- German scientists have developed software that can detect character traits through eyetracking, according to a new study.
- Using over 200 physical behaviours, such as the frequency with which subjects blinked, the researchers established connections between eye movements and personality traits.
- It’s been suggested that the technology could eventually be developed to assist those with autism to gauge their peers’ emotions and responses.
Anyone who’s seen “2001: A Space Odyseey” will already be familiar with that nagging fear that Artificial Intelligence will one day become so intelligent, it will simply turn on us — but computer scientists from Saarbrücken and Stuttgart don’t seem at all phased at the prospect.
According to a new study, they’ve developed software that can recognise personality traits through eye-tracking.
“There are already some studies in the field of emotion recognition through facial expression analysis. But this is the first time we’ve managed to establish personal traits,” said Andreas Bulling in an interview with Business Insider.
Head of the research group “Perceptual User Interfaces” at the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, he joined forces with scientists from Stuttgart and psychologists from the University of South Australia to develop software that can recognise character traits through eye-tracking.
The study found personal traits are more stable than emotions
As part of their research, the scientists had 50 students, all of whom were equipped with eye-trackers recording their eye movements, walk across their campus for around 10 minutes and buy something from one of the campus shops.
Subjects were asked to complete questionnaires commonly used to evaluate people’s personality traits.
Using over 200 markers such as the frequency with which subjects blinked, how long they focused on something, and to what extent their pupils dilated, the researchers managed to establish which traits were associated with which eye movements.
While there are currently no plans for Bulling’s team to get involved in robotics, he says there’s a lot of scope for the software to be used in the field. Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
Using the data obtained from the study, the scientists developed “decision trees” for various personality traits, after which the software was able to recognise those characteristics specified. Through eye tracking, the software can “see” whether someone is conscientious, sociable, tolerant, and even to what extent they might be emotionally unstable. It can also pick up on how inquisitive someone is.
However, what makes the AI even more special is that it doesn’t require updates; rather, it’s a “machine-learning” piece of software.
“It’s novel in itself that this kind of software works at all,” said Bulling. Emotions can vary from one situation to the next so they’re often changing regularly and quickly; character traits, however, are very stable.
“Initially, it wasn’t clear that it was possible to assess character traits from eye movements,” said the expert.
The next step is to improve the software’s performance: The experts want to focus on analysing body language too. The experts have expressed that, while it isn’t their own vision to incorporate the software into hardware, there is great scope for the application of this software in the robotics field.
The software could even assist those with autism
Eyetracking glasses equipped with this software could assist those struggling with autism to better understand their peers’ behaviour and emotions. Shutterstock
“Like anything, what we’ve made can be used for both good and bad,” said Bulling, but he hopes the software will lead to better and more authentic interaction between man and machine.
Just as an example, the eye-tracking software could eventually be installed in cars, which would then be able to recognise whether drivers are more willing to take risks or not.
If the software is sufficiently developed, it could even be used to assist people with autism: With eye-tracking glasses, those struggling to gauge their peers’ reactions and feelings could better understand others’ behaviour.
However, whether the software is used positively or negatively, Bulling said is not his responsibility: “That’s ultimately for society and the politicians to decide.”