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Volume 71, Issue 148, Thursday, July 6, 2006

Opinion

New technology lacks humanity 

Michael Goetz
Opinion Columnist

The apocalypse is looming -- hide the children! 

Computers can now read minds. Professors at Cambridge University have been working on a computer system that can read human emotions through facial movements with almost better-than-human accuracy.

The computer -- that is more compassionate than your significant other -- will be making its public debut at the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition this week, where scientists are inviting the general public to try out the machine in hopes of honing the system's ability. 

I wouldn't start building a time machine to contact Sarah Conner just yet, but one does start to wonder what possibilities this will generate. 

A few that come to mind are uses in law enforcement and the war on terror. A computer that can quickly evaluate a suspect's approximate mood would definitely be useful in planning which interrogation technique to use.

For now, researchers are working on an onboard system for cars that could monitor the driver's emotional state. Audible alarms would sound if the computer detects drowsy or confused behavior in the driver.

I don't think Americans will want to hear the computerized voice of "Jenny" telling them to calm down and take a deep breath. 

I get annoyed by the alarm that signals that my door is ajar -- a digital voice telling me to cheer up might send me over the edge.

There are many possibilities for a computer that can read emotions, but do we need these devices? Are we so emotionally disconnected from each other that we need a machine to communicate our desires?

The use of emotional features has always been a method of communication. Sometimes it's used to falsely convey a person's view. 

Other times, facial expressions are used to convey meaning. 

By allowing machines to interpret these human traits, we are increasing the social distance between one another.

The ability to convey meaning through emotions is one of the major abilities that makes us human. 

Technology that decreases our humanity is not something that should be taken lightly. 

While this new computer may not be the end of humanity, special care should be taken as scientists venture into areas that strip away and analyze the intangible characteristics of the human soul.

Goetz, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at mpgoetz@gmail.com

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