Jerry Seinfeld has a famous joke that goes as follows:
According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
What isn’t a joke is that the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that social phobias affect roughly 15 million adults in the U.S. But for those with public speaking and social interaction fears, it’s difficult to practice and improve their skills in front of others – until now.
M. Ehsan Hoque, a doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Lab, has developed an automated avatar that helps people overcome social anxiety by allowing them to practice social interactions like interviews and public speaking in the privacy of their own home. My Automated Conversation Coach, dubbed MACH, uses facial and speech recognition software to engage in one-on-one conversations and provide analytical feedback.
Using basic equipment like a standard laptop with a webcam, monitor, and microphone, MACH is able to track movements like eye contact, smiles, nods, and voice inflections to help people prep for presentations, interviews, and increase their conversational confidence in general. The system’s avatar provides feedback and a focal point for users, simulating a real interaction.
Hoque thinks a program like MACH would be useful to a wide variety of people, from everyone with social conditions or Asperger’s to those with interview-nerves, because most people 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 system certainly seems to have a wide audience and appeal, and if effective it could see success in a mass-adapted format. Check out a video of MACH in action below.