When we are talking about women in Computer Science, do we mean the women that create or the women that are being created? Indeed, this question might be a bit far-fetched, but, truth be told, the world did just witness the first robot being given legal personhood. Sophia, as ‘she’ is called, received Saudi citizenship. Although contested, this decision should not have been completely unimaginable. Over the previous years, advancements made in the field of Social Robotics have made it increasingly difficult to pinpoint the essential difference between ‘human beings’ and ‘robots’; ‘us’ and ‘them’. If we deserve personhood, then why don’t they?
The boundary-blurring effects of Sophia-like robots is due, in part, to the advancements made in the field of Affective Computing, as it was coined by computer scientist Rosalind Picard. Since 1995, this particular field has been concerned with the development of machines that can interpret the emotional state of human beings and adapt their behaviour accordingly; giving themselves an empathetic response in return.
Rosalind herself sees great potential in providing machines with such an ability in the fields of - among others - healthcare and education. Especially in the former, Affective Computing seems to be of added value. Social robots used in this domain seem to benefit from emotional awareness as this allows them to better judge their patients’ emotional states and adapt their program appropriately. As such, the world has already welcomed social robots such as Pepper and Buddy to accompany the eldery in an ever more aging population.
As of today, the presence of Affective Computing is ubiquitous: virtual assistants analyze your state of emotions before they greet you and kitchen robots recognize it when you are in need of a medic after having cut your finger - only to mention two examples. One must thank Rosalind for this ubiquity. After publishing a book on Affective Computing in 1997, she further developed the concept at the MIT Affective Computing Research Group that she directed. Moreover, she used her expertise to co-found the companies ‘Affectiva’ and ‘Empatica’, where she continued to develop machines for the interpretation of emotional states.
Rosalind’s efforts have not been fruitless. In 2019, she received one of the highest honors accorded to an engineer: election to the National Academy of Engineering. Deservedly so, as the field of Affective Computing is a complex combination of Computer Science, Psychology, Physiology and Cognitive Sciences. For Rosalind, though, this complexity is not an issue. Rather, she claims, it helps her to get closer to her religion: “Digging into the models of how emotions work, I find I feel even greater awe and appreciation for the way we are made, and therefore for the Maker that has brought this about”.
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- Picard, R.W. (1997). Affective Computing. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Yonck, R. (2017). Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence. New York City, New York: Arcade Publishing.
Blume, H. (1998). Digital Culture. The Atlantic Online. Retrieved 30-09-2019 from: https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/digicult/
E. Reynolds. (2018). The agony of Sophia, the world’s first robot citizen condemned to a lifeless career in marketing. Wired. Retrieved 30-09-2019 from: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/sophia-robot-citizen-womens-rights-detriot-become-human-hanson-robotics.
Bosker, B. (2017). Affectiva’s Emotion Recognition Tech: When Machines know What You’re Feeling. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 30-09-2019 from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/affectiva-emotion-recognition-technology_n_2360136 guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9lbi53aWtpcGVkaWEub3JnLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAABbM07P4Y2BtZwrdDOpqRxSwfiPfv43YFX40P7_SZwuP-NJRrN457oCk3vs_rCD1Mt4zii9MWMcWdLJ4NFhfc-XStIEyE5MEmxYajQK4muTk3RNahJaoGt8inBTHhxFa0k0OFn7TAXn-UKt5N0bgeNW3lS8nJcRIC_
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