Dr. Picard speaks with Dr. Michael Gustafson of Duke University

By Olivia Zhu

In an age where the line between humans and robots begins to blur, we’re hard-pressed to identify the source of our uniqueness as humans. Dr. Rosalind Picard of MIT provided insight to that question during the Veritas Forum on Wednesday, January 29.

As a leader of the Affective Computing Research Group, Dr. Picard develops technologies that interpret and display emotion. For example, MACH is an interactive program that analyzes voice inflections and their corresponding emotional connotations to help MIT students refine their interview skills.

Improved sensors can inform parents and educators when autistic children and infants are under stress, which a child himself may not be able to communicate. But despite their lifelike appearances, the robots still lack feeling and experience, according to Dr. Picard.

Although Picard attempts to mimic humanity in her technology, she firmly denied that we are merely machines. She said that assembling a system—in this instance, a human—lends one a better understanding of that system; however, it does not give one a complete understanding of what makes us human.

Adding an element of faith to her lecture, she said that a person can only have full knowledge of humanity after death. What, then, makes us human? While the audience primarily suggested love or consciousness, Picard held that the defining human quality is the capacity for a relationship with God, “the very author of all meaning, of all emotion, all consciousness.” She went on to discuss her own faith, founded largely by reading the Bible.

To continue this conversation, further discussion will be held at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, February 5th in Social Psychology 130. The panel will feature Duke professors Ray Barfield, Bill Allard, and Connie Walker.