The Stack Archive

Mood-reading software has ‘astronomical potential’

Tue 5 Aug 2014

The research and development department at Dell has announced it is working on a new mood-reading software solution, which could be set for release by 2017.

Jai Menon, Dell’s head of R&D, told the BBC that the project will develop existing brain activity applications and headsets which track a user’s emotions, and will have uses for both a corporate market and gamers.

Menon revealed that a team of two is currently working on the mood-reading project, developing existing headsets made by Neurosky and other manufacturers.

These current models cost between £60 and £120 and claim they could provide reliable readings of a wearer’s emotional state.

“If […] the user is working hard on a task, an intuitive computer system might then reduce distractions, such as allowing incoming phone calls to go directly to voicemail and not letting the user be disturbed,” Menon suggested.

Similarly, the mood technology could apply to gaming. “If someone is playing a game and it senses they are bored, it could ratchet up the level of challenge automatically,” explained Menon.

“If it senses they are frustrated, maybe it’s time to offer them a clue about how to proceed,” he continued.

Dell is not alone in its research into this field. The idea of mood-reading has been approached by the likes of Microsoft, with its Moodscope project for smartphones and a ‘smart bra’ which tracks the wearer’s stress levels.

Menon told the BBC that the current application could only successfully recognise that user’s mood 50% of the time, but suggested this figure would grow.

“We’re trying to push the accuracy of our software into the 90% or better range, and if we can get there then the product starts to make sense.

“If an individual device doesn’t give us that accuracy then we will also add additional inputs – a pulse oximeter [to monitor the level of oxygen in a patient’s blood] or ECG (electrocardiogram – a heart rhythm monitor) or other readings, to see if multiple inputs help the software get to the correct value,” he explained.

However, the technology has received some industry criticism with experts doubting the product’s feasibility.

“The headsets are fairly intrusive […] especially if you want ones with lots of reliable inputs.

“And with some of them to get a good connection you need to use saline solution on the pads – imagine wearing that for 12 hours…” said Dr Simone Stumpf from the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction at City University, London.

Dr Bernie Hogan, a human-computer interaction expert at the University of Oxford, warned of the “astronomical” yet dangerous potential of a successful mood-reading application.

“The rights to my internal mind-state would be up for grabs […] Will it be a condition of my job that I wear something that monitors my mood? That’s extremely scary…” he said.

Despite the scepticism, Menon believes Dell could release an application as soon as 2017, depending on its success.

“My goal is to work on interesting things and then persuade the rest of the company to build the products,” he revealed.

“But I suspect that within a three-year timeframe, if the experiments are successful, then such products can certainly be available.”


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