Apple buys Emotient, beefs up AI, could find innovative uses

Emotient's technology revolved around using artificial intelligence to gauge emotion based on facial expressions. What could Apple do with Emotient's tools?

Apple has reportedly bought Emotient, a company with algorithms and artificial intelligence that can read emotions from facial expressions.

On the surface, Apple's move, reported by the Wall Street Journal, highlights how the company is building up its artificial intelligence knowhow. Google, Microsoft, IBM and Facebook are just a few technology giants investing in artificial intelligence. But Emotient's technology could be used in various parts of Apple.

Emotient, which counted Intel as an investor, had some interesting demos. In 2014, Emotient was one of the more interesting parts of Intel's booth. Emotient gauged facial expressions and collected data on shoppers. For instance, if a display angered a shopper a retailer would know to make changes. Emotient could also capture frustration among shoppers.

Here's a picture of Emotient's technology at work.

With Emotient's algorithms and analytics, the company could also have healthcare applications for physicians trying to spot pain in patients. The challenge for Emotient is that its technology walked on the creepy side to some degree. Building an enterprise business around tracking analytics of customer emotions could have become a public relations issue for many companies. Indeed, retailers may have been shy about rolling out technology that would capture shopper emotion.

For Apple, Emotient's technology could apply to multiple areas. Among some potential uses:

  • Apple could float products by developers and testers to gauge reaction.
  • In Apple stores, Emotient's wares would be almost an attraction as tech savvy shoppers played with it. My working theory is that retailers could have rolled Emotient out in betas almost as a shopper toy.
  • FaceTime could note your emotion in a playful way. I can already picture selfies getting labels.
  • Image recognition tools have been improved on Google and Facebook and Apple could use Emotient to add features.

Apple is likely to tread lightly with Emotient, but it's a good tuck-in acquisition on many levels.

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