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Can a computer be good enough?

February 24, 2010

An article about using computer programmes to translate the cries of babies struck me at first as being a bit creepy, but on consideration it’s much more dangerous. In some ways a baby monitor that interprets crying is just another clever use of technology to help around the house, but it has far reaching implications for human psychological health.

The London originated developmental school of psychoanalysis places a lot of emphasis on how the pre-verbal infant communicates emotional states to the care-giver. The crying is not the bulk of the communication, the crying is mostly a indication that the infant wants to communicate something, the actual communication which can only happen once the care-giver is paying attention, is a non-verbal, unconscious process. The development of this unconscious communication channel establishes an empathic link which facilitates the laying down of solid healthy deep psychological structures, which are the bedrock upon which the individual’s entire psychological edifice rests for their whole lives.

Klein, Bion and Winnicott all had their different takes on this process, but all agreed that it was literally a life and death matter. Can a computer, even one that can statistically predict what the appropriate response to a child’s crying should be, ever recreate the sense of being understood that is the need at the heart of every infant’s cry?

Baby monitors of the future could translate infant cries, so that parents will know for certain whether their child is sleepy, hungry, needing a change, or in pain. Japanese scientists report details of a statistical computer program that can analyze a babys crying in the International Journal of Biometrics.

via An emotion detector for baby.

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