A promising development
June 19, 2013 5:00 PM   Subscribe

New software system from MIT could help people improve their conversational and interview skills "[N]ew software developed at MIT can be used to help people practice their interpersonal skills until they feel more comfortable with situations such as a job interview or a first date. The software, called MACH (short for My Automated Conversation coacH), uses a computer-generated onscreen face, along with facial, speech, and behavior analysis and synthesis software, to simulate face-to-face conversations. It then provides users with feedback on their interactions."
posted by bookman117 (30 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good lord. I feel weird enough just talking to Siri. I can't even imagine if she had a face and graded me afterward.
posted by rifflesby at 5:17 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


How will the lip-syncing on the fifth iteration be?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:25 PM on June 19, 2013


Thank you for posting this, bookman117. I always enjoy your insightful links and commentary. You're an asset to the team, and your face has a symmetry coefficient of 1.117, which is almost one standard deviation more attractive than usual.

Am I doing it right?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:26 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is going to be like the opening of the new Elysium trailer, isn't it?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:32 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can imagine a future in which people who would otherwise have great difficulty with personal interactions become fully socialized and capable of easily navigating these sort of situations except for some screaming behavioral ticks acquired from glitches in the software. Imagine making small talk at a reception with someone who is warm, funny, attentive, and for some reason blinks with the regularity of a metronome because the conversational avatar they've trained with didn't include a sufficiently complex facial animation model.
posted by figurant at 5:36 PM on June 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


lol

(Wow, I just realized that lol looks like a guy who is raising his hands for help because he is drowning.)
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:37 PM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Wow, I just realized that lol looks like a guy who is raising his hands for help because he is drowning.

I was much too far out all my life.
posted by Diablevert at 5:46 PM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Peter F. Hamilton's Void Trilogy features a post-scarcity Earth where at least one character is pretty much totally dependent on his in-skull software for interpersonal interaction; everything from body language to tone of voice is nicely translated for him, and he gets directions on how to respond. I'm waiting for the Google Glass version of this.
posted by Runcible! at 6:12 PM on June 19, 2013


I grew up watching a lot of Max Headroom.

In retrospect, this explains everything.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:13 PM on June 19, 2013


Why mac on the ladies when you can MACH on them? The future is here!
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:17 PM on June 19, 2013


I'm waiting for the Google Glass version of this.

Followed shortly by the Google Glass version equivalent to a trollishly inaccurate Hungarian phrasebook.
posted by figurant at 6:18 PM on June 19, 2013


I have seen the future and it is smarmy!
posted by mazola at 6:20 PM on June 19, 2013


I was recently at a party attended by, among others, several MIT grads. The thought of them training anyone in social skills gives me pause.
posted by spindrifter at 6:23 PM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


This reminds of the videos of people staring at you that are supposed to help you get used to making eye contact.
posted by 23 at 6:33 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


a computer-generated onscreen face, along with facial, speech, and behavior analysis and synthesis software, to simulate face-to-face conversations

I could set up a bunch of these to do tech support. They would nod and smile and say uh huh for ten minutes, then tell the customer to restart their PC. Perfect!
posted by flabdablet at 6:39 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Holy crap! It's a Speak N' Spell for sociopaths!

"I want to figure out how to make myself more convincing while talking to others, but I cannot quite grasp the nuances involved in social conversation. How can I train myself to be more convincing...?"
posted by FormlessOne at 7:12 PM on June 19, 2013


Holy crap! It's a Speak N' Spell for sociopaths!

or y'know for people who can't have conversations without visibly sweating
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:20 PM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


MIT students who go through this training are 7 times more likely to pass the Turing test.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:54 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Something like this could be applied to autism therapies.
posted by FunkyHelix at 8:03 PM on June 19, 2013


MIT creates software that decimates MIT student academic performance.
posted by srboisvert at 9:05 PM on June 19, 2013


Holy crap! It's a Speak N' Spell for sociopaths!

"I want to figure out how to make myself more convincing while talking to others, but I cannot quite grasp the nuances involved in social conversation. How can I train myself to be more convincing...?"
From what I understand people who rate as "psychopaths" (which is the correct diagnostic term, btw) are actually pretty good at being able to talk to people, guess at emotions and manipulate people. They may not understand what causes people to feel the way they do, because they don't have the same emotional reactions to things. And the key thing is that they are much less likely to feel fear, so they won't feel nervous or awkward about talking to someone - in fact they won't even care at all if they annoy them.

I actually came across this blog by a self-proclaimed 'diagnosed sociopath' who also just wrote a book about it. (I came across it via this hilarious 'review' of her book in the voice of Patrick Bateman). According to her she just sees other people the way normal people see pets. If you think about it that way a sociopath would have no more trouble talking to a person then a normal person would talking to a cat - even though you have no idea what the cat is actually thinking.

So, I think this software would be much more helpful for people with autism like issues, or people who are very nervous about social interaction (which is would be the opposite of psychopathy). It's kind of interesting to read her blog. (For example, she mentioned that she can't use sharp knives because she always cuts herself but can never remember to be careful with them)

That said "sociopathy" isn't even in the DSM as an independent condition, rather psychopahty a subtype of antisocial personality disorder (or something), although they are tinkering with this more in the DSM-5. A lot of people take it as a kind of proven scientific fact when it's not all that well established. Here's a recent paper about the history of the diagnosis. The diagnosis is just based on a 20 question checklist - that's it. People like the bloger may view their actions and feelings through the lens of the so-called diagnosis and interpret their actions/feelings in the most sociopathic way possible.
posted by delmoi at 9:05 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


According to her she just sees other people the way normal people see pets.

I am disturbed to learn that the chooks all think I'm a psychopath.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Could we integrate this technology into MeTa somehow?
posted by mazola at 10:33 PM on June 19, 2013


This will be the big step toward completely automating the HR department. They already have software that screens applications. This is going to be re-purposed to do the actual interviewing. It will study you and demote you if it detects any "negative" nuance in your facial response to questions.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:53 AM on June 20, 2013


What happens when you neg it?
posted by plinth at 5:56 AM on June 20, 2013


MIT creates software that decimates MIT student academic performance.

MIT creates many things that decimate MIT student academic performance. This software wouldn't even break the top 10.
posted by maryr at 9:50 AM on June 20, 2013


If this thing is so good, can't I just get it to talk to people for me?
posted by Zed at 10:53 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


A++++++++ WOULD CONVERSE AGAIN.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:29 AM on June 20, 2013


I dunno... I used to chat with ELIZA occasionally (I think I downloaded a DOS program in the 90s, to play with), and on the one hand, it really did make me feel better, at times. Maybe like journaling. On the other hand, she was no substitute for a real therapist.

I can't help but think this would be similar. How can a program that can't pass the Turing test help you be a better conversationalist, really? I mean, except in the same way a book would, or reading a book in conjuction with watching video of yourself.
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:15 AM on June 21, 2013


Having finished the article, I see that the benefit did come from watching a video of yourself, but with commentary on what you were doing wrong supplied by the algorithm (which improved performance over just watching the video alone.)

So not exactly ELIZA-equse. More like what actual sports coaches do when watching the tapes of athletic performances with the athletes.

I think that would make me incredibly, cripplingly, self-conscious...
posted by OnceUponATime at 9:48 AM on June 21, 2013


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