May 15, 2016 | By Tess

In the 1982 sci-fi dystopian film Blade Runner, the world is a very strange place. Biorobots called replicants have been created by man and then banned by them, and a small group of hunters, of which Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard is one, are tasked with finding and destroying any replicants that may be on the earth. They key to finding out whether someone is human or a replicant is through an emotional response, monitored by an interrogation tool called the Voight-Kampff machine. While the film is set in 2019 (just three years from now) some may find it difficult to draw many parallels between the Blade Runner world and our own, but one team of researchers from Lancaster University and University College London seems to think our world may not be so different from the dystopian one depicted in the film.

A group of researchers from the Centre for Spatial Analysis (CASA) at UCL have designed and 3D printed an emotion detector inspired by Blade Runner’s Voight-Kampff machine to draw attention and raise questions about our world becoming one in which we use machines and computers to monitor and gauge people’s emotions.

3D printed camera and earpiece

While the 3D printed device is not functional yet, it is being used speculatively as design fiction, which is a method of critical design that bases itself on using fictional scenarios to envision and consider society’s possible futures. As Professor Coulton, Lancaster University’s design fiction expert and the leader of the research team explains, “This machine looks and feels very real and has even prompted a film-making company in the States to request filming us manufacturing the device. But this is actually a tool for creating some pretty serious discussions. The factor that differentiates and distinguishes design fiction from other approaches is its novel use of ‘world building’ and, in this paper, we consider whether there is value in creating fictional research worlds through which we might consider future interactions.”

Unlike in Blade Runner, the 3D printed emotional reading device, which consists of a camera and ear piece capable of measuring skin and heart rate responses as well as pupil-dilation, is specifically geared towards the purpose of online dating, as it could feasibly be used to measure and read whether a person found their date attractive at their first in person meeting. Additionally, the design has been adapted for our current times, and can be easily clipped on to a smartphone or tablet for use.

"Blade Runner" Voight Kampff Machine

According to the researchers, they believe that we are headed towards this technology in real life. Coulton says, “People are working towards this kind of thing. What we are doing is questioning whether it has a place in our society - what kind of uses they have and what the world would actually be like with them.  We want people to think about the ethical implications of what we do. Technically a lot of this is possible but is it actually what we want?”

The fictional and provocative design is being showcased and presented in San Jose at the CHI 2016 Conference this week. The conference is one of the world’s top events for Human-Computer Interaction.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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