February 2, 2015

In Holland, book cover judges you


Sorry Judy, there's nothing for you here. Image via Wikipedia.

Sorry Judy, there’s nothing for you here. Image via Wikipedia.

We’ve seen robots that commit homicide and robots that buy Ecstasy on the Dark Net. Now, in the next step toward the inevitable robot uprising, an actual literal Judgement Day, Dutch artists have given robots the power of…judgment.

Well, not exactly, but the real story is still pretty cool. Dezeen reports that an Amsterdam creative studio recently premiered their latest work, a book with an integrated camera that uses facial recognition software to discern a reader’s emotion. The book also sports a lock, and the only way to open it is to effectively fail the Voight-Kampff test.

If the awaiting reader shows too much emotion – either overexcitement or under-enthusiasm – the book will remain locked. Only when pulling a neutral expression will the scanner allow an Arduino micro-controller to unbolt the lock and let the user browse inside.

The artwork, created for the Art Director’s Club Netherlands annual show and appropriately titled “The Cover That Judges You” is demonstrated in this adorable video. The idea of the facial scan is that the book flips the power dynamic when confronted with reader skepticism.

“Our aim was to create a book cover that is human and approachable-hi-tech,” Thijs Biersteker of Moore told Dezeen. “If you approach the book, the face-recognition system picks up your face and starts scanning it for signs of ‘judgement’.”

“We often worry about scepticism and judgement getting in the way of amazement,” said Biersteker. “Judgement should never hinder relentless enthusiasm of seeing things for the first time.”

The piece also links to other novelty books; a food company’s annual report that can only be read after baking, and the sanitation manual in which the pages double as water filters.

The concept of facial recognition software being the same as “judgement” is somewhat laughable; an algorithm that sorts visual data is only as judgmental (or mistakenly bigoted) as its authors. But this very cute idea does make me wonder; is the next formal innovation in book design going to come out of a (likely) hash-fueled creative studio? If this technology can be slimmed down and made reproducible, has the modern book publishing world found its ultimate financial salvation?

Definitely. After all, if there’s one thing people want, it’s things they’re told they can’t have.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.