We all know the feeling of sitting at a desk and feeling stressed, stuck, or completely overwhelmed. What if in these moments, instead of banging our heads against the nearest hard surface, the environment changed to meet our emotional needs? A research team from MIT Media Lab developed a desk that reads a person’s emotional state and adjusts lighting, images, and sound accordingly. The project, called Mediated Atmosphere, has so far only been used in controlled settings, but the team hopes to test it out in real offices soon.

People sit at the desk as they normally would, but the computer webcam analyzes facial expression, a smartwatch analyzes heart rate, and the chair analyzes posture. All of these data points combine to assess emotional state. When a person is stressed, the desk might create a calming environment with a forest scene projected above the desk and accompanying lights and sounds. When a person needs more energy, the desk might create a coffee shop atmosphere. Regardless of the particular emotion, the desk is intended to boost productivity and enjoyment at work.

How would you feel about a desk that continuously monitors your biological signals? Do you think this desk would increase your work productivity or enjoyment? Answer these questions and more on Vialogues.

Excerpts from the discussion:

@00:32 Rebecca Sullivan: I think measuring posture could be helpful, but this seems like it could be a bit distracting. I don't know if I'd get any work done at this desk!

@01:06 RuthS: I would like this more if it were just focused on improving our well being at work, but it seems mostly geared toward productivity. I wouldn't want to be monitored and tweaked to perfect my work performance. It seems too invasive and manipulative.