The New Way To Tell If Your Date Is Going Badly

Photo: Rachel Gibbons
Ever been on an excruciatingly awkward first date? Or had a job interview that immediately went downhill after you accidentally said something you shouldn't have? Us too. All too often, in fact. Conversations and other social interaction can be tricky sometimes, even for the most sociable and emotionally intelligent among us. But researchers have developed an ingenious smartwatch integrated with an artificial intelligence system that could coach people in social situations. It would be particularly useful for those with social anxiety or social disorders such as Asperger's syndrome. In a paper published yesterday, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) said the watch uses audio and physiological data to detect the tone of a conversation and mood of the speaker. Co-creators Mohammad Ghassemi and Tuka Al Hanai used a Samsung Simband, a wearable device which collects high resolution physiological data, to track the movement, heart rate, blood pressure and skin temperature of the study's participants. The AI system combines this data with an audio analysis of the speaker's tone of voice, pitch, energy and vocabulary to give a sentiment score every five seconds during an interaction to ascertain whether it was happy, sad or neutral.
The researchers believe this is the first time the emotional tone of a conversation has been measured and given a score in real time, Newsweek reported. They hope the technology could be integrated into common smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch, in future. “Technology has done a lot to connect people but even though it helps us communicate, it hasn’t done much to improve those communications,” PhD candidate Ghassemi told Newsweek.

“This system can help people with anxiety or conditions like Asperger’s understand which moments in a social interaction led to positive outcomes and which led to negative outcomes. Ultimately, it could be used by everyone to improve communication.” One thing that detracts slightly from the technology's usefulness, however, is that it only measures one side of the conversation. If you were on a first date, for instance, you could only measure your own vital signs, not your date's. So, there's no scientific way of knowing exactly how well (or badly) your hilarious anecdotes and tales go down. Until technology is able to measure others' data in real time too, maybe ignorance is bliss.

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