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My smartphone knows if I am in the pink

Monitoring of brain areas activated by pain sensation. These same areas are activated when we see a person suffering. In a way we detect his suffering because we feel it, the same way we would feel our own suffering. Image credit: Lesley Budell et al., PlosONE

“Are you feeling blue today?” I guess it happened a few times to hear you friends say that after a few seconds of meeting you, or just by listening at your voice over the phone. Most likely you said the same thing to some of them once in a while.

Our brain has been wired through evolution to detect subtle signs in our mimics and voice conveying the emotions we are feeling. It even goes across species, we can tell if our dog feels blue and it seems likewise it can tell our emotional status.

Generally, in order to detect emotions in another person you need to be able to feel those emotions. Actually, recent studies on human brain have shown that when we perceive an emotion in a person we are interacting with the same brain areas that are involved when we feel that emotion ourselves are engaged. We actually “re-live” other people’s emotions as they were our own.

Persons unable to feel emotions (like in some autism spectrum disorder) are also unable to feel other people emotions.

So it would seem that you need to be a sentient being in order to perceive other people’s emotion. Not really.

A study carried out at Stanford University has shown that a software in your smart phone leveraging on artificial intelligence has been able to pinpoint depression in people by observing their facial expression and to tone of their voice in 80% of the cases.

This is very interesting since detecting depression is not easy also for neurologists and even for the person suffering from it. Having the possibility of a frequent monitoring, as the one that can be ensured by a smartphone that would be able to check your face and your voice several times a day (as you are using it to make calls and browse the web), would increase the accuracy of the diagnoses and help people to take action sooner and better.

It is like having your personal psychologist in your smart phone and that psychologist, eventually, might interact with your digital twin to help you feeling better. Amazing what is laying ahead, just around the corner!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.