Washington: New software developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology can be used to help people practice their interpersonal skills until they feel more comfortable with situations such as a job interview or a first date.
The software, called MACH (short for My Automated Conversation coach), uses a computer-generated onscreen face, along with facial, speech, and behaviour analysis and synthesis software, to simulate face-to-face conversations. It then provides users with feedback on their interactions.
The research was led by MIT Media Lab doctoral student M. Ehsan Hoque, who says the work could be helpful to a wide range of people.
Many people with social phobias, Hoque said, want "the possibility of having some kind of automated system so that they can practice social interactions in their own environment. ... They desire to control the pace of the interaction, practice as many times as they wish, and own their data."
The MACH software offers all those features, Hoque said. In fact, in randomized tests with 90 MIT juniors who volunteered for the research, the software showed its value.
The software was developed over two years as part of Hoque`s doctoral thesis work with help from his advisor, professor of media arts and sciences Rosalind Picard, as well as Matthieu Courgeon and Jean-Claude Martin from LIMSI-CNRS in France, Bilge Mutlu from the University of Wisconsin, and MIT undergraduate Sumit Gogia.
Designed to run on an ordinary laptop, the system uses the computer`s webcam to monitor a user`s facial expressions and movements, and its microphone to capture the subject`s speech. The MACH system then analyzes the user`s smiles, head gestures, speech volume and speed, and use of filler words, among other things.
The automated interviewer - a life-size, three-dimensional simulated face - can smile and nod in response to the subject`s speech and motions, ask questions and give responses.
While this initial implementation was focused on helping job candidates, Hoque asserted training with the software could be helpful in many kinds of social interactions.
A paper documenting the software`s development and testing has been accepted for presentation at the 2013 International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing, known as UbiComp, to be held in September.