As our everyday living spaces are packed with electronics and become increasingly sentient, we might one day wake up in a house that knows more about your family's state than you do.
Designers James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau (remember their lustrous audio tooth?) are investigating if such technology would be helpful or too invasive. Their HappyLife project consists of a visual display linked to the thermal image camera, which employs facial recognition to differentiate between members of the family.
Each member has one rotary dial and one RGB display effectively acting like emotional barometers. These show current state and predicted state, the predicted state being based on years of accumulated statistical data.
The end result is an ambient display that should represent the emotional state of the various family members. The additional quality of the installation in comparison to simply looking at the face of your daughter to see how she feels, would be that it provides you with a sense of how your family members are doing, also when they are not in the home.
There is no written feedback on emotional state, it is left to the viewer to interpret this final position of the dial: ‘Is it where it was this morning?’ ‘Why has it spun so far round?’ More complex narratives based have been explored in the following vignettes, written in collaboration with Dr Richard M. Turley.
We installed Happylife. Not much happened at first: an occasional rotation, a barely appreciable change in the intensity of light. But we felt it watching us, and knew that some kind of probing analysis had begun. After only a few months, we found ourselves anticipating the position of the dials. The individual displays rarely contradicted our expectations, but when they did it encouraged us to look inwardly at ourselves.
It was that time of the year. All of the Happylife prediction dials had spun anti-clockwise, like barometers reacting to an incoming storm. we lost David 4 years ago and the system was anticipating our coming sadness. We found this strangely comforting.
We were all sitting in the lounge, like any evening. Sandra and I were watching some nondescript documentary and the kids were playing with their lego. The moment stole up on us. Paul was first to notice the unusual glow coming from Happylife. It continued to brighten – a gradual, barely conspicuous build up of intensity until we had to look away.
The morning Paul had to go, Sandra’s dial was barely registering. I’d seen it that pale only once; then for obvious reasons it stayed that way for weeks. I tried to comfort her, saying it wasn’t as if he’d be away for ever. She turned to me with her face blank and puffy and then ran out of the room.
I arrived home from the meeting, pushed off my shoes and glanced up at the Happylife display. Sandra’s dial had rotated 2 clicks further than I’d ever seen it. The orb was pulsing wildly. She’d seemed fine when I left.
Happylife is the result of a collaboration with Reyer Zwiggelaar and Bashar Al-Rjoub of Aberystwyth University Computer Science Department.
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Martijn van Mensvoort
Uhm... I think such project would have a dramatic impact on the privacy of any individual. And I wonder what exactly the benefits really are for the 'monitored' individual?