Thursday, December 23, 2010

Charles Babbage the Interactive Auto GPS

Oddly enough, just 2 posts after I wrote about the development of s/w to recognize emotions that started out with a discussion of (imo) annoying auto GPSs, I find a short article and video about a British researcher named Peter Robinson who is developing a quite sophisticated auto GPS system (full story here). The video starts out by echoing my sentiment of how annoying and sometimes inaccurate a car GPS can be, and he actually tosses one in the back seat! I LOVED that moment. And he does it with such poise and non-violence. Just flips it behind him.

Then he discusses why it would be useful to have an interactive conversation with a computer - the computer can read your facial and bodily expressions, determine your emotional state and respond with its own emotion inflected conversation. That is both technically interesting and potentially useful in many areas of society.  I bet you can think of a few areas where this technology could be used productively?

But then he proceeds to discuss how he is testing the system on an auto GPS. Why oh why the fascination with the auto GPS??? Ok I accede to this as a useful example of holding a conversation, where important decisions have to be made on short notice, and there are unpredictable behaviors and circumstances to be dealt with. The creepy part is when Robinson pulls out a custom made head of Charles Babbage (looks a bit rubbery) and props it up at head level in the passenger seat of a car in a driving simulator. The two, Robinson and Babbage, carry on a very polite conversation about road conditions. Robinson ends by saying "Charles, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship".

I have mixed feelings about the idea of driving down the road talking to a life size rubber head with wires coming out the back of it.

Technical information is included in the short video, and there is an interesting bit about how it all works. There are definitely compelling issues of emotional intelligence, neuroscience, psychology, and physiology here to explore. Robinson sees this development as the future of how we will interact with computers. Maybe AI has a not too distant future in realistically simulating life? That would be great progress indeed after years of inching along.

But the rubber head... I don't know about the rubber head. If it made mistakes and the driver got irritated, and tossed it in the backseat, would it start complaining from its disembodied self face down on the seat?

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