Ode to Erin Smith, Emotion A.I. Innovator
by Paula M. Toledo
On a daily basis, I come across newsfeeds about the negative effects technology has on our mental health, our physical health, our environment. Perhaps it's the nature of the news these days that tend to focus on fear-based reporting. Is this telling? Has our society become internally motivated by a Darwin-esque 'survival of the fittest' way of living?
I believe that for ever person driven by fear and greed, there is a greater ratio of other people doing incredible things to service and further mankind. Intelligence, talent, hard work, heart and compassion are driving forces for many. Like the Bill and Melinda Gates of the world, there are (soon to be discovered) crusaders waiting to forge their paths, make their mark, while altering our perspectives and the way we have grown accustomed to seeing the world.
People like Erin Smith, who I discovered while helping my son research his project on Artificial Intelligence.
Erin came across my desktop when I googled emotion and AI. Short of 5 minutes in, I was impressed by what I read and immediately sent her a message via LinkedIn. Not quite out of high school yet, Erin has founded Faceprint Technology. Remember those senior years of high school when we were getting our driver's license, first jobs, fretting about who we were going to take to graduation, studying for university entrance exams? Well, Erin has juggled that all and at the same time, developed a first of its kind Parkinson's diagnostic tool to predict the disease 5 years prior to its onset.
In our Ode to Wonder Podcast interview Erin shares how she got started doing experiments with her mom at the kitchen table. Later she taught herself to code so that she could run her experiments on her own. Sourcing respondents to watch Super Bowl Commercials and later mimic emojis, Erin was able to capture emotions through facial recognition software and run the data through machine learning algorithms. “Current Parkinson’s disease diagnostic methods are severely hindered due to lack of validated biomarkers. Further, Parkinson’s patients typically experience a ‘masked face’ years before the onset of traditional motor symptoms. I was able to discover, quantify, and digitize a series of differences that occur in distinct facial muscle movements in Parkinson’s patients. I found that interactions between muscle movements that are typically associated with emotional responses, such as joy and fear, differed in Parkinson’s disease patients. Emotion AI enables changes that are occurring in Parkinson’s patients’ brains to be captured through distinct, outwardly manifested facial muscle and expression changes.” source https://developer.affectiva.com/hero/erin-smith/
Her youth is not a predictor of her wisdom acquired. In our interview, she shares her belief in using traditional and non-traditional learning systems to school children, how mentoring was an important pillar to her development both as a scientist and entrepreneur, and how she feels impassioned to lead other girls in their quest to discover their inner scientist.
We often see the backstory of pioneers once their inventions have been applied and adopted by the mainstream. What fascinates me is seeing this process in action - the heart and sweat, all the ingredients coming together to see someone's dream being realized. The Michael J Fox Foundation has partnered with Erin to give her data to run her experiments, saving her hours of the time-consuming process of having to interview respondents one by one. Standford and MIT are awaiting her as are venture capitalists in the wings. With her Parkinson's diagnostic tool ready to be adopted into clinics, Erin is working on other applications for her technology in the area of mental health, specifically Alzheimer's and Autism.
If in one short interview, Erin has already shaped the way I see our new world, I can only imagine how her fully realized dreams will be adopted for the betterment of mankind and for our mental wellbeing.
Here's to that. And here’s to Erin. Where Discovery Meets Gratitude.