Mind-reading computers

Written by Ryan Garside

June 27, 2006 | 11:56

Tags: #cambridge #exhibition #london #minority-report #science

Some of the most exciting technologies of the future are set to be unveiled in London on July 3rd at the Royal Society of Science Exhibition in London, including a pair of spy-esque X-Ray glasses and - even more interestingly - computers that can read minds!

The 'mind readers' use cameras and are being developed at Cambridge University. So far, they can work out from the muscle movement in your face what emotion you are feeling. The computer can also distinguish between variations in head size, whether a user is wearing glasses or even if you sport a beard. Here's an extract from an article describing the technology:

"Machine vision is getting machines to see, giving them the ability to extract, analyse and make sense of information from images or video, in this case footage of facial expressions. Probabilistic machine learning describes the mechanism of enabling a machine to learn an association between features of an image such as facial expression and other classes of information, in this case emotions from training examples. The most likely interpretation of the facial expressions is then computed using probability theory."

The implications of such a technology would be far reaching. Over the next few years companies may utilise the recognition system in a Minority Report fashion – tailored adverts to suit not only who you are but how you feel. Autistic children described as 'mind blind' may also use the machines in a hearing aid fashion to help understand how those around them feel. The biggest impact, however, could be found in the dashboard of your vehicle with the technology being used to identify expression of boredom, confusion and tiredness to avoid road accidents.

The ethical queries such an intrusive system would raise are numerous. Critics will worry that emotion-reading technology will be abused by corporations, that the inside of our thoughts is one place the corporations should not be allowed to advertise or gain market research. Despite these objections the technology will be one of the highlights of this years science exhibition.

If you can't make it to London then there will be a second chance too see the kit in Glasgow in September 12th. Before you go, why not head over to the forums and let us know your views on the feasibility, as well as the moral justification for mind reading computers.
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