Reading Minds Online
Throughout this chapter you’ve read about the benefits and drawbacks of online communication. The lack of face-to-face interaction can be a good thing (when it helps to lower your inhibitions) or a bad thing (when you can’t tell if someone’s being untruthful or manipulative). Modern technology may be able to rectify this situation once and for all. Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have developed what they call “mind-reading machines.” Don’t worry, no one’s going to come up behind you, point a ray gun in your direction, and read your thoughts. This “machine” is actually software that analyzes facial expressions in order to gather information about a person’s state of mind.
This could open a whole new door in the world of computer interactions! Imagine you’re talking to a friend on a webcam. She’s backing out of the plans the two of you had made for the evening, claiming she has a sinus infection. She doesn’t appear to be ill, so you’ll just have to take her word for it—or will you? The mind-reading software would allow you to analyze her facial expressions—and her sincerity—in the comfort of your own home.
The main goal of the University of Cambridge development of “mind-reading” software is to help parents and caretakers understand the intent of autistic individuals, who are often unable to express themselves verbally (and are also often limited in their nonverbal expressions).
In trials, the software has proven to be fairly accurate, which is good news for anyone who’s concerned with how we’re all going to really connect with each other in this increasingly technological world. Further research is going into developing a system to analyze the rest of the body’s nonverbal communication. The goal is to develop a program that can link into avatars (an Internet user’s representation of himself in the form of an icon or model), which will then show how you’re sitting, standing, angling, etc. while chatting online.
The increasing use of technology leads many people to fear that we’re all going to end up isolated, staring at our computer screens, instead of interacting with other people. But things certainly don’t seem to be going that way. According to the Millenials, meeting new friends and keeping up with old pals (not to mention making and changing plans) is much easier done online than by calling or seeking them out in person.
Cyberspace is a virtual playground where you can meet new best pals, love interests, or someone who may turn into an instant regret. Do log on and be yourself, but also be careful and remember that anything that makes you feel uncomfortable in real life is fair game for unfriending someone in the cyber realm.