Computers that have a sense of the physical world around the machine - potentially with the capacity to understand your emotions - will arrive as soon as next year.
Intel is developing a 3D laptop camera system that it intends to ship in the second half of 2014. The system would be able to "sense movement, track emotion, and even monitor reading habits of children," PC World's Agam Shah reported today.
Adding a camera to a laptop was novel several years ago for simple things like video chats. Intel has much more in mind. The cameras would "bridge the gap between the real and virtual world," said Anil Nanduri, director of perceptual products & solutions at Intel. That means things such as applications that can detect and respond to people and objects; imaging for 3D printing would have even greater depth and detail; and new categories of interactive games are possible, e.g. gamers "picking up" objects.
One of the most interesting concepts that Intel discussed is eye tracking. Retailers would love to know what your little consumer eyes are gazing at (or even Web designers and media outlets). But Shah suggested that an application could help children learn how to read better by determining which particular words are difficult to comprehend. There's also potential for new human interface designs if multiple sensory inputs are combined. The keyboard is becoming quaint.
The movement of your eye, gestures, sensors, and voice commands could all become part of a user interface - perhaps even working in unison. That would give digital personal assistants such as Apple's Siri or Google Now the ability to be even more responsive. The lines between our lives and augmented reality are blurring as machines understand more about our world.
(Note: The cameras won't initially ship in smartphone-friendly form factors.)
Early attempts at making computers more intuitively responsive to people failed. Microsoft Bob and the "Microsoft Agent" - that wily paperclip that used to pester Office application users - are well known examples. They may not have been bad ideas - just too crude an implementation. New research is even making computers appear emotional. Image a machine that could react to your mood with its own personality or an assistive care robot for seniors.
There are practical uses for 3D cameras (like 3D printing), but the right accompanying algorithms could result in something far greater. We should start discussing the privacy implications now.
(Image credit: www.dartmouth.edu )
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