The definitive Mad Science

My definition of Mad Science:

  1. It must be based on actual technology, vs. pseudo science.
  2. It must be provocative, causing an initial reaction of horror or revulsion.
  3. The horror or revulsion must be based on the concept rather than being simply disgusting.
  4. It must have an artistic element, vs. being just science.

An April IEEE Spectrum story covers a work that wins on all counts: Dr. Hirotaka Osawa’s Wearable Eyes, designed to let you look like you care when you are phoning it in or even asleep!

So let’s go through the checklist:

  1. Check. It’s based on academic work on anthropomorphic robot faces: how we perceive emotional cues from faces. It is also about the stress of “Emotional Labor”, performed by e.g. healthworkers, who have to be nice to people all day.
  2. Check. The idea of literally putting on an attentive face horrified me, and the photos of the wearable eyes gave me The Creeps.
  3. Check. I’m horrified by the idea of a future where service workers literally wear masks to convey happiness rather than reveal their uncaring, drab reality. Once the initial revulsion passed, I started thinking seriously about how a mask-of-attentiveness might in some cases be beneficial or stress reducing.
  4. Check. The video is pure Performance Art. I truly can’t tell whether he’s serious about this or not – I believe he is.

Now that I’ve teased you, here’s the photo. Note how in most of the photos, he’s wearing the same expression – except for his cyber-eyes.

Dr. Hirotaka Osawa's work on automatic, always-attentive eyes.
Dr. Hirotaka Osawa’s work on automatic, always-attentive eyes.