Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Facial expression recognition in Computers

A friend of mine is studying for a PhD regarding artificial intelligence. She is looking into computer recognition of human facial expression of emotion. I was interested when she told me that studies have shown there were six basic facial expressions of emotion that are culturally universally understood. They are: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, and surprise. It is something that I has not really thought of before. My friend also told me about the etiquette of expressing emotions and how this complicates matters. The example she used was that in Japan it is not considered polite to express disgust. Therefore it might be harder to recognise this emotion because people are trying to hide their facial expression.

I was talking to my boyfriend about it yesterday. He had it in his mind that my friend was teaching robots to recognise the human voice. She does indeed like robots. Her project at undergraduate level involved building a robot. I corrected him by explaining that she was actually teaching computers to recognise human emotion. It made me laugh to express it like that. It reminded me of the first series of Star Trek (yes – I was subjected to it as a child). Each episode followed essentially the same storyline – Kirk meets an alien race, he doesn’t understand them, he insults their beliefs which are different from his own, he falls in love with a beautiful alien creature, then he gets into a fight and the Enterprise manage to just escape with their lives. There is often a bit where Kirk tries to seduce an alluring alien female, “this is the Earth emotion we call ‘love’” he croons whilst passionately kissing her. I get a similar image when I think of researchers trying to teach robots how to recognise human emotion. Very bizarre.

My friend also told me that our facial expressions have all been recorded and classified. They are based on muscle movements – usually of a muscle group.
“This is number four” she proclaimed as she furrowed her brows.
I copied.
“Yes. You do that one a lot.” She said.
“Oh!” I was worried. “That’s my thinking face”

I’d spoken to another friend the week before, about getting frown lines as you get older.
“I want to have happy wrinkles rather than sad wrinkles” she’d said, as she was ending a story about meeting a man with an incredibly ‘sad’ wrinkled face.
I had heartily agreed with this sentiment.

If I do make expression number 4 a lot then I am going to end up with frown lines. I can see them developing already. It is a concern. Sadly, as this is my normal pondering expression, this issue being a concern to me will make frown lines an inevitability. It's a tragedy - or is it? I asked if it is possible to force yourself to reduce the number of times you perform a certain expression or if this is too automatic an action. Learning about your facial expressions makes you more aware of when you are making them. If you are more aware then you can affect your actions in a certain way, There is hope for me yet! I wonder if this is the next stage of vanity? Where people realise they don't want to have an obviously fake face as they get older, so they accept wrinkles but they want to be sure to have the 'right kind' of 'happy' wrinkles? ^^

Christmas in Korea

Tree 2010
I am going to be abroad for most of December; I am going to the wedding of a wonderful friend from University. I feel as though I might miss out on a lot of the excitement you experience in the run up to Christmas. The decorations, the parties, the food – the tree. I have made a point of getting a real Christmas tree for the past few years now. My love of real Christmas trees stems back to my childhood. I remember one particular Christmas when my family got a huge tree, 7ft at least, as the house we were living in at the time had very high ceilings. It was amazing. We had such a fabulous Christmas that year, and I seem to have encapsulated the whole experience wrapped up in the image of the tree. The beautiful twinkling lights which reflected and glistened off the shiny baubles, and the deep sensuous smell of pine.

This year I have decided to get an artificial tree. It seems so sad to have to do it. However, I was motivated by the even sadder thought that if I got a real tree then it would be left to die on its own in my apartment with nobody to appreciate its beauty. I have been having a debate with my boyfriend over the criteria I am using to choose the type of artificial tree. He thought I wanted a tree to make the place look warm, traditional, and homely. That was the rationale for my choice of real tree. My criteria for an artificial tree seems to be a lot different. If I am going to pick an artificial tree I think I need to embrace and accentuate the fact that it is not real, rather than trying to pretend that it is. Even a good fake is still obviously a fake – where’s the smell. I have decided to go for a white Christmas tree. The colour scheme for baubles is going to be silver and black. My boyfriend tells me he is preparing for a futuristic space age Christmas with me. :)

Perhaps he will be lucky, and we will find a few Christmas trees over in Korea to take the edge off the fact that he had a space age one here.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Marketing in London

On Monday, I was waiting for a friend at Tottenham Court road tube station reading an article about the use of marketing and appropriate targeting of customers in order to provide a better experience and lower cost service in the retail banking industry. Last week I was participating in a marketing training course. I don’t have a background in marketing; I have performed no formal study in that area. The extent of my practical application of marketing merely touches on the outskirts of campaign and event management. However, since my new job involves more marketing type work, I thought it would be a good time and opportunity to ‘upskill’.

I was amazed at what I learnt. Not because it was so intellectually amazing, most of the things I was told seemed like common sense, but because I did not realise how large a scope marketing is. I had previously thought of marketing as advertising, events, sales campaigns. It is actually much more than the communication side of things. Lots of emphasis is put on planning, strategy, analysis of customer groups, establishing an identity. There is a lot more analysis involved than I realised. The work we did on analysis really shocked me. It was scary to think of the amount of information companies like Facebook, Google, and Tesco can hold on you. It made me reconsider whether marketing really is evil.We did not discuss the ethics of marketing on the course, but I think we should have.

As long as I have known him, my boyfriend has told me how evil marketers are. I had assumed he believed this because his found advertising so annoying. Both because adverts can be ridiculously cheesy and also because they can sometimes be inaccurate (e.g. the vacuum cleaner ad that referred to a vacuum working on the same principal as a black hole with the absence of gravity). It certainly ranks highly on his hate list. I think the more sinister undertone is the level of detail marketers can go to with customer profiling, so they can portray things in a way which customers are most likely to buy because it impacts on them emotionally.

On the course I was told an example of a large football club that was selling mortgages to its fans. The mortgage product was not hugely competitive, certainly not best in
the market, and yet people were buying it. They ran some focus groups to work out why people were buying it. They seemed to fall into two groups: the first group of people did not like banks and thought they would rather give their money to the club than the banks (even though this was actually just a white labelled product from a bank anyway – which they did not realise), the second group really trusted the club and thought that the club was bound to have done their research to find the best product for them. When I heard things like this I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the people!

On the other hand there were examples of adverts that seemed generally loved and generated public excitement and support. I thought this De Beers Diamonds unbreakable kiss campaign seemed great. There are also adverts that play on comedy that people react well to. Therefore I do not think all marketing is evil. Just some applications of it. ;) I don't know if the major professional bodies give due consideration to marketing ethics.