Computers know you're sad, then try to help

MADRID -- A computer uses voice recognition to assess emotions and then responds to them.
Written by Jennifer Riggins, Contributor

MADRID--First Angry Birds, soon irate iPhones. Imagine you are angry and yelling on a cell phone. Now imagine if the cell phone got angry back.

This becomes a conceivable possibility as Spanish scientists have developed the technology that allows electronic devices to "automatically recognize the emotional state of a person who is orally communicating with it," says last week's press release on the collaborative experimentation of scientists at the University of Carlos III of Madrid and the University of Granada. Then, once responses are recognized, the machines have the ability to create electronic rebuttals to these human emotions.

Based on speed of speech, tone of voice, cadence, energy level, and 54 other gauges, the computer maps out the speaker's mood. The computer first detects these emotions and then predicts the speaker's next actions or intentions. It will finally then "decide" to "say" or "do" something to ameliorate the situation.

So far, the researchers have only worked on mapping negative emotions, like anger, frustration, uncertainty and boredom--emotions often associated with being on-hold or talking to tech support. One possibly beneficial application could be in GPS systems, where using a voice response system could calm a lost and frustrated driver, increasing road safety and decreasing road rage.

Erik Garcés, a Madrid-based computer systems engineer and an iPhone addict, sees exciting possibilities with these computer programs. He would love to see this technology integrated with music playlists. "For example, with a playlist of music depending on your mood that helps you to cheer up if you are sad and make you happier," Garcés said. This technology gives "you options of things that maybe you don't know exist" and offers you alternatives and opportunities to the existing negative emotions.

The next step in the continued research is to test the computer reactions on individuals whose emotions have been well-mapped. The scientists have found, for example, that an automatic vocal response is useful when a respondent is confused. An automatic response system only seems to make matters worse when people are bored or impatient.

It could still be a long time before computers become in-the-moment therapists, but this technology certainly makes R.U.D.I. from "The Jetsons" seem more realistic.

Photo: Cartoon Scrapbook

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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