New Computer Software Can Help Improve Social Skills

The new system reads voice pitch, gestures, and expressions and gives feedback to improve skills for interviews or other humanoid interactions.

Can a computer system help improve a person’s social skills? A new study based on 90 MIT undergraduates suggests the answer is yes. In the study, students worked with a new type of software, called MACH. The software played the part of an automated “coach,” and students who worked with MACH were rated higher in subsequent interviews with flesh-and-blood career counselors.


The computer system can parse nonverbal communications, such as voice modulation, facial expressions, and gestures for clues about confidence, attention, and positivity. It gives feedback through an avatar and can help users interpret videos of themselves interacting. Researchers say the computer system might be helpful not only for job interviews but also for dating. It could also help people who suffer from social anxiety disorders.

Or we could just dispense with the human interaction altogether and rely entirely on endlessly flexible, unambiguous, and always gracious avatars. Just a thought.

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.