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Description: Recognizing what other people are thinking by reading their facial expressions of emotion is a critical part of functioning adaptively as a human being. Children start to pick this up fairly early on developmentally and individuals struggling on the autism spectrum disorder dimension struggle with such basic reading tasks. So, are computers capable of reading human’s emotions?

Source: The computer that knows what you’re thinking, Jane Wakefield, BBC News,

Date: November 20, 2015

Facial expression

Photo Credit: thinkstock

Links: Article Link —

Working with a basic web cam and a database of human facial expressions, Daniel McDuff at the University of Massachusetts Institute of technology’s media Lab is working on developing computers that can read facial expressions of emotion. The program detects different facial movements that reflect smiling or frowning which in turn reflect different versions of a variety of human emotional states. In addition the researchers are working to add voice analysis and other measures of physical well-being such as heart rate and hand gestures into the database to the computer accesses. Cultural differences are also being considered so the computers will be able to take into account the differences between individuals from collectivist cultures and from Western cultures. People collectivist cultures view interactions with family is more important than interactions with others what is Western individuals place value on forming relationships with strangers and tend to be more positive around people with whom they are less familiar. The computers are also working at developing the subtle differences that occur when people try and hide their feelings by not allowing them to show clearly on their facial expressions. So how well do the computers do? Well seems about as well as a young child, which is actually pretty good. Having computers watch people’s facial expressions may turn out to be helpful in a variety of areas including the ability to identify mental health issues and encourage people to obtain assistance. Of course, this also opens a huge can of worms related to our desire and ability to control what our computers see record and share about us.

As if things weren’t already complicated enough.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What capabilities do McDuff’s computer programs currently have in the reading of human facial expressions of emotion?
  2. What are some of the potential applications of technology such as this and of these potential applications which would you be most interested in seeing implemented?
  3. What are some of the ethical implications of the existence of this sort of computer program or computer capability?

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