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Researchers look to Darwin for emotional link between man and machine

Tuesday, Nov 01, 2011 - 02:24

Nov. 1 - Nearly 150 years ago Charles Darwin used photographs to study how humans use their expressions to show emotion. Now scientists at Cambridge University are using videos, and the power of the internet, to update his experiments. They believe the results could help them develop emotionally-aware computers capable of understanding their users' emotions. Stuart McDill reports.

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Happy, sad, disgruntled, dismayed? How easy is it to tell how someone's feeling just by looking at their face? It's a question that fascinated Charles Darwin nearly 150 years ago - and that scientists now believe could be the secret to teaching computers how to read human emotions. Researchers at Cambridge University say when they discovered Darwin's experiments, they were surprised at their similarity to work being done by facial recognition experts today. Darwin specialist Dr Allison Pearn says they wanted to see what would happen if they recreated Darwin's experiment using 21st century techniques - and put it online. SOUNDBITE(English) DR ALLISON PEARN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE DARWIN CORRESPONDENCE PROJECT, SAYING: "So we thought that it would be a good sort of, bringing things full circle really, that some of the things that are done by the scientists here now build on Darwin's work, so we thought it would be good to put Darwin's work back in to the techniques that are now being used to see what happened." While Darwin would ask dinner guests to look at hair-raising photographs and guess what emotions they portrayed, modern computer specialists like Dr Peter Robinson, at the university's computer lab, have taken the idea global. SOUNDBITE(English) DR PETER ROBINSON, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY COMPUTER LABORATORY, SAYING: "Well in the 21st Century we can do better, we can actually take video clips, put them on the internet, put them on Facebook, and it turns out there are people around the world with any amount of time on their hands who will then sit there and label these for us and we can get hundreds of thousands of people to do our labelling and get much more accurate labelling of the data, which we can then use to train our computer systems." Robinson says the ability to understand people's facial expressions and emotions could revolutionise the way computers interact with their users. SOUNDBITE(English) DR PETER ROBINSON, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY COMPUTER LABORATORY, SAYING: "This isn't just work stations on the desk, it's the computers that we have embedded in the world around you - things like satellite navigation systems in the car, mobile phones, music players. Computers are everywhere and they just don't communicate with us very well. And we can learn from Darwin how to make them communicate better." Emotionally aware machines of the future could range from from music players to in-car satellite navigation systems that know how you feel - all with a little help from Darwin. Stuart McDill, Reuters

Researchers look to Darwin for emotional link between man and machine

Tuesday, Nov 01, 2011 - 02:24

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