Nesta Event - Human, Meet Computer
3 minute read
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James Fox

Artificial intelligence must be nearing the pinnacle of the hype cycle curve, with everything from autonomous cars to AI-powered photo filter apps dominating technology headlines on a seemingly daily basis. And understandably Nesta also keen to keep abreast of the latest developments, and had assembled another high-quality line up of speakers

Haptics and facial recognition

Speaking of the hype cycle, the pre-panel demonstrations provided an opportunity to experience some cutting-edge technology which will perhaps have a greater impact on how we interact with our computers in the medium term.

Haptics is the provision of sense of touch in a user interface to provide information to the user. And whilst haptics seem to generally have fallen into association more with VR, the demos present included an individual haptic drum set by Discover Haptics. With some startlingly realistic feedback provided by just a single circuit board, it’s tempting to imagine that haptic technology could soon reach more mainstream applications.

Similarly, facial recognition has taken a dip since it became clear that the technology in the real world rarely matched ambitions. At a research level though it seems that this technology has also progressed at pace, with the demo on show here able to determine (fairly reliably from what we could see) age, gender and mood for several users at once. And, as we can see from Pokemon Go, a technology which has fallen out of favour - in this case Augmented Reality - can sometimes resurface very quickly with the right application.

Panel debate

The panel itself gave some food for thought, with both speakers seeming to question the direction of whether emotional or social machines were possible, or indeed worthwhile, pursuing. Of course, the very definition of intelligence is made in countless ways, making for a contentious debate which was never likely to reach many conclusions in an hour.

We think it’s fair to say that the discussion is only likely to gather pace, especially with incidents such as the fatal Tesla autopilot crash attracting more mainstream attention.