My definition of Mad Science:
- It must be based on actual technology, vs. pseudo science.
- It must be provocative, causing an initial reaction of horror or revulsion.
- The horror or revulsion must be based on the concept rather than being simply disgusting.
- 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:
- 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.
- Check. The idea of literally putting on an attentive face horrified me, and the photos of the wearable eyes gave me The Creeps.
- 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.
- 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.