In just a few weeks, the next installment of “The Hunger Games” will arrive in movie theaters. The latest in a long line of films to depict a future all-knowing or controlling government — think “1984” or “Minority Report” — the dystopian tale will likely be a runaway hit. But the power to seem all-knowing – or at least know more than do now – may soon lie in technology that’s already in the palm of your hand.
We are nearing a point where our smartphones will be able to recognize a face or voice, in real life or on-screen. And identification is only the most basic of the possibilities. Many app-makers are experimenting with software that can also analyze – able to determine someone’s emotions or honesty just by a few facial cues.
This interpersonal assessment technology promises to make our lives easier. For instance, facial recognition technology can allow people to get immediate and amazing customer service. If a restaurant or retailer can identify me before I walk in the door, it would be able to identify me as a returning customer, accessing my favorite dishes or products. I would be greeted like an old friend (whether I were, or not).
Similarly, algorithms are now being developed that link thousands of facial cues with human emotions. Our brains do this naturally – we know without asking whether someone is happy or upset based only on their expressions. Law enforcement and poker players take this a step further, using facial cues to determine someone’s honesty. But with technology augmenting our brain’s natural behavior – possibly providing direct, measurable and verifiable input – we can produce measurable and verifiable data. As sensors move from our smartphones to activity trackers to smartwatches from Apple and Samsung, we are measuring more than ever and are not far off from continuously tracking our emotions. And software is now in development to interpret people’s emotions, then project the results via an app onto a screen such as Google Glass.