It's easy for software designers to create speech engines and phrase books that convey various emotions, such as anger, happiness, sadness, elation, and others.
What's hard is applying the right emotion to the right situation. So the research effort around emotional smartphones isn't about conveying emotion, but perceiving them.
The goal is to teach the phone detect the emotion of the user and respond appropriately, just as a friend might.
However, if the user sounds happy, the phone might be more chatty and suggest things out of the blue.
The software might also learn what to do and what not to do by perceiving the emotions that result from the users interacting with the system.
Engineers at the University of Rochester, for example, are working on gauging emotion based on listening to speech.
The software analyzes the users' voice pitch, loudness and other qualities to determine one of six emotional states, including "sad," "happy," "fearful," "disgusted" and "neutral"— and it does so with 81 percent accuracy, according to researchers.
Once phone interfaces have "empathy engines," then it's a simple matter of varying the qualities of the response to correspond with user’s emotional state.
Of course, a lot of dorky computer science needs to happen before you can cry on your phone's shoulder, as it were.
But the bottom line is that Apple, Google and everybody else will be able to humanize our phones to the point where we will psychologically come to view them as surrogate humans.
And because we're human, we'll treat our phones as "beings." This is the default mode--even for dumb objects that don't have emotions, such as our cars and boats.
But once our phones converse with us, learn about us, suggest things to us and empathize with us, we will come to view those phones as human-like friends and confidants.
The future will be strange and wonderful because our relationship to thinking machines will be transformed.
The current generation of kids won't remember a world in which you can't have a conversation with your phone.
And this future has already begun. Don't believe me? Ask your phone!