A Computer To Read Your Mood

So, you're lost. Maybe you're driving through a strange town. Perhaps you're late for an important meeting. And you're losing it when that know-it-all box in the rental car starts barking instructions.

"Cross the rotary third exit ... Turn around when possible then at the end of the road turn right," the GPS system orders.

What you may need here is not a machine that tells you what to do, but a machine that knows how you feel.

Sounds impossible, but that may soon change, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips.

Back in the '70s, there were mood rings but, now, in the next millennium, there's a mood computer. A British man says he's invented a machine that actually knows what we're thinking and then adjusts itself to reflect that.

"We could actually monitor the driver and see that they're overloaded and actually shut down some of the navigation systems," says inventor Peter Robinson. "You could let the driver drive off track a bit and, and when they've calmed down, get them back on the road."

Robinson has developed just such a machine — a computer system that he says can read minds.

The computer can purportedly track emotions by reading facial expressions — something babies and primates can do.

"In a sense, computers are autistic. They ignore our expression. We look surprised, they plough on ahead," Robinson says. "We're trying to fix that"

Phillips took the machine for a test drive to see how it works.

The theory is that a camera — and the machine it's attached to — can actually tell what a person is thinking. It superimposes little blue boxes over an image of a person's face as reference points that act as little windows into the soul.

By tracking the movement of those points, the machine can measure dozens of emotions. In this case it's looking at whether I'm concentrating, agreeing or disagreeing.

In this case, the machine pops up a red graph, which means Phillips is agreeing, and a blue graph, which means he's concentrating.

And the machine has potential uses other than saving wayward travelers.

"Airport security," says Rana el Kaliouby, who helped develop the system. "For example, you can pick out someone, and we can figure out if he's nervous and trying to hide that."

Kaliouby is now exploring the machine's possibilities at MIT and thinks cameras at the airport security line can read people's intentions.

"They should read your non-verbal cues," she says. "They assess your mental state and then they use that to sort of infer your intentions and predict your behavior. Basically that is what we think machines should be able to do."

There's a way to go yet to refine the technology, but the program is already remarkably perceptive.

When Phillips tunes out just a bit, the machine shows a flat line.

"Thinking has never gotten off the bottom. No thinking happening," he says with a chuckle. "It's a window into the soul, and there's nothing going in there."