Sorry Dell, but I don't want any of your computers to try and read my mood

Even if our emotions could be could be easily reduced to ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ - what then?

Share

Would your life improve if your computer knew when you were having a bad day? Dell has announced that it’s working on software that could be incorporated into a headset and be able to tell if its wearer is happy or sad, frustrated or bored.

This looks at first sight like a really good idea – like having a husband that actually works. The aim is not, presumably, to inform us about our own emotional states (I can usually tell if I’d happy or sad, though, confusingly, quite often I am both happy and sad) but to convey this information to other people or to computers that will, with their new-found empathy, start doing the job of other people and suggest a drink or a nice sit down.

Sure enough, Dell’s head of research and development suggests that computer programmes could in future respond to human moods. The technology could, for example, gauge when someone playing a computer game is bored, and respond by ratcheting up the tension. (This is of course, what the porn industry does, without the need for mood-sensors: gets people into a state of anticipation and then requires them to pay for the next bit.)

This suggestion presupposes that boredom is a bad thing, which is not necessarily true. Boredom serves a tremendously useful function in getting people (especially, if you are a parent, people playing computer games) to move onto something else. An increasing body of academic research suggests boredom is really important for imagination and creativity and we don’t get enough of it.

These days, hardly anyone stares in a bored, contemplative fashion out of the window: we’re all focused on our mobiles, worried about missing something on twitter or Instagram. A genuinely useful mood sensor would point out that this is making us anxious and fretful and it’s pointless and we should just put the technology down. It’s unlikely, though, that this is what they have in mind for it. 

 

Microsoft, which is experimenting with a similar mood-sensing product, called Moodscope, has produced an academic paper in which it suggests that parents could use the technology to identify when, say, their son was unhappy, and call to cheer him up. The authors of this paper cannot ever have had sons. Any of my sons would be horrified at the idea I might know about their interior states, still less telephone them and start saying embarrassing things.

Innumerable novels and a great many films have been built on the discrepancy between what people say to each other and what they really feel; between their public faces and their private thoughts. Office life would fall apart if everyone knew the extent to which their polite, charming and helpful colleagues were actually seething with resentment, boredom and fury. 

Tech people tend to think of sharing as an invariably good thing, which (see office, above) it isn’t. A lot of sharing on the web - anti-sexism campaigns and insightful commentary spring to mind - is brilliant; but sharing via social media depends on performance.

We are all broadcasters now, all choosing what to project – which also, inevitably, entails choosing what to keep private. And, other than for occasional effect, what we mostly protect is our emotional states – not least because they are just too complicated, too irrational and too hopelessly inarticulate to share.

Even if our moods could be easily conveyed, could be reduced to ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ - what then? What is my computer, or indeed, my boss, going to do about the fact that I’m in a bad mood because it’s raining? That I’m on a short fuse because I was caught in a traffic jam? On current performance, my boss is going to look embarrassed; and my computer is going to send me some irritating ad based on something I once looked at in the course of my work. It has been incontinence pads a lot recently. Give me a semi-functional husband any day.

READ MORE:
As well as killing hundreds of Gaza's children, Israel has destroyed the lives of thousands more
Does Boris’s decision to stand as an MP threaten Cameron? Not really
The death of Studio Ghibli was inevitable — but this might not be the end  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
Rebekah Brooks after her acquittal at the Old Bailey in June  

Rebekah Brooks to return? We all get those new-job jitters

John Mullin
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future