Fans of the 1982 Harrison Ford movie "Blade Runner" - the best sc-fi film ever, in my embarrassingly considered opinion – will remember the Voight-Kampff machine.
In the film, the machine was used to detect replicants -- artificial humans -- by monitoring empathetic responses. Similar to a polygraph test, the Voight-Kampff machine measured involuntary biological functions like respiration, heart rate and pupil dilation.
The fictional machine may soon become a reality, kinda-sorta, thanks to a research team out of Lancaster University in the U.K, reports the Daily Mail Online.
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The Lancaster "emotion detector" is an ear-piece that, when connected to a smart phone, measures skin and heart responses in response to emotional stimuli. The device also includes a camera for measuring eye movement and pupil dilation, although it's not quite clear how that part of the device would function.
But that's all right, because the emotion detector is nothing but a design concept at this point, created to prompt larger questions about the function of machines in our emotional lives.
The design team hopes to start a discussion about the ethical implications of a future in which computers are used to monitor or even manipulate our emotions. The Lancaster gadget is part of a larger "design fiction" project that imagines a world where love can be measured by machines.
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The emotion detector may be fiction at this point, but the designers are actively researching technologies that could make the Voight-Kampff machine a reality. As Lancaster's lead designer Paul Coulton writes on the project page, the emotion detector is a kind of thought experiment on future tech:
"People are working towards this kind of thing. What we are doing is questioning whether it has a place in our society. We want people to think about the ethical implications of what we do. Technically, a lot of this is possible - but is it actually what we want?"