Affective Computation is the fusion of emotion and interaction. Try saying that out-loud really quickly. It’s like a tongue twister for a geek mecca. Currently, the MIT Media Lab is working primarily on the detection of human emotions (especially ones such as anxiety, frustration or boredom) and applications that utilize this data. In some areas, they are also looking into synthesizing (or imitating) emotion. Tim Bickmore recently developed a prototype to look into what types of bonds humans can form with their machines. Tom will discuss more about our everyday bonds that exist already with machines like robotic pets. I’d like to look at what how emotions can or cannot be applied to existing applications.
As I type this my Roomba rumbles in the room behind me. It negotiates a tambourine noisily, then gets caught in some guitar cables. I scoop him up and drop him a couple feet over. Even though it is obviously a machine, I often find myself speaking as if it wasn’t. I’ll tell people how “he sometimes gets confused” or how “diligently he vacuums under the table”. Sometimes I’ll even raise my voice when he is about to get caught in the Venetian blind strings.
None of this makes sense, yet it makes perfect sense. It feels perfectly natural for me to relate to my little autonomous vacuum cleaner in this way. After all, how else could I talk about it? Our entire language is built around words for emotions, words for folly, words for thoughts and ideas. That’s the raw material we have to work with, but these words refer to properties that machines do not have.
Hey! I just sat down to read through my January 2004 Scientific American, and there was Don Norman with an article relevant to this week’s discussion. Luckily it also available on-line here. Side note: notice how much Norman’s pose looks like Darwin. Coincidence?
Signage has always offered HCI people a lot of laughs. A friend of mine recently linked to this sign at a Japanese metro (I think it’s a sign on the train itself, not the station). What do you think the signs mean? I will post a comment with the answers tomorrow.