Emotions: Can Machines Understand Them?

Many People Feeling Emotion

The short answer is that they could understand emotions if equipped with the proper sensors and algorithms.

Physiological Components of Emotions
Emotions always have a physiological component. When we feel excited our heart rate changes, skin conductance increases, facial expressions exaggerate. Many physical and physiological signatures of emotional states have been well studied and classified. For example, the facial action coding system developed by Paul Ekman have been used to detect emotion by computer scientists since the 1970s.

Today the advances in photography and affective computing made possible the development of more accurate automated face analysis. This is how it works. 1) The machine “attends” to the facial signals through automated face detection and registration, and “receives” facial signals with high speed cameras. 2) The next step is extracting key signals. In facial expression recognition, the signal components are called Action Units (AU), or the movement changes of individual facial muscles. The machine does this through a variety of algorithms such as principal component analysis, linear discriminant analysis, and support vector machine classifiers. 3) Based on the specific combination of AU, the machine concludes an emotion experienced by the recorded facial expression.

For example, pain is characterized by brow lowering (AU4), orbital tightening (AU6 and 7), eye closure (AU43), nose wrinkling and lip raise (AU9 and 10). After going through the preceding steps and detecting the changes in these Action Units the machine will conclude that the person experiences pain.

Other Key Factors
Physiological changes such as tone of voice, body movements, heart rate and more can be measured with biometric sensors. Many devices already have these sensors and collect the data. The algorithms to analyze this data and make conclusions about emotions are already developed. It’s just a matter of time before machines will actively read our emotions and use this information in ways we hope will benefit us.

The Fit Brains Team

“Brain Training Success”

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Man Playing Game

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The Fit Brains Team

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Boost Your Focus: Here’s 1 Easy Way!

Fit Brains Pomodoro Focus Technique and Timer

Does your focus wane during tasks sometimes? You aren’t alone!  Some of us, here at Fit Brains, use the Pomodoro Technique, a popular time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo. It’s designed to keep your mind fresh and focused so you can finish tasks faster.  And, it’s supposed to help your concentration. Bet we have your attention now, don’t we?

How To Apply The Pomodoro Technique

Fit Brains Person Working with Focus

1. Pick a task or project
2. Get rid of all distractions (eg. Phone, email)
3. Set your timer for 25 minutes
4. Work until you hear the timer
5. Take a break for 5 minutes
6. Mark a check on a piece of paper
7. Repeat steps 3-6 four times
8. Then take a break for 15 – 20 minutes

The Pomodoro Timer

In the 1980s, Cirillo used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato to complete the drill and maintain concentration, hence the name Pomodoro (Italian for “tomato”). Nowadays, you can use apps like the Pomodoro Keeper (IOS), Marinara Timer (web), Simple Pomodoro (Android) and Focus Booster (Windows, Mac and web) to time your Pomodoros.

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The Fit Brains Team

“Brain Training Success”

Can Machines Have Feelings?

Robot with Feeling

Of course not is the intuitive and immediate answer that this question would most likely get. But let’s not be so fast. There is a field in computing called Affective Computing whose goal is to create machines that can detect and interpret human emotions. It uses the appraisal theory of emotions as its guide. This theory is one of the most influential theories of emotions and it is able to bridge the gap between emotions and the symbolic reasoning process favored by the builders of artificial intelligence (AI).

Appraisal Theory

According to the Appraisal Theory, humans determine how they feel about a certain event and entity using a series of template evaluation process. First, we evaluate how novel or familiar something is. Then, we weigh how likely it is to cause a positive or a negative experience in congruence with our goals. Then we evaluate our coping potential: can we influence and control it, can we change it in ways that makes it beneficial to us. Our brains ultimately translate this series of evaluations into a certain feeling towards the event or entity. If it is something familiar, pleasant, reasonably controllable, and congruent with our goals, we are likely to experience positive emotions towards it. If it is something new, unpleasant, out of control, and incongruent with our goals, we are likely to hate it.

So What Does This Mean For Machines?

If the emotional process can be broken down into a series of evaluations with more or less binary outcomes (novel/familiar, controllable/uncontrollable, etc.), then these operations can be performed not just by a human but by a machine too. If we could develop algorithms parallel to the process human brains use to make decisions about familiarity, valence, controllability, and goal congruence, the process through which an emotion is created can be performed by a machine.

Admittedly, we are a long way from the moment when a machine will feel happy or scared, but the Appraisal Theory of emotions provides a roadmap for how we can teach machines to process human emotions.

Stay tuned to learn how machines can learn to detect and interpret human emotions.

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Do Your Brain A Favor And Quit Your Job!

How a new job can give your brain a boost!

Quit your job! Quit your job? Bold advice, but according to some experts, it might be what your brain needs!  However, before you start picturing yourself in sweatpants with a remote in hand, the story does not end by quitting your job only to laze away your days. Sorry to disappoint. Let’s rephrase this.  Quit your job and get a different job!  But wait, why should I quit a job that I know how to do and am perfectly good at only to have to learn a new job?  Because doing something new and challenging for your brain is good for it.

A recent article published in The Atlantic Magazine, presents the case for how quitting your job in order to challenge yourself with a new job that comes with new training and new skills can help keep your brain challenged and stimulated, which is good for your brain (and your satisfaction with life in general) in the long run.  While it sounds intimidating (not to mention a lot of work to quit one job only to find another one), according to the article, “But, if you want to thrive in the years ahead, a new challenge, and a new purpose, may be the things your brain needs most.” (Hagerty, 2016) Experts suggest that for many adults, this challenge and purpose can come from their job.

Don’t have a job?  Learning a new skill in general, or taking up a new hobby are other ways you can keep your brain active, challenged and engaged!  Tennis lessons, piano lessons, or a new language, are just a few examples of hobbies that can give you a new lease on life and stimulate your brain too.

Fit Brain’s own Dr. Paul Nussbaum is one expert interviewed for the article.  The author writes, “Paul Nussbaum, a neuropsychologist and co-founder of the brain-training company Fit Brains, notes that after you have mastered a skill, be it balancing the company’s books or (in my case) writing a four-minute radio story, that skill becomes ‘overly learned.’” Nussbaum acknowledges the challenge and stress that can come with learning a new skill, but reassures that “Soon, however, you will develop new neural circuits, and your brain will thank you for the effort.” (Hagerty, 2016)  

So, even if you aren’t inspired to quit your job just yet, we hope this can inspire you to find a way to keep purpose and challenge in your life.  You’ll feel better and so will your brain!   And, if you want to challenge and entertain your brain with much less commitment, try a FREE TRIAL of Fit Brains fun brain games!  Fit Brains games will give your brain “smart” entertainment. Challenge your Memory, Focus, Logic, Speed of Thinking, Language and Visual-Spatial Recognition skills with a Fit Brains FREE TRIAL!

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Fit Brains

“Brain Training Success”

Reference: Hagerty, Barbara Bradley. (2016) “Quit Your Job”. The Atlantic Magazine. 317(3), 22-24.