You know how going on a first date usually feels like dipping your feet into an icy cold river of anxiety and self-doubt coupled with a growing hatred for whatever gender you’re attracted to? Well, what if while you were feeling all these things, you were able to carry a device that scientifically measures how attracted (or unattracted) to you your date was? That sounds like an inventive way to make dating even more terrifying! Apparently, researchers at Lancaster University have been toying with this very concept, developing a machine that can measure attraction and empathy as a potential tool for those in the market for romance.
The concept is inspired in part by the fictional Voight-Kampff machine from Blade Runner, an interrogation machine used to determine whether or not someone is a robot. While researchers at Lancaster aren’t exactly focusing on whether dates are robots, the concept of accidentally going on dates with fully-programmed Tinder bots doesn’t seem far off from our realm of possibilities.
This conceptual “emotion detector” machine is slated to include an ear-piece that measures skin and heart rate responses, as well as something to measure pupil dilation. You know, because going on a first date isn’t physically awkward enough without the added nerves of an emotion detector.
Fully aware of the dystopian nature of this concept, researchers at the University of Lancaster as well as their collaborators at the Centre for Spatial Analysis (CASA) at UCL have stated that they are researching and exploring this possible invention as a conversation starter focusing on ethics and how humans should to draw the lines between technology and interaction.
Professor Coulton of Lancaster University explained some of the project’s incentive, saying:
“What we are doing is questioning whether it has a place in our society — what kind of uses they have and what the world would actually be like with them. We want people to think about the ethical implications of what we do. Technically a lot of this is possible but is it actually what we want?”
There’s certainly a comfort in knowing that the researchers and developers involved in the project recognize the potential anxiety-inducing aspects of the invention. Observing the development of an “emotion detector” as conversation-starter about ethics is a lot more fascinating and appealing to me than immediately having it marketed to me. Personally, knowing that your heart rate and pupil dilation were being measured while on a date would only increase increase nervousness and social anxiety, regardless of how attractive you are or how attractive you think your date is.
There’s merit in the vulnerability required to take risks and pursue relationships while also understanding that we can’t fully know or measure how another person feels about us. If we’re able to come home from every date or social interaction with a machine that tells us how we did, won’t that just cause us to alter our behavior even further? Only time will tell.
Original by: Bronwyn Isaac