The entertainment industry has produced more movies than you know about robots. These fall under the sci-fi genre and test the limits of your imagination quite well. Robots are usually shown as emotionless beings who eventually learn emotions and become heroes for the human race. In the real world, technology is very close to accurately imitating that. Empathetic technology, as we call it now, has the capability to understand and respond to human emotions.
Smart devices these days can already keep track of bodily functions. At the Wired Health conference this year, renowned neuroscientist and technologist, Poppy Crum, Ph.D., spoke about the applications of AI tech that can detect human feelings. Her talk, entitled, “Technology that Knows What You’re Feeling”, was a hopeful yet fact-filled discourse that imparted valuable insights into this new big step in the realm of machine learning. How exactly can these non-living devices measure out the emotions of living human beings?
According to Crum, chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco, empathetic technology depends on “our internal state to decide how it will respond and make decisions”. This means that empathy-enabled technology can detect feelings by reading into neurophysical giveaways. Emotions often have a subtle but detectable bodily response that smart devices can pick up. Here are some examples:
- Your pupils dilate when you undergo mental stress or process a lot of information in your head. This response is detected quite easily.
- Sweating due to nervousness, stress, frustration, and excitement. Termed as galvanic skin response, a sensitive galvanometer can detect the change in the skin’s electrical conductance.
- A scared person exhales carbon dioxide and isoprene in higher than normal levels.
While these are not new discoveries, it has become much more convenient for scientists to develop technologies based on them, as the cost of measuring devices has decreased a lot in the past few years.
Recent technological innovations have successfully created simulation devices aimed at developing more inclusive products for physically limited people. One such device, the arthritis simulation gloves, make the wearer more aware of the problems people with arthritis face. In an experiment, wearers were able to design an app that was easier to browse for a person with arthritis.
As progress is occurring at a fast pace, empathetic technology will soon be the driving trend in consumer smart devices. The question is: Will such high dependence on AI lead humans into a socially isolated lifestyle?
One thing is for sure though: the so-called ‘Era of Empath’ is closer than ever before.