The idea of virtual assistants and smart gadgets that could potentially analyze and predict human emotions is nothing new. But just as the movies have warned, giving machines complete access to human feelings and thoughts may have dire consequences.
AIs understanding emotions: Context
The concept of affective computing, or technology that can sense, understand and even mimic emotions, has been around since 1997. But it is only now that the systems have become powerful enough to make affective computing possible. Big tech firms such as Microsoft and Google have taken the next big step after facial recognition and biometrics – the development of emphatic artificial intelligence (AI).
Researchers claim that there are many potential benefits. Mobile phones and other portable gadgets could eventually serve as digital therapists, able to respond to their users’ moods and conversations in meaningful ways. Virtual assistants may go beyond basic responses to intuitively counseling humans on how to focus at work, manage stress, anxiety attacks, and depression, and even prevent suicide attempts.
While the potential of emotion-recognition technology is valid, researchers also admit that regulation is very much needed. Currently, emotion-recognition AI is being used in the hiring process of remote workers and the surveillance of public places, but its limitations are apparent. Studies have shown that just as humans have biases, so does AI, where (in some instances) it has detected black people’s facial expressions as angry even though they were smiling.
Researchers also warn that analyzing emotions based on facial expressions and body language could be misleading, as these factors also depend on culture and context. Thus, regulations may have to be put in place to ensure that tech firms don’t overreach and that humans would still be the final decision makers.
Applications for empathetic AI
Example applications for this emerging technology may include:
- Mental health providers who might have to adjust their services and methods to work alongside virtual therapists.
- Smart appliances/homes that might offer better features such as anticipating moods and proactively suggesting lifestyle options instead of simply following commands.
- Mobile phone manufacturers that might need to include emotion-recognition apps and sensors to better adapt to their consumers’ needs and preferences.
Questions to comment on
- Would you prefer smart gadgets and appliances that could predict your emotions? Why or why not?
- What do you think are the other possible ways that emotionally intelligent machines could control our emotions?