Technology 3 min read

Wearable AI Social Coach Could Mitigate Autism Spectrum Disorder Challenges

CSAIL Logo |

CSAIL Logo |

Wearables, in many cases, have worn the unflattering label of a “gimmick.” But what if wearables could aid humanity in overcoming growing social challenges? A team of MIT researchers presented a new AI smart watch built to detect emotions and learn more about human subtlety.

It has almost become normal, but it’s still annoying when you’re having a conversation with someone and they are constantly checking their phone or texting. For the same reason, this wearable AI social coach is more likely to be disruptive in social situations, especially intimate ones, no matter how great the advice it gives might be.

#MIT #CSAIL developed an AI #smartwatch capable of detecting #human #emotion.Click To Tweet

Yet, this development does add to our society’s increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by catering to not only treating these diseases but creating social infrastructure and commercial products for autism spectrum and social disorders.

AI Social Coach on Your Wrist

Two researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Institute of Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) developed a wearable AI system that could determine the wearer’s mood during conversation.

By analyzing several parameters such as speech patterns, text transcriptions, and physiological data, the system detects the tone of a conversation and the emotional state of the user and those around them with 83% accuracy. The algorithm can also determine a “sentiment score” for five-second conversation segments.

ai social coach
Mohammad Ghassemi (left) and Tuka Al-Hanai (right) Barbara Lipohar-Staples | MIT News

Tuka Al-Hanai and Mohammad Ghassemi from MIT, the researchers who developed this system, have also developed Maven, an algorithm that matches people with compatible interests (i.e. friends, mentors, employers). The two AI experts co-authored a related paper which was presented this last week at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference.

The developers tested the AI social coach via a fitness tracker, the Samsung Simband, and their future goal is to make it compatible with more popular devices such as the Apple Watch. For now, the “wearable social coach” is still commercially unavailable.

Humanizing Technology and Dehumanizing Society?

Some autism spectrum disorders such as Asperser’s syndrome are neurological disorders affecting socialization, sensory sensitivity, and language.

People with this condition experience an inability to interpret non-verbal behaviors, such as visual contact, facial expression, and body language. ASD patients experience feelings differently than non-ASD patients and have particular difficulty understanding abstract concepts and emotions, which translates to difficulties in communication and social interaction.

An AI social coach could help socially-impaired people to cope with their condition by assisting them in recognizing social cues.

For other users, however, an AI social coach might have the opposite effect.

In a more connected world than ever, social interactions are increasingly digitized. While on the surface smart devices and wearables facilitate and promote human relations, they do affect social relationships negatively.

The first issue to arise is dependence: would we get into the habit of checking our “wrist social coach” every time we interact with someone? This is already the case with smartphones. We look to them constantly for stimulation whether we’re bored, to distract ourselves or to feel connected.

Personal data and privacy issues aside, relying on an AI social coach challenges the very notion of communication. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this technology will be an increase in AI social capabilities.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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