It is the trajectory from Cambridge to Affectiva that is of particular interest. While at Cambridge, Dr Kaliouby had become involved with facial recognition technology in the context of the university’s Autism Research Centre. Moving to M.I.T., she first joined forces with Professor Rosalind Picard to pursue her work further in the service of autistic children and other forms of children’s behaviour disabilities. The technology came to the attention of a VP at Fox, who was interested in using it “to test all our pilot shows.” In light of this, the Media Lab Director advised that “[t]he solution is to spin out.” The article then continues:
“[Dr] Kaliouby was reluctant to leave academia. ‘We really wanted to focus on the do-good applications of the technology’, she said. But [the Director] argued that the marketplace would make the technology more robust and flexible: a device that could work for FOX could also better assist the autistic. It was possible, he said, to build a company with a ‘dual bottom line’—one that not only did well but also changed people’s lives.”What has happened since then is that the company has apparently become a world leader in the use of affective computing to enable companies to better market their goods and services (and Dr Kaliouby has been called a “rock star”). The technology augurs a time when such emotionally responsive machines will enable its users to know more about us through our facial expressions than we can imagine, often without our knowledge. The ability to target advertisements and products better is the ultimate prize. As for the dual bottom line, the article concludes:
Perhaps. What is the case for now, however, is better market research—“one”; research on autism, “zero”.Don’t get this Kat wrong. He wishes Dr Kaliouby and her company every success. It is the way of innovation, laced with realizing the American dream. And yet, the story of Affectiva is a cautionary tale, supporting the concern expressed in the Edelman Trust Barometer. Affectiva’s success, and that of other companies developing world-beating technology, may have the paradoxical effect of chiselling away at public support for the entire innovation enterprise. For what happens when public sentiment sours on a grand initiative, Kat readers need only consider the recent Greek elections.