An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Rosalind Picard SM ’86, ScD ’91 once scoffed at her boss’s suggestion that she design a mood ring app. Today, she recognizes the importance of mood—or, more accurately, mental health—and yes, she has an app for that. Her hope is that her work in AI-supported sensors of mood, stress, and other neurological states will eventually provide a pathway to improved mental health.  

“Mental health is the core of what facilitates our resilience, our ability to connect with one another, to think out of the box and do creative things,” said Picard, the founder and director of the MIT Media Lab’s Affective Computing Research Group and founding faculty chair of MIT’s MindHandHeart Initiative. “It’s at the core of even getting out of bed in the morning.”

Make sure that the number of your friends exceeds your GPA.

Picard described her work in wearable sensors and how that led to her current focus on mental health in a keynote address, “AI, Technology, and the Future of Mental Health,” presented at the Alumni Leadership Conference (ALC) on September 17. (Watch the full video here.) ALC is an annual event that gives alumni volunteers the opportunity to network, attend leadership development programs, and learn about cutting-edge MIT research such as Picard’s.

Picard develops wearable sensors and analytics for health applications and is the cofounder of Empatica, an MIT spinoff that provides continuous, passive monitoring of patients with neurological conditions. Yet, Picard told the ALC audience she has come to believe that when it comes to mental health issues such as depression, alerting people to a problem is not enough.

“Top psychiatrists, top neuroscientists, they don’t know how to fix depression,” she said, explaining that such professionals need to know more about how the brain works if they are to address the root causes of mental illness. “They need MIT. They need engineers. They need data. They need to understand it better.”

Picard is now working to collect data on the correlations between lifestyle factors and mental health, including mood, and she shared some early research findings at ALC: “If we had to pick one thing that is most effective for most people, it’s facilitating positive social interactions,” she said. “Make sure that the number of your friends exceeds your GPA.”

Rosalind Picard’s keynote address took place at the 2022 MIT Alumni Leadership Conference, an annual event that brings MIT alums and volunteers together for a weekend of connecting and networking over a shared love for and commitment to MIT. Visit the ALC website to watch more keynotes. Alum volunteers can also visit the volunteer knowledge base for more MIT- and volunteer-related content.