Siri, Am I Happy Today?

Siri, Am I Happy Today?

The company responsible for Apple’s Siri has invented an emotion recognition system that may connect humans more deeply with their electronic devices.

Nuance, creator of the Siri voice recognition system, is building an emotionally sensitive voice recognition platform to help cars and TVs recognize when their owners are happy or sad. The company has not yet revealed how its emotion detector works, but it likely analyzes voice tone, pauses and talking speed to determine how users feel.

Nuance’s invention has many possible applications, including reducing road rage, detecting mental illnesses and helping advertisers launch more personal campaigns.

For example, the voice recognition platform may prompt smartcars to redirect drivers through quieter streets, text their bosses saying they’ll be late or even play music to calm frayed nerves. And with enough fine-tuning, Nuance’s platform may one day diagnose those with depression or anxiety disorder simply by analyzing speech patterns.

The company ultimately plans to monetize its innovation by permitting advertisers to run campaigns based on users’ feelings. If someone is feeling heartbroken, for instance, the program might suggest watching one of several uplifting, sponsored movies.

Nuance is not alone in building programs to understand users’ feelings, as other companies race to take part in the emotional computing revolution.

Affectiva, an MIT-sponsored project, uses facial recognition technology to analyze peoples’ expressions. This “mind-reading” software may one day help teachers determine which students are paying attention or help politicians gauge the mood of a crowd.

Sensum measures sweat levels and heart rates to determine users’ emotional involvement while watching movies. The system, which debuted at the SXSW film festival, even altered a horror movie in real-time as people’s sweat levels and heart rates became more pronounced.

Microsoft’s Kinect may also prove a useful tool for broader emotional and behavioral detection, as its motion-sensing camera can already pick up signs of autism in young children.

And an app built by Tanzeem Choudhury of Cornell is working to detect post-traumatic stress disorder in returning soldiers.

Nuance has an advantage in the race to create emotion-sensing technology, however, since it already built Siri for Apple. Even so, Nuance will need to keep up a rapid pace of invention to stay ahead of competitors like Google and Microsoft, which may eye emotional technology as paramount for their next research or acquisitions.

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