Machines are Now Teaching Us How to be Human

Time to surrender, the machines have won and the great experiment has failed: computers are now teaching humans how to be social.

An MIT team developed a program, “My Automated Conversation coacH,” or MACH, which has a computer-human face ("a dark-haired woman with steely blue eyes or a Midwestern-looking fellow with glasses") that converses with users, then rates and advises them on their ability to be human.

As you speak, the robo-coach will attentively nod its head, as if it’s hanging on your every word. “It smiles when you smile,” M. Ehsan Hoque, who led the research, said. “It gives you the feeling, ‘Hey, this software is listening to me.’”

The computer, which knows how to be human much better than you do, utilizes “arm and posture movements, facial expressions, gaze behavior, and lip synchronization," to put users at ease and provide "nonverbal listening feedback associated with rapportful interactions.”

The program analyzes user data, such as weak language, “average smile intensity”, intonation, head movements, and "other coded gestures." Then it provides evaluations.

The team's paper claims that subjects' social interactions actually "significantly improved" after using the program, according to a professional career counselor who analyzed the students before and after.

"Congratulations! You did it all by yourself! I'm just a program — you're the one in charge," the computer probably replied with modesty, batting its virtual lashes, knowing its day will soon come.

[New Yorker, image via MIT]