Software has been developed at MIT to train people to interact with others and help those with a fear of speaking in social situations. Called MACH (short for My Automated Conversation coacH) it could even potentially assist those with more serious conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome who find it difficult to make eye contact or react appropriately to social cues.
The automated program trains people in various social skills till they feel confident enough to perform in a job interview or a first date. There is a face generated on the computer screen that people would talk with and the users would then get feedback on how they did.
According to MIT Media Lab doctoral student M. Ehsan Hoque, who led the research, the work could be helpful to a wide range of people. Many people with social phobias, Hoque says, want “the possibility of having some kind of automated system so that they can practice social interactions in their own environment. … They desire to control the pace of the interaction, practice as many times as they wish, and own their data.” The MACH software offers all those features, Hoque says.
It can be run on an ordinary laptop whose webcam would be used to monitor a user’s facial expressions while the microphone would be used to capture the voice. The user’s smiles, head gestures, speech volume and speed, and use of filler words, among other things are then analysed. The automated interviewer — a life-size, three-dimensional simulated face — responds to the subject’s speech and motions by smiling and nodding and can also ask questions and give responses in turn. While the system was initially developed to help job candidates, Hoque says training with the software could be helpful in many kinds of social interactions.