Social X-Ray Glasses: Helping People to Perceive Emotions Better

Rana el Kaliouby and Rosalind Picard of the University of Cambridge and MIT wanted to help autistic people, who find it particularly hard to pick up on other people’s emotions.

These “social X-ray glasses,” as they have been dubbed, are designed to help people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) to better understand the emotions and feelings of others. One of the primary reasons behind the isolation of these individuals; they cannot understand the emotions of others and as a result of this tend to remain introverted in social environments.

Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders often have difficulties operating in the highly complex social environment in which we live and are, for the most part, unable to read or understand other people’s emotions, furthering their disengagement with others.

People with ASD struggle to accurately perceive other’s emotions, these glasses have been designed to offer assistance to users by use of a rice grain sized camera. The camera has a data bank of 24 known facial expressions that together convey confusion, agreement and concentration.

These expressions are then analysed by software, compared against the database and relayed to users using an attached microphone and LED traffic light system. A green light, visible only to the wearer, portrays their conversation partner is reacting positively to them, amber indicates a neutral reaction and a flashing red light indicates a negative reaction and warns the speaker to change the subject.

In test subjects wearers retained some ability to read emotions accurately after they removed the glasses, if this is true the glasses could be used as a therapeutic device. However, with the glasses subjects’ accuracy in perceiving facial expressions was around 64%, whereas without the glasses subjects’ accuracy was 54%.

This margin of accuracy means that while the glasses can be useful, it is important to be mindful of their limits to avoid becoming reliant on them. It is hoped that with further testing and improvement these glasses could be a great help to people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Another limitation is that while the glasses could increase emotional intelligence throughout the generations through continuous use, this doesn’t mean that it will increase empathy; while people may be more aware, they still may not care.

For users other than those with ASDs, they could help more loquacious individuals decipher the difference between dialogue and monologue and enhance their conversational and social skills.

Social Networks Don’t Cause Riots — People Do

A much discussed topic in recent days among the media and the general public has been the role of social media in enabling the organisation of some of the disorder witnessed in the past few days in London and other UK cities.

Many have laid the blame for these riots at the foot of social media services such as BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), Twitter and in a lesser role, Facebook. The Daily Mail has gone so far as to claim that the North London riots were “fuelled by social media”.

BBM seems to have been the tool of choice for many of those involved to organise their troops. Because of the private nature of the service; users must exchange a PIN before making contact. This makes it very difficult to trace or track these messages once they have been sent and prevents the authorities from anticipating the moves of the rioters.

One message sent on Sunday night called for rioters to meet at Oxford circus where they claimed “Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed so come get some (free stuff!!!)”. According to consumer surveyors Ofcom, 37% of British teens are BlackBerry owners.

Twitter seems to have played a secondary role in the action by merely shadowing the messages on BBM, directing other users to check out statuses and images that were being posted.

In response to the negative connotations associated with social media following the riots, clean up operations are now taking place around the UK using the very same services. The Riotcleanup twitter page now has over 87,000 followers with individual pages being established for the other various cities affected following the original outbreaks in London.

The Post riot clean-up: let’s help London, Facebook page has now over 19,000 followers and is being used to direct volunteers to help clear the streets of the worst affected areas.

In addition to this the Metropolitan Police have created a flickr page to post images of the looters and rioters in a determined effort to track them down and see that they receive punishment.

In spite of being blamed for instigating the riots, social media is now emerging as the organization tool of choice for organising the clean up operation and assisting the Metropolitan Police in identifying the perpetrators.

Footbridge Interactive: Helping Dyslexic Children through Games

Up to 10% of all children can be placed somewhere along the dyslexic spectrum. Linda O’ Sullivan first became concerned when her own son, Oisín, was seen to be having difficulties at school. He was having problems with with reading fluency and comprehension and was beginning to fall behind his classmates.

Oisín was diagnosed as having dyslexia and Linda took him along to the Dyslexic Support Centre in Limerick.

The Centre was founded by Marie Stubbings who works with evidence based teaching and intervention methods for children who are dyslexic. Using a number of different teaching intervention methods she worked with Oisin on a number of different levels and according to Linda, “His reading improved quite a lot during that time.”

It occurred to Linda that, “These exercises would work very well in a game based environment driven by an animated story.” When she looked around she found there was nothing available.

“Children… need something where their attitudes towards reading and learning become more positive. Kids in that situation can often develop negative attitudes towards learning whereas in a games environment kids can become more positive and use that positive energy for learning.”

Linda initially thought about using her ideas as the basis for a possible PhD research project. However, after speaking to the University of Limerick and NUI Galway she realised that her ideas were more suited to a business project.

“I really felt because I was on my own I needed the structure of some business support and the business development expertise of pulling the finance together.” So she enrolled on the Limerick Enterprise Acceleration Platform (LEAP) which is housed in the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre in the grounds of the Limerick Institute of Technology.

“I picked up a lot of knowledge and also because a lot of the businesses in there are technical there are a lot of techies in the building. That was helpful to me to get up and running in the business. It was in there as well that I met Jennifer Keane who became my partner in the business. The program suited my needs exceptionally well.”

The 12 months that Linda spent on the program allowed her to put together a business plan, to market research and bring together an educational advisory panel. The prototype of the product was developed and testing was done with dyslexic children.

To round the year off, Footbridge Interactive (as Linda’s company was now called) won first prize in the LEAP Business Awards. The prize of €50,000 in investment funding came from sponsors AIB Seed Capital Fund.

“What our product does is it allows the child to play in a fun environment while reinforcing the skills necessary for fluent reading. The program also tracks the areas of the child’s strength and weakness.

“Our real motivation is for this to be a home based product. Even with the schools working with us we need the kids to be allowed to do this at home so this can reinforce the learning support they’re getting at school.  

“The idea is for it to be in game-time or leisure time, when the child is relaxed and we believe this is where this product will have most benefit.

“Our first export market we’re concentrating on for the first 12 months is the UK. From the very beginning we have been speaking with the British Dyslexia Association. We have someone from their tech committee on our board of advisors.

“Breaking into the online space and becoming known brand will be our biggest challenge. It will take a huge amount of intensive labour at making that breakthrough online to become a known port of call where parents and teachers looking for extra learning material will go.

“I have to keep reminding myself the whole reason I have this project is because of my children. While in some ways it may be a handicap in other ways it gives me the edge as well. I understand my market, parents and mothers in particular, and the worries and stresses they have about their children’s future.”

Additional contributions from Ina O’ Murchu and Aoife Connelly.

Rich Moran: A California Plan for Ireland

California just developed an economic growth plan. According to Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (a proud Irish American), it is the first one that has ever existed. Remember, California has only been a state in the Union since 1849 so it hasn’t been around all that long, but 162 years is still considerable.

The Plan was immediately criticized, not for what it said, but for the fact that he was stating the obvious. The Plan is focused on the creation of jobs as the trigger to reinvigorate the economy. Some might say, WTF, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

Although the devil is in the execution, the plan offers 38 specific ideas including strategies to expand exports, reinvigorate manufacturing, promote innovation, accelerate the green economy, improve education of the workforce, rebuild the infrastructure, focus on regional strengths and consolidate the clutter of duplicative government agencies dealing incoherently with economic development.

A few specifics it calls for: reestablish overseas trade offices, rationalize the regulatory system and make it easier to navigate, reinstate a manufacturers’ sales tax credit for equipment purchases, expand career tech education and establish a single Cabinet-level office to deal with economic development.

As one reporter said, “Chalk one up for Newsom, It may not be new, but at least it exists. His head was exactly in the right place, focused on California’s most important issue: how we can compete with other states and nations in a sophisticated, cutthroat global economy.”

What’s desperately needed is a comprehensive strategy to create jobs across a broad spectrum of California’s economy.

There are lessons here for Ireland. Even a plan that states the obvious is better than no plan. There might be a plan put forward by any one of the groups vested with improving the economy in Ireland, I just haven’t seen it. If my guess is right, there are a lot of plans and not all that coordinated. I hope there is one.

A plan may state the obvious, but I do know one thing from my years in big organization change: Without a plan with dates and measures and thresholds and specific responsibilities, nothing changes.

And, someone’s job should be at stake based on whether or not the plan is implemented well.
If someone was really smart, he or she would get the California Plan, replace Ireland for California where it fits, and present it as if delivered by the Saints.

The full report can be found at the Office of Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom

MuteButton: Relieving Tinnitus

MuteButton from MuteButton on Vimeo.

Tinnitus, often known simply as ringing in the ears is a symptom with a wide array of causes, and its severity can range from a minor irritation to having a devastating effect on the sufferer, interfering with their daily lives and sleep patterns.

Treatments for tinnitus have, in the past, been sporadic in their success, but clinical trials are due to start towards the end of the year on a new treatment which could counter its debilitating effects.

The MuteButton device is based on the theory that subjective tinnitus is caused when the sufferer perceives an illusory sound created by the brain to fill the void left by hearing loss. To compensate for the frequencies the auditory system can no longer process, it creates these illusory sounds which manifest as ringing or hissing sounds.

Through sensory substitution, the missing frequencies can be relayed via a different sensory modality, causing the auditory system to cease the creation of the illusory sound.

The technology has been developed by former NUI Maynooth, Hamilton Institute research fellow Dr. Ross O’ Neill. It is the result of his PhD work which was undertaken alongside Dr. Paul O’ Grady and under the supervision of Professor Barak Pearlmutter. Their research was inspired by the work of the late Professor Paul Bach-y-Rita, whom Ross refers to as, “the grandfather of sensory substitution”.

The MuteButton technology takes audio information and represents it in patterns of touch, explains Ross, so that the brain can differentiate between the same information in real and illusory form.

“Where there’s a deficit in the ear, and the sound falls below a certain threshold, the brain creates this illusory noise to fill the vacuum, but when you take the missing sound and put it on a tactile stimulator on the tongue, it addresses the information deficit and reduces the illusory perception.

“It tends to reduce the symptoms, so what we’re trying to find out now is if it actually does get rid of it completely? We’re ramping up towards big trials that will hopefully give us a better indication of how effective this treatment is.”

Ross describes the device as being, “like an iPod with one extra output,” and the relatively non-intrusive process will involve listening to music.

“You’ve got the headphones that go to your ears and the other output is an intra-aural sensor array that you put your tongue against, and while you hear the music in your ears you simultaneously feel these tactile patterns on your tongue similar to a braille pattern. Where braille represents alpha-numeric characters, this represents the component wavelengths of sound.

“You take the device, you listen to it with the array on your tongue, from anywhere to half an hour twice a day, or maybe a couple of hours; that’s something we’ll find out at the trials; and that would be your treatment basically.

“You would use this device on a daily basis to listen to sound and or music and then gradually over time, you’re driving a process called neuro-plasticity to get your brain to re-wire and adjust and filter out the illusory sounds on a more permanent basis.”

The trials, partly funded by €200,000 in funding from Enterprise Ireland, will be conducted in conjunction with Ear, Nose and Throat consultant Mr. Brendan Conlon of St. James’ Hospital, Dublin, and around two hundred patients are already lined up to test the device.

The number of people who have signed up for trials is indicative of the frustration felt by tinnitus sufferers, and Ross is sympathetic to their plight; though it is a common complaint, often its effects are underestimated.

“Tinnitus is quite an unusual problem. It doesn’t meet with a lot of sympathy or empathy from people, because I suppose it’s on the inside, people can’t see it. When you say to somebody, “I’ve got a ringing in my ears”, most people have experienced temporary tinnitus after a night at a nightclub or whatever and they kind of think, “how bad can it be?”

“There aren’t a great deal of effective treatments out there for them, so there are a lot of people who are becoming increasingly desperate and they are basically all on the look out for something.”

With the MuteButton team now ensconced in the NovaUCD incubation centre and actively preparing for trials, many of these eyes will be turned expectantly towards Dublin over the next year.

Additional material supplied by Ina O’ Murchu.

Rich Moran: How to Create Irish Entrepreneurs pt 3 — Tell me a Story

The Irish know how to tell a story. It’s a big reason why the country “punches above its weight”. Stories about snakes and princesses and Vikings and everything green, we have built a country that is beloved because we know how to tell stories in writing or at the pub. The gift of gab, the blarney is real. Tell me another country who is renowned for storytelling… Russia? Germany? Iceland?

The saw can cut both ways. Depending on who is listening, the stories are charming and magical or dark and morose or just plain bullshit. Either way, there are plenty of stories and plenty of story tellers.

My favorite times in Ireland are spent listening to stories and when I return to the US I always have my own stories to tell.

Why is it then, that entrepreneurs in Ireland have a hard time telling their story? Why is it that so many get tongue tied when trying to describe what they are trying to create and the opportunity that is so important to fulfill?

The important ingredient in story telling that entrepreneurs need to capture is not different than any children’s book. There is a beginning, a middle and an end and the parts go something like this:

Beginning: “Once upon a time.” Instead of talking about castles, the entrepreneur’s story should be about the opportunity and the market.

Critical moment: “One day…” Usually when the witch shows up or the duckling turns into a swan. Instead of wicked wolves, the entrepreneur needs to discuss what the new company will do, will fix, will solve, and most of all, will disrupt.

Finally: “And they lived happily everafter.” Instead of a rainbow, the entrepreneur needs to show dollar signs.

Remember too that good stories can be short.

It’s that simple and already part of the DNA. Irish entrepreneurs need to build on the story telling ability and weave it into the fabric of creating and building companies.

You can read more about the The Combat of Ferdiad and Cuchulain by clicking on the image above.
Banner image is a close up of the entrance stone at Newgrange.

The Irish Executives Conference 2011

Three years ago John Keogh, a former CIO and former supply chain executive and now Senior Vice President & Advisor at GS1 Global Office was asked to look at a project in the United States that would help to save lives of people in the area of food traceability and food recall. About a million and a half people around the world die every year from food that has been contaminated.

“When I was looking at that I very quickly decided that we needed a cloud-based computing platform to go global.” John explains, “The company that I work for, GS1, is a global not—for—profit in the supply chain standards area so we don’t build solutions as such because we work on the behalf of the industry.”

John reached out to big companies around the world that he thought could provide a cloud-based solution for GS1 and ultimately the business was awarded to HP in Galway.

“Since then HP in Galway has supported GS1 in Canada, Australia and with sales presentations all around the world. Canada has fully deployed. Australia is being deployed next month; New Zealand shortly after. Countries like Germany, South Africa and so on. So HP in Galway has been doing a fantastic job.”

Just after that successful episode John had the thought, “How can other Irish executives like myself connect up and then connect back up into Irish businesses?” That was really the start of developing the Irish Executives Group on Linkedin.

What John heard that the members of the Irish Executive Group were saying was, “We need more help, we need help. So can we take the Linkedin forum off-line and create a conference.”

“When I heard that I thought, “Here’s a great opportunity to build on what I have done with Hewlett-Packard.” But to bring that back to Irish indigenous business. That’s really key for me. The big guys are OK. The big players know how to do business. They are all over the world. They are not up at night waiting for Ireland to be key to their business; financially at least.”

The event will cover four areas:

  • Cloud Computing: “When I reached out to Irish executives around the world they said to me, “…Let’s help us understand this thing called cloud computing.”

    This is what the event is really about. It’s about helping Irish businesses understand what cloud computing is about and how it can help them to grow bigger — to punch above their weight class, as it were, in Ireland.”

    A primary use of the cloud computing discourse will be to show how Irish companies can have a platform that gives them access to the global market.

  • Social Media: “With social media it was the same thing. “How do we tap into it? But, first of all, what is it?” Demystify the myths that are out there. There is a lot of confusion around social media right now about how it can be used appropriately.

    “We want to debunk the myths of social media and then explore through case studies how companies can effectively use social media to tap into their customers needs and wants and also to explore new products, new services and new markets.”

    John also wants to discuss innovation through what he calls ‘sense and act.’ Sensing and acting on what markets want and what they are saying.

  • Networking: “This is not hardware networking. This is people networking. It’s about company networking. We have Kingsley Aikins, who is often called ‘Mr. Diaspora,’ and he will give a presentation first and then lead a workshop on networking — the art and science of networking.

    “Another thing we want to achieve for the event is to help Irish individuals, Irish professionals, Irish executives and Irish companies understand the dynamics and some of the leading edge thinking about building your personal network. Building your professional network and also taking a step back and looking at your company and how does your company build its network.”

  • Leadership: ”We want people at the conference to listen to some of the leading-edge thinking on leadership. Especially as it relates to developing people. Then look at how developed people with the organisation benefit the organisation from a financial return perspective.”

These are the four areas that John wants the attendees to study and explore. As he says, “It is very much case-study driven, not a sales event as such. Nor is it a high tech event. Whether you are an artist or a food producer from West Clare to a relatively big mid-size company in Ireland there will be something in this for everybody.”

The Irish Executives Summit 2011 will be taking place at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa in Galway, Ireland on the 14th and 15th of September.

Infographics: Making Data Accessible

“We’re drowning in data”, according to Stephen Howell of the Institute of Technology, Tallaght. By visualising that data properly we can not only keep afloat on this sea of information, but use this data, which would otherwise be archived and forgotten, to better understand and navigate the world around us, says the computer science lecturer.

As more and more data is created and stored by companies and civic authorities, it has become increasingly difficult to make any sense out of the sheer weight of information available. When this data is released it is often in rough, unrefined form, or buried in miles of spreadsheets, devoid of context and shorn of meaning to all but the most painstaking of researchers.

Infographics are fast-becoming the medium of choice for a society which thirsts for knowledge yet lacks the time or the patience to sift through raw data or spreadsheets. Visually pleasing, to the point, and increasingly interactive, infographics and their creation look set to become big business, so much so that Stephen teaches modules on the visualisation of data at IT, Tallaght.

“Excel is really good and it’s an amazing tool, but it gives you the data, it doesn’t give you the meaning. So people are beginning to rely on these tools for meaning when they should be relying on it for crunching the data and viewing the data, but not for understanding the data.”

If you can programme, you can do very cool things with processing, 2D, 3D and so on. And that’s what we aim to teach, we have two modules on this, one has non-programmers and programmers together where we teach them [the open-source programming language] Processing.

It is difficult to persuade students, especially students who do not have a programming background, to learn a new programming language, and to try and make it a more interesting experience, Stephen tries to find interesting, real-world datasets from industry for his students to work on.

Examples of the datasets he has received range from traffic information from local authorities to temperature data from cooked meat factories, and often the providers of the data are surprised by the results that can be achieved.

“You show someone data that they don’t think is interesting. You say, “here’s the rush hour times on the M50 motorway”.”

A common response would be that it’s nearly always rush hour on the M50, and that there was little to be learned from such data, but when Stephen created a visualisation of the length of the road, with the rush hour areas expanding like a pulse or a heartbeat as the traffic moved westwards, the interest of the local authority which provided the original raw data was piqued.

“They got very excited and said, “we’re having a launch demo next week, can we put that on display for a week?” To me this was just a simple visualisation of data, to them it was showing the data in a way that they had never seen before.”

Often, the greatest challenge in creating infographics or data visualisation is the sifting through raw data in the first place. One of the tools which Stephen recommends is Google Refine, a tool for searching through raw, unrefined data.

“An accountant once told me that he was able to do the books for a company and figure out how many cars they had hidden in the books, because he could find a hole the size of a car and that car was been driven by somebody, but it wasn’t legally listed anywhere.

“Accountants can do this, but it takes painstaking analysis of the data. What if we could develop middleware that takes all the data, sucks it in, sticks it into an engine, and says now, give queries on it?

“Google are building these systems now. They’ve given us a fantastic tool for analysing data, Google Refine. Google Refine looks ugly, it doesn’t look user-friendly, but if you give it any data source, it will analyse it and say, OK, you’ve numbers, you have text, there you go.”

Stephen sees two main schools of infographic creation, one being the visually “amazing” infographics that can be created with programmes like Adobe Illustrator without any great programming experience, “The New York Times infographics approach.”

The other approach, and the type he favours himself, is the creation of interactive data visualisations, which although more difficult to create, will be important in tracing a variety of trends in the world around us.

The challenge for now, as Stephen sees it, is in trying to maintain the flow of data and not simply to hide it in the cloud, creating a 21st century, “detective hunt.”

“We can do it because we have the data, but how many of us keep the data? That’s the classic data problem. Everybody wants to know where their ancestors are from, but unfortunately their ancestors didn’t write it down for them, but the data may exist somewhere, so it’s become a detective-hunt. Companies shouldn’t make their data a detective hunt.”

Additional material from Tom Murphy

New Opportunities at SpunOut.ie

With the imminent departure of one of SpunOut.ie‘s founders, Ruairí McKiernan, a new direction will inevitably forged at the national charity which works, “to empower young people to create personal and social change.”

In a recent blog entitled, “Time for the next Adventure” Ruairí says:

“The most important part of our success is that we are succeeding in reaching and engaging young people and winning their trust, time, interest and support. Our hits are growing all the time (now averaging 600,000+ website visits per year), and the services we provide (signposting to help services, a vast bank of regularly updated youth health and lifestyle information, a youth media publishing platform, popular Facebook, Twitter and moderated forums…) are all providing important and mainly unique services to Ireland´s huge youth population.”

In a previous article that we published, A Highly Effective Use Of Facebook For Increasing Awareness, we showed how SpunOut.ie has been particularly successful at leveraging modern social network technologies that young people actively use.

With an imaginative use of the medium over four months in 2010 they boosted their Facebook followers from 400 to 12,000.

Ruairí says, “The burning motivation for me was that at the height of the Celtic Tiger, seeing that the sole emphasis was on economic development, development, development. At the same time social development was going in the opposite direction. It seemed to me [to be an increase] in terms of suicide and mental health, particularly around younger people who were being developed as economic units rather than citizens. If you look around now and ask where is everyone and what are they doing and why is there no big big engagement, it’s because the investment was to bring people into the corporate world. Which is fair enough but it needs to be balanced with social development.”

If you are interested in leading on from where Ruairí has left off then you can apply for the job as Director of Spunout.ie here.

From Technology Voice we wish Ruairí all the best in the future and look forward to seeing what he gets up to next.