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Media (R)evolutions: Now, computers can tell how you're feeling

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Imagine watching a commercial, and the TV or mobile phone on which you are watching immediately knows if you’d like to buy the product being advertised.  Imagine feeling stressed out while driving, and your car automatically starts talking to you and adjusting the air and radio controls. Or imagine a video or film that changes the storyline based on your reactions to characters. This is the future, in which devices react not just to our behavioral and physiological clues, but also to our emotions.
Affective computing is the study and development of systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate human the emotional states of humans. It is an interdisciplinary field spanning computer science, psychology, and cognitive science.   
Affective Computing

Most of the software in the field of affective tracks emotions, like happiness, confusion, surprise, and disgust, by scanning an environment for a face and identifying the face’s main regions—mouth, nose, eyes, eyebrows.  The software then ascribes points to each and tracks how other points move in relation to one another. Shifts in the texture of skin, such as wrinkles, are also tracked and combined with the information on facial points. Finally, the software identifies an expression by comparing it with those it has previously analyzed. 

The things we do: Stop multitasking and start focusing

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Many believe that multitasking is the art of the productive. However, social science reveals that humans don't really multitask, but rather they rapidly switch among tasks. It's a cognitive illusion that actually results in less productivity and may harm the brain's natural abilities.

caffeinating, calculating, computeratingIn June of this year, a Chinese motorist was caught driving while undergoing intravenous therapy and talking on the phone.  A needle providing the intravenous therapy was stuck in the back of his right hand, which had been holding his phone, while he used his left hand to hold the iron pole with the intravenous fluid bag and also the car’s steering wheel.  Police in the city of Wenzhou in southeastern Zhejiang province, China were on patrol on June 20 when they saw the motorist driving at 80km/h.

The driver told police he was rushing to carry out some urgent matters so had left a health clinic before his infusion was complete. He claimed that it was not dangerous for him to be driving at the time because he was good at multitasking. The police didn’t buy his multitasking defense and fined the driver 150 yuan and deducted four points from his driving license for dangerous driving and using a mobile phone while driving.

In a famous study of drivers chatting on mobile phones, David Strayer and Frank Drews found that diving while using a mobile phone is as dangerous as driving while drunk.

The problems of multitasking don’t end with driving.  Harvard Medical School knows first-hand that multitasking increases the number of mistakes people make— a resident doctor nearly killed a patient after a text message distracted her from updating a prescription. 

These and other examples point to an undeniable truth: multitasking can be dangerous at its worst and inefficient at its best. Even simple can produce a kind of ‘attention interference’ when performed simultaneously.

The Things We Do: Bandwidth Poverty- When our Minds Betray Us

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Struggling to ‘get by’ is stressful.  We worry whether we can make it to our next paycheck, whether a trip to the market will be successful, whether we can pay the rent on-time… the list goes on.

All of this stress leads to an attention shortage, known as bandwidth poverty.  Bandwidth poverty creates a negative, reinforcing cycle.  When we experience financial poverty, we focus on the immediate need to make money or to pay a bill, and we don’t have sufficient cognitive resources or bandwidth to spend on other tasks or later deadlines. This leads to less-than-optimal decisions that leave us worse-off because we’ve lost the capacity or mental space to consider future needs.

In a series of experiments, researchers from Harvard, Princeton and Britain's University of Warwick found that urgent financial worries had an immediate impact on poor people's ability to perform well in tests of cognition and logic.

The researchers conducted two sets of experiments— in two very different settings— one in a mall in suburban New Jersey and one involving sugar cane farmers in rural India.

Think Accountability

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

As follow-up to CommGAP's workshop "Generating Genuine Demand for Social Accountability Mechanisms" we're working on publishing an edited volume on this issue with Berkeley-Professor Taeku Lee. Looking through the chapters for this book I puzzled over a quite original approach to accountability: information processing. Arthur Lupia, one of our authors and Professor at the University of Michigan, takes a cognitive approach and explains how people's beliefs have to be changed in order to make them demand accountability.