I was going to use the title Applied Emotional State Decoding Aids Autistics or something similar but that wasn’t as catchy . . .
As we grow we learn about the world around us. A large part of the world is the other people in that world, people that we need to interact with and relate to socially. Understanding the emotional state of another person is a key part of socialization. Not understanding that can be a massive impediment to participating in the socialness of the world.
Back in 2016 I blogged about machine systems that could gather information about aspects of humans and use that to decode their emotional states. Today I heard part of a Quirks and Quarks interview about an application of that. A beneficial one.
As we grow we learn about the world around us. A large part of the world is the other people in that world, people that we need to interact with and relate to socially. Understanding the emotional state of another person is a key part of socialization.
For most of us this becomes an automatic ability that we don’t even think about – we just have a good guesstimate of what the emotional state of someone else might be because we can ‘read’ and process the cues. Like reading a story in a book where the author hasn’t used any words or terms you don’t know or referred to things you don’t know about yet. The process of reading the story just flows along. Moving through story this way is like walking, you don’t have to think about each step you take as you walk – you just walk.
But what is it like if you have to do some thinking about each step? What happens when you encounter words you have never seen before? Or references to events, people and places you have no knowledge of? You were moving along nicely up to now . . . but now you have to mentally ‘stop the car and get out’ and try and figure out what’s in front of you. Because if you don’t and it comes up again the story won’t make sense after a while. And so the ‘flow’ is broken.
If that story is a conversation with another person part of it is the unspoken messaging of emotional state via facial expression. Autism makes this part much more difficult.
If you have to stop and try to figure out what that combination of eyes, mouth, etc . . . is telling you about how ‘they’ feel that takes time and distracts from dealing with processing what they are saying . . . and now, maybe, you have some idea about how hard conversing with others can be for a person ‘on the spectrum’ Imagine how much work you have to do if you are conversing with 2 or 3 or 4 other people?
Using Google’s Glass technology they have been able to give some autistic children a way to know what emotions people around them are experiencing. It’s such a big deal to the children that they think ‘Super Power Glasses’ is the best name for them – a testament to the impact this technology has on them ‘in their eyes’.
“not only do the kids become more interested in faces, but it also improves their ability to read emotions ”Dennis Wall – research lead – assistant professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and biomedical data sciences at Stanford University in California
It is a study at this point but it points in a positive direction for improving the lives of autistics and their caregivers. The JAMA published study can be found here.
This is an example of the kinds of changes Augmented Reality is bringing to our experience of the world around us. Perhaps by the time we can create machines that should really worry us that line separating us from the machine will not be so easy to see even with a machine to help us.
For a different take on augmenting biological vision systems check out this article on giving mice the ability to see in the InfraRed part of the spectrum. Down the road that might come to humans as well.