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Communications of the ACM


How Do You Feel? Your Computer Knows

CERT screenshot

A screenshot showing video processing by the Computer Expression Recognition Toolbox (CERT).

Credit: Joseph F. Grafsgaard / North Carolina State University

Nearly a decade after its retirement, the advice-spewing "Clippy" remains one of technology's most hated characters. As part of Microsoft's Office Assistant help system, the paperclip-faced avatar proposed help based on Bayesian probability algorithms: start a word-processing document with "Dear," and it offered to help you write a letter. Express exasperation, and Clippy would gleefully continue pestering you: it could not sense your mood.

Perhaps Clippy would still be with us if it had employed affective computing, a growing field that attempts to determine a user's mood or emotion through visual, auditory, physiological, and behavioral cues¬ócues that comprise one's "affect." An affect-enabled Clippy might see your look of disgust and make itself scarce; conversely, it might pop up sooner when you furrow your brow in confusion.


Robert Schaefer

"Affective computing was inspired by a desire to show more respect for people's feelings."

Has anyone seen the movie Elysium?

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