John Walsh: Are emotional satnavs the right direction?

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The Independent Online

The relationship between driver and satnav has seldom been a bed of roses. We've all become enraged by that cooing dashboard voice, that issues curt instructions to do impossible things, steers us straight into traffic jams, then sulks when its demands are ignored. But the future satnav will be different. The head of "emotional robotics" (me neither) at Cambridge University is working on a version which will know when you're upset and respect your feelings, deducing your mood from facial expressions, hand gestures (especially that one) and tone of voice. If it thinks you're stressed, the satnav will turn the radio off, stop your mobile phone from ringing and "display sympathy with a driver's state of mind". Will it work? It depends whether we really need a robot voice that asks "Are you feeling better now?" and "Do you want to talk about it?" and "Look, are you having a ladies' time?"

* Within 24 hours of being unwrapped, 500,000 gifts across the UK were being shifted on eBay. Analysts at Mintel tell us £650m is wasted every year on never-used presents. My memory of unwanted presents is topped by three items, all from the same family member. One year, it was a hideous yellow plastic hostess trolley, the next an ineptly executed seven-foot brass rubbing of a gloomy knight – and last year, from a German novelty gift shop, a trowel indented to carry six schnapps glasses, with a bicycle bell on the trowel handle to announce their arrival as you come through the door...

* Cognitive programming is a fancy name for a psychological therapy in which the patient is encouraged to re-think past negative experiences in order to reassess the present. An example was provided before Christmas by one Martin Connellan, who runs a cobblers' workshop in Bromsgrove, Worcs. Wearied by his workers' complaints that they couldn't function in the -13C temperatures (with no heaters and the doors left open to clear the glue fumes), Mr Connellan brought in a hypnotist called James Kirwan who, in five minutes, convinced the staff they were warm as toast. Some even stripped down to their T-shirts and boxers. "It's all about mind over matter," said Kirwan. "You can retrain people into thinking differently about how they feel." We can guess exactly how they feel about their tightwad employer.