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Researchers working on computers that could react to your mood Add to ...

Computers should care

"There can be few motorists who have not been tempted to hurl a satnav system out of the window when it effortlessly guides the car into a traffic jam. However, navigation devices in the future could be smart enough to know when they have upset the driver and react accordingly," The Daily Telegraph reports. "Prof. Peter Robinson, head of emotional robotics at Cambridge University, is working on devising a generation of smart computers which will be able to detect and react to users' moods. … The technology partly relies on devising an ability to detect the mood of a user through a number of sensors. It tracks facial expression, hand gestures and even the tone of a user's voice. … If a driver was stressed, it could stop a mobile phone from ringing, turn the radio off and even stop giving instructions until the driver had recovered his composure,' " Prof. Robinson said.

Don't think so fast

"[O]r computers sometimes have to humour us, or they will freak us out," says Wired magazine. "Eric Horvitz - now a top Microsoft researcher and a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence - helped build an AI system in the 1980s to aid pathologists in their studies, analyzing each result and suggesting the next test to perform. There was just one problem - it provided the answers too quickly. 'We found that people trusted it more if we added a delay loop with a flashing light, as though it were huffing and puffing to come up with an answer,' Horvitz says."

Smells like school spirit

"Today's teens aren't shocked by much," says Florida's Orlando Sentinel. "They don't blink an eye when they spot a kid with drugs or a classmate with a baby. It's not that big a deal any more if guys or girls dye their hair pink and pierce their faces. But the idea of getting naked to shower after gym class? No way, Jose. … Even after hours of sports practice and rigorous competitions, many kids wait to bathe at home. … Parents, who have their own horror stories about showering in front of their peers and undergoing shower inspections by gym teachers, have pushed for an end to the practice. And school districts, worried about lawsuits and other problems, have given in. In some cases, school officials have even begun discouraging showers."

So you've got willpower?

"People tend to overestimate their ability to resist temptations around them," Associated Press reports, "thus undermining attempts to shed bad habits, says experimental psychologist Loran Nordgren, an assistant professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. 'People have this self-control hubris, this belief they can handle more than they can,' says Nordgren, who studies the tug-of-war between willpower and temptation. In one experiment, he measured whether heavy smokers could watch a film that romanticizes the habit - called Coffee and Cigarettes - without taking a puff. Upping the ante, they'd be paid according to their level of temptation: Could they hold an unlit cigarette while watching? Keep the pack on the table? Or did they need to leave the pack in another room? Smokers who'd predicted they could resist a lot of temptation tended to hold the unlit cigarette - and were more likely to light up than those who knew better than to hang onto the pack, says Nordgren."

Serve it, they will come

"Under pressure from viewers as well as movie-industry executives, [U.S.]theatre chains are trying to win back moviegoers - with food," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Audiences at a growing number of theatres can order such dishes as chinois chicken salad rolls or limoncello-tossed shrimp. More middle-of-the-road fare is also available, like cheeseburgers and chicken Caesar salads. Seats in these so-called 'in-theatre dining' cinemas are big and plush. Lobbies are luxurious, with art on the walls and mood lighting. Popcorn is often complimentary and a full bar is de rigueur."

Needed the cold-case squad

"A woman has been charged with disorderly conduct after calling police to try and scare her boyfriend into marrying her," the Daily Mail reports. "Ana Perez made an emergency call and claimed she was being attacked by her boyfriend. When two officers arrived at her flat in Chicago she told them she had made up the story and hoped their presence would 'scare' her boyfriend into proposing. But the officers were not amused and charged the 40-year-old with disorderly conduct. The boyfriend later told police he had no intention of marrying Perez and had been in the process of breaking up with her."

Thought du jour

"The senses do not deceive; it is the judgment that deceives."

Goethe (1749-1832), German writer and polymath

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