Saskatchewan

Regina woman develops smile app at MIT

A woman from Regina, who is currently in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass., is working to make people happier one computer application at a time. Natasha Jaques and another student at MIT have created a computer app called Smile Tracker.

Computer app reminds people what made them smile throughout day

A woman from Regina, who is currently in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass., is working to make people happier one computer application at a time.

Natasha Jaques and another student at MIT have created a computer app called Smile Tracker

The app runs in the background of a person's computer and detects when a person smiles.

It then snaps a picture of the person and a screenshot of what made them grin, whether it was a friendly email or a funny cat video. 

"There's a lot of research on positive psychology and one exercise that has been proven to actually stave off depression is to deliberately, at the end of the day, reflect on things that went well during your day - what made you happy," said Jaques.

"So what we're hoping is to make it a little easier by automatically collecting those moments," Jaques said.

This project is part of the Wellness Initiative, a grant awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop projects that help to better people's lives, physically socially and emotionally. 

The app is still a prototype but Jaques continues to develop it as she works on other projects.

Google Glass project recognizes emotions

She will also be working on a project that uses Google Glass to recognize emotional and conversational signals to help people on the autism spectrum or people with social anxiety.

"While it's easy for us to tell if someone is, say, bored when we're talking to them, it may not be so easy for some individuals," said Jaques.

"What I'd like to do is make a tool that can automatically detect that using computer vision and machine learning and then when you are wearing Google Glass, it just overlays this little message on top of your eye: 'Oh actually this person might be losing interest. Maybe it's time to wrap up,'" said Jaques.

Jaques calls it a "social conversation prosthetic." 

In the future, she would like to expand beyond facial expressions to have devices that can interpret body language.

"This is something humans do automatically at a level sort of below conscious awareness, so we really can't explain how we do it," said Jaques. "So I'm sort of interested in how this process takes place."

With files from the CBC's Samanda Brace

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