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What Emotion-Reading Technology Means for Us

You may not believe this—but word just got out that Amazon.com Inc. is working on a smart device that can read human emotions. That’s right. This is not science fiction. In fact, the technology may be able to discern your emotional or personal needs before you do. An example of an interaction might go something like this:

You: “Alexa,” (sniff), “I’m hungry.” (cough, cough).

Alexa: “Would you like a recipe for chicken soup?”

You: (in a melancholy tone) “No, thanks.”

Alexa: “OK, I can find something else. By the way—would you like me to order cough drops that can be delivered in an hour?”

You: “That would be awesome!”

Alexa: “I will order them now. Until then, I’ll play something to cheer you up.”

Can Smart Devices Be Emotionally Intelligent?

“A U.S. patent filed in 2017 describes a system in which voice software uses analysis of vocal patterns to determine how a user is feeling, discerning among ‘joy, anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, disgust, boredom, stress, or other emotional states.’ The patent, made public last year, suggests Amazon could use knowledge of a user’s emotions to recommend products or otherwise tailor responses,” according to Bloomberg journalist Matt Day.

The technology is also sensitive to any abnormal sounds like sniffling, coughing, wheezing, or sneezing. It’s virtually a being who is empathetic toward people.

“Designed to work with a smartphone app, the device has microphones paired with software that can discern the wearer’s emotional state from the sound of his or her voice, according to the documents and a person familiar with the program,” says the Bloomberg report.

What’s In It For Us?

This idea of robots reading the emotions of humans has historically been the topic of science fiction novels or shows. Rosie, from the Jetsons, comes to mind. “Amazon has also been working on a domestic robot, Bloomberg reported last year. Code-named ‘Vesta,’ after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the bot could be a kind of mobile Alexa, according to people familiar with the project. Prototypes of the robot can navigate through homes like a self-driving car.”

Now, here’s the clincher:

“Eventually the technology could be able to advise the wearer how to interact more effectively with others, the documents show.”

Incredible.

If this is, indeed, true, then portable devices or robots would be instructing us on empathy, before another human does. We’d learn issues of the heart from a machine.

While I love the idea of smart technology, this could be tragic.

We Must Decide How to Capitalize On It

My questions are: will this further slow our own development of emotional intelligence? Will we fail in our EQ because we don’t need it anymore? In the same way we no longer remember phone numbers like we used to, or have the patience to wait very long for answers to our questions (thanks to smart phones), will this further dehumanize humans as we depend upon a machine to “act human?”

Or, will this software actually equip us to be more emotionally intelligent, leveraging it as a teacher? Could it genuinely accomplish what many parents are failing to do, preparing today’s emerging generation?

We must decide how to remain smart in this world of smart technology.


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