know feel

A Reporter at Large JANUARY 19, 2015 ISSUE

We Know How You Feel

Computers are learning to read emotion, and the business world can’t wait.


By scanning facial action units, computers can now outperform most people in distinguishing social smiles from those triggered by spontaneous joy, and in differentiating between faked pain and genuine pain.


But as she delved into the neuroscience literature she became convinced that reasoning and emotion were inseparable: just as too much emotion could cause irrational thinking, so could too little

Kaliouby had settled on her direction: to create an algorithm that could read faces.


By the time she completed her doctorate, she had built MindReader, a program that could track several complex emotions in relatively unstructured settings. As she considered its potential, she wondered if she could construct an “emotional hearing aid” for people with autism.


Spike Jonze spent months researching “Her,” and it’s not hard to find real-world intimations of the future he imagined. Recently, researchers at the University of Southern California built a prototype “virtual human” named Ellie, a digital therapist that integrates an algorithm similar to Affdex with others that track gestures and vocal tonalities.


Affdex can now read the nuances of smiles better than most people can.


This information could be used to build emotional profiles; researchers at Dartmouth demonstrated that smartphones can be configured to detect stress, loneliness, depression, and productivity, and to predict G.P.A.s.


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