Each January, some 4,500 companies descend upon Las Vegas for the psychological marathon known as the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES.
Companies oversold their ideas. Attendees tweeted out the craziest products, and Instagrammed the endless miles of convention space. Trend-spotting was the name of the game: drones, voice-activated home assistants, something called “8K” television. But the most provocative robots were those that claimed to “read” humans faces, revealing our emotions and physically.
Some were overwhelming if toothless mashups of meme culture and pseudoscience. One machine interpreted a photo of 36 year old technology editor, Stan Horaczek, as “adorable, age 30,” G-Dragon. Another determined he was like age 47 and “male 98 percent.” Both featured many, many emoji.
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But some of the proposals could have profound consequences for our everyday lives. Intel offered an update effort to build a wheelchair controlled by facial expressions, which would have positive implications for mobility. Veoneer promoted its “expression recognition” concept for autonomous vehicle AI. It will judge facial expressions to determine if drivers are engaged, sleepy, or otherwise distracted on the road. And still others automate part of a doctor’s visit, peering deep into our faces to determine what ails us.
The wares on display at CES may be new, but the human desire turn faces into info has origins in antiquity. The Greek mathematician Pythagoras selected his students “based on how gifted they looked,” according to Sarah Waldorf of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In the 1400s, the vermillion birthmark on the face of James II of Scotland was considered an outward manifestation of his smouldering temper. And in colonial Europe, many scientists lent credibility to racist caricatures, which linked human expressions to animal behavior.
“I think it’s possible that technology could be developed to read your mood from your face,” says Lisa Feldman Barrett,. “Not your face alone, however—your face within context.”
These innate qualities
These innate qualities help us empathize, understand others, and communicate our own emotions. But they can lead us astray. “The literature suggests we tend our ability to read the character from the face,” Brad Duchaine, a professor of brain science at Dartmouth. “For example, people make consistent judgments about who looks trustworthy don’t appear to effectively predict trustworthiness in real situations.”
In the eye of many beholders, beauty can block out everything else. In one of my 2017Nature study, i concluded that male predicted positively by skin yellowness. The perceived health of females, meanwhile, “has predicted by femininity.”
In his Times column on physiognomy, Teju Cole describes a 1980s-era black-and-white photo of a young man. “An old ways says that the gentle arch of the boy’s left eyebrow seems to mark. As an ironic sort, or that the symmetry of his features
So if you placed an order for an emotion CES, there’s probably time to cancel for a newer model.