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? ^^

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