It was a punchline five years ago to remark that, “There’s an app for that.”
Now, it’s not comedy, it’s reality. There really is an app for practically anything one can imagine.
For example: There are dozens of useful apps, such as ones that let users create a keyboard that allows typing by swiping; an instant translator that works with 30 different languages; or an app that allows users to text across platforms (between iPhone and Android, for example), without “the usual data rates that apply.” Then there are crazy apps that let users “smoke” a full-size cigar, play a game that involves popping as many zits as possible — without causing bleeding — or an app that basically does your child’s algebra, physics or biology homework for them.
Okay, that last one probably belongs in the “useful” category.
The latest new app that has just been developed comes to us, and I quote from a story in the U.K.’s The Telegraph, “from scientists at Oxford University.”
That’s the same Oxford University more commonly mentioned in conjunction with the announcement of an annual group of Rhodes Scholars, considered the pinnacle of academic achievement. Apparently, the good professors at Oxford aren’t all tied up conducting seminars on socio-political issues of global importance.
That’s because a Professor Charles Spence, described by The Telegraph as “an experimental scientist” who runs the university’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, has developed a new app that monitors facial expressions to assess one’s current frame of mind, kind of a 21st century version of a Mood Ring.
The new app uses “mood mapping” technology that is currently “being trialled,” as the BritPub styled it. The app scans the user’s face for “signs of emotions,” such as downturned lips, sad eyes or frown lines, and according to the developers, can often detect “hidden feelings that a person may be trying to ignore.
“Face mapping can provide a more accurate and objective assessment of a person’s mood or emotional state than they can,” Prof Spence told the newspaper. “Often people are not able to say how they are feeling, or just don’t feel they want to. After all, we might know that we are in a bad mood, but not know why.”
Actually, I almost always know exactly why I’m in a bad mood, thanks to kids, neighbors, children or a boss or a spouse who just won’t do what I want!
The Cutting Edge of Technology
But here’s the useful function of Spence’s new app. As he noted, there is “a growing body of evidence” that demonstrates mood affects taste and smell. “[Your mood] can deaden or liven the effect of both,” Spence said, “and the reverse is also believed to be true: that food can have a number of effects on your mood.”
One’s mood and emotional state affect the “sensory discriminatory aspects of tasting,” which is why people often stop eating following a relationship break-up or during times of grief, because food simply does not taste as good as it does when people are happy.
Spence modestly noted that his new app is “at the very cutting edge of what technology and science can do,” while acknowledging that in the future, “it’s likely to become much more the norm,” noting that his app can detect anger, disgust, fear, surprise, sadness and joy.
And here’s the best part: Prof. Spence teamed up with a food delivery service called “Just Eat” — which coincidentally happens to be the name of his app — which then suggests the perfect food to lift one’s spirits or calm one’s anxieties. After that diagnosis, the app then makes menu suggestions.
For example, according to the story, an angry face suggests that a person is stressed out and would benefit from eating some “calming foods,” such as dark chocolate and nuts, which contain magnesium. Or people who are excited may benefit from blood-sugar regulating foods, such as whole grains and legumes.
Okay, this is feeling less like cutting-edge technology and more along the lines of the Mood Ring. Depressed? Eat some chocolate.
Haven’t women been doing that since . . . well, since chocolate was invented?
And if I’m “excited” about something — like cashing in a Scratch It lotto ticket — about the last thing on my mind is, “Where do I go to pick up a hearty meal of brown rice and beans?”
I’m sure Prof. Spence’s Just Eat app uses sophisticated facial recognition technology, but the connection between mood and food isn’t quite as simplistic as he makes it appear.
What we really need is an app that anticipates the unpleasant work assignment, the horrendous car repair or the lingering spousal argument that causes the anxiety and depression in the first place.
That would definitely “liven the effect” of food’s taste and smell.
And dramatically improve one’s mood.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and columnist.