Glasses That Magnify Human Emotions

December 22, 2011

2:30 pm

As society increasingly replaces face-to-face communication with social media, e-mails, and text messages, it’s plausible to assume that we’ll begin to lose our ability to pick up on non-verbal cues (i.e. gesturing and facial expressions).  After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

The prospect of our EQ (emotional intelligence) taking a blow at the expense of all the time spent in front of a screen is a disturbing proposition.  When you consider that two-thirds of communication is non-verbal, much of a conversation’s value is at risk of being lost.  That said, there is no stopping technology’s affect on society; it’s a runaway freight train accelerating down an endless mountain.

So the question becomes, is losing our emotional intelligence an inevitable consequence of technology’s advancement?

Not necessarily. 

Rosalind Picard of MIT and Rana el Kaliouby of the University of Cambridge are developing a series of technologies (ironically enough) to overcome this.  They’ve created a prototype set of glasses capable of detecting the emotions of the person a subject is conversing with.

A camera, roughly the size of a grain of rice, is built into these glasses and connected by wire to a computer the size of a deck of cards. The camera tracks 24 key facial points on the subject’s face and determines the frequency and duration of each particular micro-expression.  This data is then contrasted with the computer’s lexicon of known human expressions and corresponding emotions.

Slide these specs on and an internal light will immediately start flashing.  If it flashes green, it’s indicating that the person you’re conversing with is genuinely interested.  If flashes red, well, I think you get it.

As if that weren’t enough, the glasses come with a set of headphones which provide audio cues indicating the respondent’s precise emotional state.  As to not overwhelming the user, they’ve narrowed the set of facial expressions down to six categories: thinking, agreeing, concentrating, interest, confusion and disagreeing.  When the respondent changes facial expressions, the user is given a new verbal cue indicating what he/she is exhibiting.

These glasses could have a profoundly positive impact on those with autism, a developmental disorder which causes the sufferer to have difficulty reading facial expressions.  To test this theory, Picard and el Kaliouby invited a group of autistic patients to use the glasses.  “They approached people and tested out new facial expressions on themselves and tried to elicit facial expressions from other people,” says Picard.  It would be interesting to see the results of more scrutinous testing, especially as the technology evolves.  They would eventually like to incorporate augmented reality capable of displaying graphical overlays to quickly denote the mood of others.

These emotion magnifying glasses are not yet available for commercial purposes, but Picard and el Kaliouby’s company, Affectiva, has utilized their emotional detection software to create a pair of other products.


Utilizing the same technology as described above, Affdex “reads emotional states such as liking and attention from facial expressions,” but instead uses a webcam to capture these measurements.

In its commercial context, this technology aims to provide businesses with greater customer intel by directly measuring a viewers emotions in response to online media.  In their own words the Affdex,  “[gives] marketers faster, more accurate insight into consumer response to brands and media.”  Studies using this device have already shown that online video ads have a greater recall rate compared to television.  If interested, you can test Affdex out for yourself.

Q Sensor 2.0

Instead of observing your reactions, the Q Sensor 2.0 measures the subject’s physiology directly.  The Q Sensor 2.0  “is a wearable, wireless biosensor that measures emotional arousal via skin conductance.”  When we are exposed to stress, our palms begin to perspire, thus making them more conductive.  This is what the sensors evaluate.

The Q Sensor 2.0 is already being put to good use as well.  There are several ongoing studies using this technology in hopes of obtaining greater insight on a host of topics including purchasing behavior, reactions to music stimuli, and the effect of breathing therapy on those suffering from PTSD.

What do you think?  If these glasses were developed and distributed commercially, would you use them?  What potential uses do you see for the Q Sensor 2.0 and Affdex?  Share your insights with us in the comments below.

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When Zach Davis isn’t getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail’s Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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