The Bee Side - Technology helps get message across
I hear that the boffins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT to you and me) have recently developed an emotion sensor that can detect boredom. That might not sound like it's up there with the all-time great inventions to you, but to someone like me who has to speak so often at pension conferences this could be just what we've been waiting for.
Evidently, fitted with nothing more than a simple device comprising a pair of glasses fitted with a high resolution camera linked to a small hand-held computer, we will soon all be able to instantly recognise the onset of boredom in those we are addressing. While that doesn't sound too difficult, it's worth pointing out that computer technology really had to move up a gear or two before this was even a remote possibility. Basically, it's easy to detect things like happiness, sadness, anger, surprise and disgust, but boredom simply isn't one of your computer-friendly emotions.
Without going into all the technological explanation of all this, which if I'm being honest leaves me a fair way behind, it's all about the software being able to pick up on complex movements of eyebrows, lips and noses while at the same time being aware of the significance of head movements such as nodding, shaking or tilting. Obviously the computer has to be able to rule out involuntary twitches and the sort too, so it's pretty sophisticated.
The clever bit, though, is how the user's computer gets its message through that the recipients of their talk are losing it. But it's surprisingly simple really, just like all the great inventions. What happens is the minute the victim of the presentation starts to glaze over, the hand-held computer itself begins to vibrate. I mean how good's that? Instant feedback, even to the least observant of us.
The only trouble I can see with the whole thing is that if I were to use it with some of the audiences I've spoken to lately, I don't think I would have been able to have heard myself think, what with the buzzing going into overdrive. Perhaps they'll come up with a less sensitive one for pension conferences that, say, lets speakers know when over 50% of the audience is deep into REM sleep or something like that?
First published in Pensions Management, May 2006