Affective Computing Is Making AI More Human

One of the leading trends in IT that not even many technologists know much about is “affective computing.” It’s adding EQ to AI’s IQ,

The idea of computers that can engage and effect human emotions is as old as the first sci fi robots. A more modern example are video games that immerse players in environments designed to trigger a variety of emotions.

Today’s affective computing seeks to recognize human emotion and respond to it, not simply to evoke it. At MIT’s Media Lab, the mission of the affective computing group is to “bridge the gap between human emotions and computational technology.” The goal is to develop “new software tools to help people gather, communicate, and express emotional information and to better manage and understand the ways emotion impacts health, social interaction, learning, memory, and behavior.”

These are no mere high-minded aspirational hopes. Tools like these already exist, and not just in the lab. Many models of cars come equipped with sensors that detect drowsiness, warning the driver and urging them to take a break. At New York’s Fashion Week in September “Experience Management” technology analyzed attendees to customize drinks and fragrances just for them. McDonald’s is using technology to tailor drive-thru menu features based on weather, trending items and what the current restaurant traffic is like.

Deloitte report says uses like these are just the beginning: “Using data and human-centered design (HCD) techniques — and technologies currently being used in neurological research to better understand human needs — affective systems will be able to recognize a system user’s emotional state and the context behind it, and then respond appropriately.”

Human experience platforms employ a range of AI technologies like sentiment analysis, eye tracking, facial recognition and natural language processing to recognize and understand human emotion and, most significantly, respond to it in a natural, human-like way.

Deloitte gives us a practical example of how this could work:

“Imagine if you could walk into [a clothing retailer] and a bot appearing on the screen recognizes you and addresses you by name. This bot has been observing you walk around the store and has identified jackets you might love based on your mood today and your purchasing history. In this moment, technology engages you as an individual, and as a result, you experience this store in a very different, more human way. AI and affective technologies have scaled an experience with very human-like qualities to encompass an entire business environment.”

Each of these capabilities exists now in some form. Assembling them into an experience platform isn’t far off. Deloitte found that companies focusing on the human experience are already twice as likely to outperform their peers. They grow revenue 17 times faster than competitors that do not focus the human experience.

“The ability to leverage emotionally intelligent platforms to recognize and use emotional data at scale,” Deloitte predicts, “Will be one of the biggest, most important opportunities for companies going forward.”

Image: Deloitte Insights

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