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Microsoft Researcher Mary Czerwinski Gives Academic Year's Final Dean's Lecture Series Talk

By Fran Broderick

This past Friday, Golisano College welcomed ACM Distinguished Scientist and Microsoft researcher Mary Czerwinski for the final Dean’s Lecture Series of the academic year. Czerwinski presented a talk titled “Emotion Tracking for Memory, Health, and Awareness” in which she introduced novel systems that her and her team have developed in an effort to help users track their moods and improve mental health.

Czerwinski began her talk with an introduction to the market for “wearables” – devices such as FitBands that track users exercise progress – explaining the market had “exploded since 2011.” Users can wear a variety of such devices, tracking different aspects of their health. “We wanted to use these tools to tackle stress and anxiety,” Czerwinski explained, “as 51% of obese people eat too much as a result of stress.”

The first program developed by her team, AffectAura, is an “emotional prosthetic” that combines multiple sensor data, including the users’ email, webcam, a watch, and speech analysis to provide a far-ranging picture of the users’ moods over the course of days and months. The result is a “dimensional approach to representing emotion” manifested on a screen that presents a series of shrinking and growing circles demonstrating periods in which users were undergoing stress or feeling generally relaxed. Researchers can then analyze why a user had spikes in their stress levels. In one example, Czerwinski pointed to the receipt of a negative email resulting in a jump in stress levels for the user.

Since launching AffectAura in 2012 Czerwinski’s team has developed more specified programs including Food and Mood which detects emotions associated with emotional eating, and Entrendre which offers doctors feedback on their clinical empathy via the monitoring of facial expressions in Skype conversations.

Since its’ inception the Dean’s Lecture Series has brought 47 speakers from industry and academia to the Golisano College, offering students and faculty unique insights from tech leaders.