Several billion years of evolution have gone into our capacity, as a species, to read body language and facial cues. Fifty thousand years ago, we used this ability to avoid getting smacked with a club by Thag, the caveman down the ravine. Now, we use it to sense whether the barista is charmed with our wry smile.
The technology industry has only been at this game a few years, but results are ramping up quickly thanks to the ongoing, slow motion collision between wearable computers, facial recognition software and ubiquitous digital cameras.
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To wit: Researchers at the Fraunhofer ISS Institute in Germany are working on a Google Glass application designed to read the emotional state of whomever you’re looking at. According to the institute’s demo video — see below — the system can determine with variable accuracy whether the subject is happy, sad, angry, surprised, or some combination thereof.
The software, currently in development, uses the Google Glass camera along with the institute’s existing SHORE (Sophisticated High-speed Object Recognition Engine) system. The analysis engine has been deployed previously on other computer systems, but now Fraunhofer has jammed the technology into narrow confines of Google Glass’ hardware specs.
SHORE is a facial recognition system, essentially, though with the Glass app the system is not intended to determine identity. Fraunhofer says all information is kept on board, so the system can’t be used (yet) for going to the Cloud and running a facial profile through an online database.
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The system can, however, determine gender (with 94.3 percent accuracy) and estimate age with a “6.85 annual mean absolute error.” No, I don’t know what that means either. The emotion detection numbers are generated by interpreting broad facial and body language cues.
The technology is really more interesting in its implications than in what it’s designed to achieve, as of now. Privacy concerns aside, imagine a Google Glass system with fully integrated facial recognition, database and augmented reality technology. That could come in very handy at parties — Glass would put a name to a face, instantly and constantly, disposing of many an awkward social situation. It would also mean a terrifying surveillance state dystopia, but still.