Why 'Emotion' is the New Killer App

Your social network, phone and even your TV will soon gain emotional intelligence. Don't worry. Be happy!
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It's nothing to be sad about. Instead, you should be filled with joy.

Why? Because soon your technology will be able to understand your emotional state.

This is a welcome application of technology, and I'll tell you why below. But first, let's take a look at examples of technology that can read -- and convey -- emotion.

Social Networks

Facebook is testing (US only) a new feature that lets you add an emotional component to your status updates. Clicking a smiley face icon drops down a menu of emotions and also activities (like eating, drinking, etc.), which will be conveyed to Facebook friends along with the update.

The emotion feature catches Facebook up to a feature added to Myspace 7 years ago.

The idea is that you can post a picture of, say, a puppy, then also convey your emotion about the picture.

Facebook is doing this, no doubt, because they know emotion is an important element of human communication, and they’re just not ready with technology to detect it yet. But Google is.

Google announced a new feature of Google+ this month called +Emotion.

Here's how it works: Just open one of your own photos in the Google+ "lightbox" and click on the smiley face icon. (Have a backup because there's no "undo" feature.) Google's supercomputers will analyze the photo and put thought bubbles right on the picture showing everybody's emotions. The emotion cartoons also show glasses, sunglasses, facial hair and other stuff. It can even detect dogs and cats.

Emotions are even detectable on Twitter, although not by Twitter – yet.

Researchers at the University of Vermont are already using Twitter to detect emotions en masse. They do it by analyzing the words people use in their tweets.

Once they gather data about "mood" or emotional states, they can then crunch other data, such as location, to find correlations. For example, they recently announced that people are happier the further they get from home. So much for “home is where the heart is.”

Social networking will increasingly deal in the communication of emotion. Someday they will combine technologies, using cameras, microphones and the words people use to figure out how users are feeling.

Our emotional states might be broadcast on our social media profiles in real-time and at all times, if we choose.


A researcher at the University of Rochester named Na Yang build a prototype smartphone app (not publicly available) called Listen-n-Feelwhile she interned at Microsoft Research last summer.

You can bet that major smartphone platform vendors, especially Google and Apple, are working on smartphone emotion-sensing as well.

Some rudimentary version of this kind of software is already deployed in some advanced call-center phone systems. When they detect a customer freaking out during the inevitable "press one if you're calling about a warranty issue, press two if you'd like to take our survey" phase, they might accelerate access to a live human.

Building voice-based emotion detection into phones might be generally useful during regular calls. It might alert you to a distressed friend, or enable a friend to bypass voicemail.

Most of all, it will be deployed by future versions of Siri, Google Now and other virtual assistants. By reading your emotions, they’ll understand you much better. And they’ll “empathize” by sharing your joy – and your pain – in the tone of their voices.


There are many uses for emotion detection in PCs, but one of the best is for real-time avatar-based chat.

We have videoconferencing, of course, via Google+ hangouts or Skype. But many people, possibly a majority, feel too shy to be on camera. They might be more comfortable being represented by a real-time avatar -- a cartoon character that works as a stand-in.

For example, researchers at Keio University are working on an avatar chat system that could convey the voice in real-time like a video chat, but use an avatar in place of the video.

The avatar's lips would move in sync with the voice. Body and head orientation would instantly mimic the chatters. But more impressively, emotions would be conveyed through the avatar through facial expression.

Chatting with an avatar will be like chatting by video. Except your friend may be a cartoon rabbit, a celebrity or a Japanese cartoon character.

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Tags: Facebook, social network, google+

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