to reveal what you are feeling, you can simply cover it up.
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