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Smile . . . keep smiling . . . with feeling this time
Young women’s smiling faces line the corridor. Six flat-panel displays occupy the exhibit’s wall; each is a framed, video portrait. Each actress holds a smile as long as she can. The twist: a computer monitored the women’s facial expressions while they were recorded. As soon as fatigue created a look of insincerity, an alarm sounded. With smiling sessions lasting up to an hour-and-a-half, the forced sincerity became tortuously difficult as time passed.
Christian Möeller, an artist, architect, and professor at UCLA, was intrigued by the ever-present smiling that permeates Hollywood’s entertainment industry. The phenomenon inspired Möeller to design an exhibit that would place the smile under scrutiny, “an experiment in the architecture of sincerity,” he says.
Möeller partnered with Pietro Perona, director of NSF’s Engineering Research Center for Neuromorphic Systems Engineering (CNSE) at the California Institute of Technology, and the Machine Perception Laboratories at the University of California San Diego's Institute for Neural Computation, a research group that specializes in motion recognition. The lab had not worked with smiles before, but they were able to develop software that measured critical factors like muscle definition, eye crinkling, and how much the teeth show.
To find the actresses, Möeller placed a casting call, with more than 800 answering a small ad in an entertainment industry trade magazine that stated: “Looking for actress, news anchor type, for a series of video portraits.” The six who were chosen were subjected to a computer-human interaction for which Möeller chose the computer to be dominant.