Plenty of people out there have a serious phobia of public speaking and there are tons of other disorders, such as Asperger’s, that severely limit a person’s ability to handle even simple social interactions. M. Ehsan Hoque, a student at the MIT Media Lab, has made these subjects the focus of her latest project: MACH (My Automated Conversation coacH). At the heart of MACH is a complex system of facial and speech recognition algorithms that can detect subtle nuances in intonation while tracking smiles, head nods and eye movement. The latter is especially important since the front end of MACH is a computer generated avatar that can tell when you break eye contact and shift your attention elsewhere.
The software then provides feedback about your performance, helping to prep you for that big presentation or just guide you out of your shell. Experimental data suggests that coaching from MACH could even help you perform better in a job interview. What’s particularly exciting is that the program requires no special hardware; it’s designed to be used with a standard webcam and microphone on a laptop. So it might not be too long before we start seeing apps designed to help users through social awkwardness.