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Archive for June 27th, 2006

Mind Reading Computers

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

autism.jpgResearchers are now working on technology to read the emotions of others by analyzing facial expressions. Although some people might have concerns about a computer doing such a thing, it could have very interesting treatment implications. Of course, most of us would not even think about computers REPLACING people in therapy, but if a computer could help people with autism to be more AWARE of their facial expressions, this could be very useful. The program in development is based on the work of Simonpr-cartoon-r.gif Baron-Cohen, the director of the Autism Research Centre in England, who is an expert in theory of mind and autism, check out some of the research he is doing, he does some incredible studies, including using technology such as DVDs and computers to teach people with autism. The researchers on this new project for a wearable emotion detector include Peter Robinson at Cambridge University and Rana el Kaliouby at MIT Here is the article from today’s headlines: Mind-Reading Computers Could Help Those With Autism By Jennifer LeClaire
“Would we want computers that can react to our emotions? Such systems do raise ethical issues,” said Professor Peter Robinson of the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. “Imagine a computer that could pick the right emotional moment to try to sell you something.” British and U.S. scientists are developing an “emotionally aware” computer that can gauge an individual’s thoughts by analyzing facial expressions. The technology could have practical applications for people with autism, researchers said.
“People express their mental states all the time through facial expressions, vocal nuances and gestures,” said Professor Peter Robinson of the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge in London. “We have built this ability into computers to make them emotionally aware.”

Theory of Mind

The ability to determine an individual’s mental state based on behavior and then use that information to guide one’s actions or predict those of others, is known as the “theory of the mind.” This is not a new field. It has been around since the 1970s, but it has recently gained attention in light of the needs of people with autism, who are thought to be “mind-blind.” That is, they find it difficult to interpret others’ emotions and feelings from facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. Robinson and his colleague, Rana el Kaliouby from the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, based their computer program on the latest research in the theory of mind by Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge. Baron-Cohen’s research provided them with a taxonomy of facial expressions and the emotions they represent.

“Machine versus people testing of this system has shown the computer to be as accurate as the top 6 percent of people. But would we want computers that can react to our emotions? Such systems do raise ethical issues,” Robinson said. “Imagine a computer that could pick the right emotional moment to try to sell you something.”


There are, however, applications with clear benefits, including an emotional hearing aid to assist people with autism, usability testing for software, feedback for online teaching, and informing the animation of cartoon figures, Robinson noted.

The duo has been working since 2004 on a wearable system that helps people with Autism Spectrum Conditions and Asperger Syndrome with emotional-social understanding and mind reading functions. El Kaliouby is currently implementing the first prototype of the system at MIT’s Media Lab.


Mary Bellis Waller, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and scientist at the Center for Addiction and Behavior Studies, is cheering on the researchers. Bellis has worked with autistic children and adults in her practice and is encouraged by progressive technologies designed to help autistics live a more normal life.

“Whatever helps autistics develop an awareness and sensitivity — and appropriate responses — to emotional cues, should be done,” Waller told TechNewsWorld. “And from all the research showing how plastic the brain is, the more anybody — including autistic people — practices appropriate responses, the better they get at it, the more natural it becomes to ‘act normal.’”

Autism Diagnosis at Birth?

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

bc_unpers_05_18.jpgResearchers from Yale University recently discovered biological markers which might indicate autism in babies - see the article from today’s headlines below.  This is a preliminary study and is not yet conclusive, but this research is very important in moving toward a medical diagnosis of autism and identifying and treating autism very early. 

rs_rogers.jpgIf you are interested in research that is going on right now for little ones (under 3 years), the MIND Institute has several exciting studies focusing on babies including looking at regression of symptoms, joint attention intervention, and looking at the importance of imitation in early development.  If you would like to enroll your child in any of these studies, click on the links for more information.

Here is the story:


Yale University Doctor Says It’s A Definite Warning Signal

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have discovered what could be the earliest marker yet for autism — and in it’s in the placenta of children with the disease.

Their report, in the on-line issue of “Biological Psychiatry,” finds that certain changes in a placenta — changes caused by genetics — are likely to signal autism-like developmental problems in children.

Yale research scientist Dr. Harvey Kliman says, ”We found that children with autism were three to four times more likely to have this abnormal folding pattern than normal children.”

Kliman, who’s been studying placental problems for 20 years, says it’s not a one-to-one linkage. But it’s a definite warning signal.

According to Kliman, “It’s like the check engine light in your car … It’s basically saying something’s going on … Maybe you should have this checked a little more thoroughly.”

Kliman calls his research a preliminary finding from a small study. But it raises the possibility that autism could be diagnosed at birth, rather than at age 2, or older.

Kliman says, “It’s a marker that says hey, maybe you should stop, take a look at this child a little closer and try to figure out what’s going on.”

Kliman and his colleagues plan to do a larger, multi-center study of this possible placenta-autism link.

For more information, contact Dr. Kliman at harvey.kliman@yale.edu or visit Kliman’s Web site.

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