Emotion in an Artificial Intelligence World

It is an almost omnipresent fear these days that technology is degrading human connections, but could we leverage that same technology to foster closer emotional ties?

We already have enough trouble reading each other’s emotions, and this becomes even harder when we communicate over long-distances, whether through email, phone calls, or even video chat. We are not face to face and cannot develop that emotional recognition, as technology, distance, and distracting stimuli add up to interfere with our emotional connections.

Instead, many people compensate with uniform online expressions, like emojis or acronyms conveying laughter or sadness, such as the classic LOL (Laughing Out Loud). While these can make progress in expressing emotions, they cannot replace actual, in-person laughter and lack a great deal of emotional nuance. Moreover, the problem seems intractable, given that modern society forces us to communicate over great distances in order to stay in touch.

That’s where developers like True Emoji, Affectiva, and Brain Power come in. These companies are using a concept called Emotion AI which attempts to give computers and other forms of artificial intelligence the ability to recognize and understand human emotions. It was Affectiva that developed a form of Emotion AI, and this software has been used in fascinating ways to teach computers to recognize facial expressions and understand emotions.

True Emoji has used this to address the problem of online communication. They have developed an app that reads a user’s facial expression and develops corresponding personalized emojis. This allows users to select an emoji that fits with their own emotion, rather than relying on a clichéd list of preset icons.

As True Emoji CEO Sumesh Dugar points out “The Internet has created a huge divide between emotions and communications… How many times have you shown surprise just by sending an emoticon?”

Similarly, Brain Power has put this principle to use trying to teach autistic children how to better recognize emotions. While autistic children have trouble recognizing emotion, this does not mean that they lack empathy. As we discussed in a previous blog, this just means that they can benefit from being taught emotional recognition skills!

Brain Power’s work focuses on the creation of interactive games that respond to the emotions of the participants. Joey Salisbury, the Brain Power director of software development, describes these as “augmented reality games with the goal of creating new, engaging ways for families to play together and grow closer while learning about emotions.”

These are just two applications of this burgeoning field. By abandoning an age-old divide between technology and emotion, we can allow the two to build on each other, creating emotionally intelligent machines and using technology to foster social ties.

For more information on this subject, see our previous blogs here and here.

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