Up Front 02/06

Many of those familiar with writing letters or other documents on computer will have come across a little piece of clip-art that pops up in the bottom right hand of the screen to offer its services. I have found it more of a source of irritation than assistance, and let’s face it, it never shows up when the computer crashes or when no amount of kicking and screaming will make it do what you want. Scientists at a Research Institute in Rostock have recently been trying to find ways to make computers understand when their users are unhappy. Experts have identified aggression towards the PC as a genuine problem that deserves greater attention. “The kicks and blows of frustrated users cause computer damage that cannot be dismissed as negligible, neither in terms of personal property nor on a commercial and economic level” they say. The researchers have suggested that, as emotions are revealed by peripheral physiological processes, some of these, such as posture, fidgeting or frowning, are easy to detect and can be observed and classified by a camera with image analysis software. Heartbeat and breathing rate, blood pressure, skin temperature and electrical resistance of the skin, on the other hand, will require the use of perhaps sophisticated clothing for computer users, before the machine can pander to their every whim. I look forward to the day when a computer can distinguish when what’s being written has been somewhat embellished. It would be interesting to see how many press releases and government reports would have to be hand written.