Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pretty girls make graves

Forty years ago, I read an interesting science fiction story about a novel device worn on the top of the head that lit up when its wearer was in the presence of an individual that he or she found particularly attractive.

The device in question removed all of the ambiguity involved in determining whether individuals thought that strangers were particularly desirable, and the story delved into the social implications of doing so.

While it sounded rather far fetched at the time, this week, science fiction became a bit closer to science reality with the news that Fujitsu Laboratories (Kawasaki, Japan) has developed software that is capable of measuring an individual's pulse rate in real time by calculating variations in the brightness of their face.

The software, which captures and processes images from a built-in camera in a PC, smart phone or tablet, can measure a pulse rate simply by pointing the device at a person's face for as little as five seconds.

The system takes advantage of the fact that one of the characteristics of hemoglobin in blood is that it absorbs green light. So, after capturing a video of the face with the camera, the software uses the peaks in the brightness of the green component of the RGB images in the video frames from which to compute a pulse rate.

Naturally enough, the good folks at Fujitsu see the development of such a system as enabling individuals to use their own inexpensive camera-equipped devices to determine how healthy they are. And while that's all well and good, there are clearly other social implications.

It's a well known fact, for example, that a racing pulse is a sign of instant attraction. So it's quite possible that -- should such software be offered onto the open market -- it could be used by certain folks to determine how attractive others find them.

While that might seem to be a rather frivolous use of the technology, there could be some health implications here too. According to that bastion of editorial excellence, the UK Daily Mail, for example, researchers at the University of Valencia (Valencia, Spain) have shown that -- for men -- just five minutes spent alone with a beautiful stranger can cause so much stress it may be bad for the heart.

For that reason, men lucky enough to spend time in the company of beautiful ladies might be better off pointing their smart phones at themselves -- rather than at the ladies -- to determine the effects their socializing is having on their health.


1. Fujitsu Laboratories develops real-time pulse monitor using facial imaging

2. How a beautiful stranger will send a man’s stress hormones soaring

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