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The book cover that judges you back

If you judge this book by its cover, it will refuse to open until you can approach it without prejudice.


The adage "don't judge a book by its cover" contains sage advice: you can't always gauge the contents of a volume based on its external appearance. That doesn't stop us from doing it, though -- especially since, in the 150-plus years since the expression's appearance, book covers have come to be a lot more picturesque and illustrative of the narrative contained therein.

Nevertheless, an experimental project aims to help you erase that prejudice when approaching a book. The Cover That Judges You by Thijs Biersteker of Amsterdam-based creative agency Moore -- created for the Art Directors Club Netherlands annual -- is a cover designed to fit over other books.

Equipped with a camera, facial recognition software, a screen and an Arduino-controlled bolt, the cover will only allow itself to be opened when the user approaches it without "judgement" -- that is, wearing a completely neutral facial expression.

"I often worry about my scepticism and judgement getting in my way of amazement and judgement should never hinder relentless enthusiasm of seeing things for the first time," Biersteker wrote on the project website.

"My aim was to create a book cover that is human and approachable...If you approach the book, the face recognition system picks up your face and starts scanning it for signs of 'judgement'. If you're over excited or your face shows a sceptical expression, the book will stay locked. But if your expression is neutral (no judgement) the system will send an audio-pulse to the Arduino and the book will unlock itself."


These "signs" manifest as facial expressions: excitement, happiness or anger, for example. When the user approaches the book, the camera embedded in the front views their face, reflecting it back on the screen, in a face design etched into the cover's surface. The facial recognition software then examines the users's face for signs of prejudgement -- it seems the mouth is the biggest indicator.

If it detects any of these signs, the lock in the corner refuses to open.

The reason for the cover's creation, Biersteker said, was the annual itself: a book that collects a selection of creative work, carefully curated. It is, he said, "A book full of great creative work that has been judged and awarded." Because the work has already been judged, it shall only be revealed to those who approach it nonjudgementally.