The entry for "privacy" in the Oxford English Dictionary may look the same as it always has, but our definition of the word is changing day by day.
Consider the fact that license plate readers track many -- if not most -- drivers in the U.S. Software is being used to identify pedestrians and control crosswalks. And soon, it's entirely possible that automakers will embed cameras in our dashboards to detect when we're enraged, becoming a danger to ourselves and others.
According to the Daily Mail, researchers at Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have prototyped a camera that tracks facial movements and expressions to read a person's emotions. The team has partnered with PSA Peugeot Citroën to create a version of the camera that can be used in cars to determine when drivers are angry or disgusted -- indicators of looming road rage.
In the near future, engineers hope to refine the camera's software so that it can detect fatigue. And a bit further down the road, the team hopes that the camera could be used to identify distracted driving, or to tell when someone has become mentally unstable.
It's worth noting that the team in Lausanne isn't the only one working on such a system:
- Intel Israel has created a comparable camera that can be placed in laptops, monitors, and elsewhere to identify moods, offering far-ranging applications for education, entertainment, and, of course counter-terrorism programs.
- Samsung has been developing emotion-gauging software for smartphones.
- Researchers in Great Britain are using the same concept to create a more perfect polygraph.
- And of course, a team in Australia created a car propelled by attention.
The real question is: when the Swiss team's camera detects anger or disgust, what will it do? Notify the authorities? Apply the car's brakes? Switch the radio to soothing music? Tell knock-knock jokes? What's the appropriate response?
Our take? We love scientific innovation -- especially the kind that's meant to make the world a safer place. We understand that road rage can be a dangerous thing, and we appreciate researchers' efforts to develop this camera/software combo. But we'd be lying if we said we weren't worried by the thought of allowing a computer to judge us on something as personal and subjective as emotional state. We've all seen Robocop, and few of us want to go down that road.