A computer scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has devised a program that digitizes peoples’ conversations and spits them back as color images. Karrie Karahalios, who designed the program, says the program provides feedback in real time and can act as a type of social mirror, allowing people to adjust their speech in the same way they adjust their appearance before a glass mirror.
The program has been tested with low-functioning autistic children and in marriage counseling and is being prepared for use with Asperger’s Syndrome. It works by digitizing a person’s voice, which appears on a computer terminal in red, yellow, blue, green. The image grows in size if the voice gets louder, overlapping another color as it interrupts or abruptly narrowing with silence.
People with Asperger’s, which is at the high end of the autism spectrum, often have sophisticated vocabularies but troubled social interactions, including a tendency to talk in monologues without allowing other people to interrupt. In an experiment that will take place this summer at the University of Maryland in College Park, the program will show whether children with Asperger’s do what other users of the color program tend to do — change their conversational patterns to balance the colors that appear on the computer screen. That would put an end to monologuing, at least during the experiment.
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