SOMETIME NEXT SUMMER, you’ll be able to watch a horror series that is exactly as scary as you want it to be—no more, no less. You’ll pull up the show, which relies on software from the artificial intelligence startup Affectiva, and tap a button to opt in. Then, while you stare at your iPad, its camera will stare at you.

The software will read your emotional reactions to the show in real time. Should your mouth turn down a second too long or your eyes squeeze shut in fright, the plot will speed along. But if they grow large and hold your interest, the program will draw out the suspense. “Yes, the killing is going to happen, but whether you want to be kept in the tension depends on you,” says Julian McCrea, founder of the London-based studio Portal Entertainment, which has a development deal with a large unidentified entertainment network to produce the series. He calls Affectiva’s face-reading software, Affdex, “an incredible piece of technology.”

McCrea is one of the first outside developers to experiment with Affectiva’s developer tools to make technology capable of interpreting feelings based on tracking your facial expression. Scientists Roz Picard and Rana el Kaliouby spun the Waltham, Massachusetts-based tech startup out of MIT Media Lab in 2009. Picard has since left the company, but El Kaliouby, 36, remains the chief science officer and is committed to a bigger vision: “Personally, I’m not going to stop until this tech is embedded in all of our lives.” Already, CBS has used it to determine how new shows might go down with viewers. And during the 2012 Presidential election, Kaliouby’s team experimented with using it to track a sample of voters during a debate.

With $20 million in venture funding, the company has so far worked closely with a few partners to test its commercial applications. Now it plans to open its tools to everyone. Starting today, Affectiva will invite developers to experiment with a 45-day free test and then license its tools. You remember Intel inside? El Kaliouby envisions “Affectiva-embedded” technology, saying, “It’ll sit on your phone, in your car, in your fridge. It will sense your emotions and adapt seamlessly without being in your face.” It will just notice everything that’s happening on your face. She’ll expand on her strategy May 19 at the LDV Vision Summit, a coming together of some of the smartest companies cracking the problem of machine vision, in New York.

Millions of Faces

El Kaliouby has a PhD in computer science from Cambridge University, completed a post-doc at MIT Media Lab, and built Affectiva’s core technology as part of her academic work, intending to use it to help children with autism. “As I was doing that we started getting a lot of interest from industry,” says el Kaliouby. “The autism research was limited in scope,” she explained, so she turned to the business world to have a greater impact.

Affdex, the company’s signature software, builds detailed models of the face, taking into account the crinkle of the skin around the eye when you smile or the dip in the corner of your bottom lip when you frown. Since el Kaliouby started working on the Affectiva algorithms, the software has logged 11 billion of these data points, taken from 2.8 million faces in 75 countries.

With its massive data set, el Kaliouby believes Affectiva has developed an accurate read on human emotions. The software can, in effect, decode feelings. Consider Affectiva’s take on tracking empathy: “An example would be the inner eyebrow rise,” says el Kaliouby. “Like when you see a cute puppy and you’re, like, awww!” It can even note when you are paying attention.

The software relies on a so-called Facial Action Coding System, a taxonomy of 46 human facial movements that can be combined in different arrays to identify and label emotions. When it was developed in the late 1970s, humans scored emotional states manually by watching the movement of facial muscles. It was time intensive. “It takes about five minutes to code one minute of video,” says el Kaliouby. “So we built algorithms that automate it.” The software had to be trained to recognize variety in expressions. My smirk, for example, might not look like your smirk. “It’s like training a kid to recognize what an apple is,” el Kaliouby says.


Five years in, the technology has become robust enough to be reliably useful. Experience designer Steve McLean, for example, who runs the Wisconsin design firm Wild Blue Technologies, has used Affectiva to build a video display for Hershey to use in retail stores. If you smile at the screen, the display dispenses a free chocolate sample. Tech startup OoVoo, which competes with Skype, has integrated the software into its videochat to create a product called intelligent video that can read chatters’ emotions. “We’re looking at focus groups, online education, and political affinity,” says JP Nauseef, managing director of Myrian Capital, which invested in both Affectiva and OoVoo and sits on Affectiva’s board.

But for all of Affectiva’s potential, it will take more than creative developers to help its technology catch on more broadly. “The hidden discussion that hasn’t been brought up is trust,” says Charlene Li, CEO of the research outfit Altimeter Group, who has followed Affectiva closely since 2011. “I love the product, but I’m also terrified by it,” she says. She points out that should this data fall into the wrong hands, it could be dangerous for consumers. What happens, for example, if you are often sad while using a piece of Affectiva-embedded software and the software’s developer chooses to sell that information to a pharmaceutical company?

It’s a concern that el Kaliouby takes very seriously. “We actually don’t store any personal information about the consumers, so we do not have any way of tying back the facial video to an individual,” she says. “We have 2.78 million face videos in the platform, and if your face was in there, none of our team would be able to pull it out for you.”

That may be so, but as the company makes its tools available to a broader set of developers, it will have to monitor how the software is rolled out to prevent them from abusing it—and to make sure that as users interact with it for the first time, they’re aware of it and feel they are in control of the experience.

The technology may be very good at reading your emotions. But humans will have to take care how to act on them.

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The Spa-Like Bathroom: 10 Top Trends for 2015

Just like the kitchen, contemporary designs are growing in popularity in bathroom remodels. These contemporary touches in the bathroom equate to clean and open designs, with floating vanities and freestanding tubs.

Last week, at Styled Staged & Sold, we highlighted the top 10 trends for the kitchen this year. This week, we focus on the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s latest trend report on what’s driving bathroom design in 2015.

Here are the top 10 overall bathroom design trends NKBA designers expect to be hot this year:

  1. Clean, white, contemporary designs
  2. Floating vanities
  3. Open-shelving
  4. Electric heated floors
  5. Purple color schemes
  6. Trough sinks
  7. User experience (ease of use and low maintenance) and accessibility features
  8. Extra amenities (like steam showers, anti-fog mirrors, lighted showers, and shower seats)
  9. Innovative storage (such as drawer pullouts and rollouts to hold hair styling equipment)
  10. Showers and freestanding tubs

Most popular colors: White and gray are the dominant colors for bathrooms. Half of designers expect to see gray growing in 2015, and several designers also mentioned the growing popularity of purple, lavender, and lilac tones gaining steam in bathroom designs. For fixtures, white continues its dominance.

Out of style: Jetted tubs, whether whirlpool or air, are decreasing in popularity, according to NKBA’s report. “People are moving away from jetted tubs to more classic soaking tubs,” says Bill Donohoe with Donohoe Design Works in the Los Angeles area. Also, beige fixture colors are increasingly dropping in popularity.

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Advice For First Time Home Buyers

Buying your first home is exciting and a bit scary.  If you are an eager first-time homebuyer here are some tips as you take the plunge.

Mortgage Calculator: Check out an online mortgage calculator before calling a lender or a real estate agent.  This will give you an idea of exactly where you stand when you start your search. A mortgage calculator will allow you to see exactly what your monthly mortgage payment would be and you can determine if this is a step you are ready to take on.

Pre-approval:  Once you have determined the payment you are comfortable with and the price point at which that is speak with a mortgage lender.  This is a crucial step because this is the highest point at which you should have your realtor look for homes for you to view.  A pre-approval is something most sellers are looking for when they accept an offer from a buyer.  This is an important step in the buying process.

Find a Realtor:  Buying a home, especially your first, requires the assistance of a real estate agent.  Find a realtor that specializes in the area that you are looking to purchase.  Talk with them about their feelings on the area; is this a solid investment that will be able to build up equity.  You are not only buying a home you are making a financial investment.

Check Selling Prices:  Are the local selling prices within the amount you are pre-approved for?  If not are you willing to check into other areas or does this take you out of the housing market?

Total Monthly Costs:  Look into the monthly costs associated with your mortgage, utilities and other outside expenses that you have.  The goal in purchasing a home is not to go into debt; it is to be able to live in a home of your own.  The key there is to live.  You need to look at the big picture and make sure that you are not financially putting yourself at risk.  Don’t feel that just because you are approved for a certain amount that is what you need to spend on a home.  Purchase a home with monthly payments that are affordable and that allow you to make improvements to the home, building equity, as well as living life.

Prepare For The Hunt:  If the numbers make sense and you are ready to take the plunge get ready for the hunt of a lifetime.  Finding your first home is a thrilling adventure.  Once you find it you will know and then you get to venture into the realm of mortgages and home loans.

Cross Country Mortgage in Brighton, Michigan provide mortgage services for clients including new home loans, refinancing, reversed mortgages, new purchase home mortgages and home equity loans to the entire Livingston County area including Brighton, Howell and Livingston County. Cross Country Mortgage Brighton, MI at

Buying Your First Home

After years and years of renting apartments the thought of buying your first home can be exciting and a bit terrifying.  Though the process itself can be a bit challenging the satisfaction at the end is a feeling that nothing in your life will ever compare to.  Buying a home, your first real estate transaction, is an exhilarating experience.  Your first home purchase will be the biggest investment you make up to this point in your life.  It is crucial to be wise and employ the best approach possible to ensure you are making an intelligent investment.

Hire an agent

The first piece of advice all first time home buyers should consider is to hire an agent that specializes in the location you are looking to move.  Having an experienced, certified realtor will help to ensure you have the widest selection of homes to view.  Knowledge and experience are two key characteristics that are must haves when selecting a buyer’s agent.   They must offer an extensive familiarity with the location you are looking to find a home.  This allows them to view listings and evaluate if they are over or under priced for the area, saving you both time.  Looking at homes that are a solid investment with room to build equity is especially important when buying a first home.

The agent you hire must also have experience and connections within the industry.  These connections are what help agent’s scope out listings before they are even advertised.  Having first dibs on a home is a terrific advantage in a competitive real estate market.  This is especially important when you have exhausted the available options within your criteria and are feeling hopeless about finding a home.  The process of buying a home can be long and tedious which is why it is crucial you hire an agent with both experience and knowledge.

Get Pre-Approved

Once you have found an agent that you are comfortable working with it is time to get a concrete idea of exactly what you can afford.  Many real estate professionals can help you find a company to work with in getting pre-approval.  Once that number is established getting a seller to accept your offer is better.  Sellers like to commit to buyers who are going to be able to get home loans.  Sellers do not want to commit to a buyer only later to learn that they do not qualify for the amount that was offered.  This is a waste of valuable time in selling their home.

With pre-approval a buyer is guaranteeing that they have met the qualifications lenders need to secure a home loan.  It means that your criterion, income verse debt, matches the needs of a mortgage lender thus you can commit to the purchase of a home.  Without pre-approval sellers are gambling on you and cannot be positive that you will be able to secure a loan for the required amount.

Starting out looking for your first home can be a bit tricky.  With a pre-approval in hand, a knowledgeable and experienced agent at your side the process is simplified significantly.

Lady of the Lakes Real Estate is Livingston County’s premiere realtor; out of Pinckney, Michigan helping buyers buy and sellers sell homes that provide a recreational lifestyle including golf courses, lakes and the Huron river chain of lakes, throughout Brighton, Howell, Pinckney and the surrounding area.  More information can be found at

The Necessity Of Computers In Our Everyday Life

Like it or not computers have become more of a necessity than not. Computers are no longer a nonessential piece of equipment in your life. Everywhere you turn computers are present from the office to the gas station life is made easier because of them. They help add to the attractiveness of your office and school presentations as well as increase the accuracy of your banking and tax calculations. In our normal every day routines, computers have done a variety of things for us some that we may even take for granted day to day.

Computer variations are abundant. No matter what form the computer you use comes in one thing is true of all of them; computers are smart, fragile, require care and regular maintenance. We should never take technology for granted; we should never treat the computers we use recklessly. The hardware inside our computer systems can be damaged with improper use. This will affect the performance of your computer. In order to keep your computers running at their best you need to take proper care of them inside and out. Proper maintenance will keep computers, big and small, running at optimal efficiency.

One thing that computer owners can do to ensure their computers are kept running up to par is by covering them. Dust is an enemy of computer systems and can enter through even the tiniest crevices. Once dust settles on computer hardware it can start to cause harm. Dust on the central processing unit causes a weird humming noise that stems from the fan. The computer may not perform well or may end up crashing if too much dust and debris is allowed to build up. Keep your computer covered when you are not using it to prevent dust from building up. Regular maintenance in the form of a computer tune up yearly can help as well.

Prevention is the best way to keep your computer running optimally. This is one of the many reasons that it is best not to eat or drink while using your computer. Laptops and desktops alike are prone to serious damage when exposed to liquids of any kind. Small particles entering the keyboard can also cause damage that will affect the computer negatively. The best practice when it comes to a computer is to avoid drinking and eating while on using your system.

When you regularly maintain your computer it will run smoother. Regularly scan your computer for malware and virus’s. Keeping your anti-virus up to date and run regular scans to prevent malware and viruses from taking hold of the software within your computer. Keeping your computer files protected will help ensure that your computer will not need major computer repairs later on down the road.

These are just a few tips to help you keep your computer running correctly no matter what you use it for in your day to day life.

Computers Plus Service, in Brighton Michigan, provides a wide range of valuable services for residential computer repairas well as a variety of commercial computer services to the entire Livingston County area including Howell, Brighton and the surrounding areas. You can find out more about the services offered by CPS at