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Is Emotion AI only Hype or is it a Reality

If anything can supersede the hype around artificial intelligence (AI) than it is probably Emotion AI, the irony is that the latter is the subset of AI itself. The hype around emotion AI revolves around the excitement of witnessing the mass infiltration of machines into complex world of human emotions.

For too long machines have been considered as a beast that can interpret & simplify complex data but miserably falls short of replicating the same magic in the area of human emotion. However, this hypothesis and assumption is now being challenged by artificial intelligence.

Emotion Ai is essentially one of emerging areas of AI where machines seek to analyze and comprehend human emotions by judging facial expressions, body language, gestures, voice tone so and so forth.        

Emotion AI is one of the rapidly emerging areas in Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence’s attempt to demystify the world of human emotions isn’t surprising, considering that intelligence and emotion are somehow interracially linked.  Since both are contradictory in nature and characteristics, their union often evokes surreal feeling and palpable excitement.

AI took the first baby steps to comprehend the topsy curvy world of human emotions in 1995, when MIT media lab professor Rosalind Picard published a research paper on ‘Affective Computing.’ One of the motives of the research paper was to give machines the power of emotional intelligence and thereby give them the ability to respond to human emotions.

The above statement also pretty much sums up pursuit of emotion ai. It is basically allowing machines to interpret the emotional state of humans and eventually adapt its behavior to give an appropriate response to their emotions.

This article will seek to look into both sides of the argument. Giving much needed credence to hysteria around emotion AI and at the same time balancing it with a more practical view to put things little bit in perspective.

Big companies and organizations are relying on emotion AI

Although emotion AI is still in the nascent stage, big companies and organizations haven’t really shied away from lapping up this technology. If anything, they claim that this nascent technology has already started giving them awesome results and this is propelling them to invest more aggressively in this potentially promising technology.

Emotion AI basically seek to analyze and comprehend different human emotions

Let us take the fine example of Amazon and Unilever, both big and respected companies in their respective fields.

In 2016, Amazon rolled out its cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) computer vision platform called Amazon Rekognition. Among many other functions, this product profusely leverages the power of AI to detect varied human emotions in a photo or video.

Although it is still way too early to tag Rekognition as a success or failure, it has been quite well received by marketing and advertising companies. Success and failure of these companies pretty much hinge on how far they can go really deep into their consumer’s mind. Therefore face recognition and sentiment analysis tool like Rekognition has been a welcome convenience for them.

By the way, the outreach of this convenience is not limited to marketing and advertising companies alone since amazon’s face recognition tool is also been enthusiastically used by several law enforcement agencies, finance companies as well as different companies across the sector.

Coming to the example of Unilever then the company has been pretty boastful about smoothly integrating the capabilities of emotion AI into its HR activities. The FMGC Company claims that by using pre-employment assessment platform, it managed to save whopping 10,000 hours of human recruitment time last year.

The platform was obviously an AI-oriented one, developed by a third party company called HireVue. The platform scans candidates’ facial expressions, body language and word choice to determine whether they are deserving for the post or not.

Unilever is certainly not the only big company to use the power of emotion AI. A cursory glance at HireVue’s official website shows that other big companies like Vodafone, Ikea and Blackbaud are active customers of this platform.

This is actually only tip of the ice berg as far as how companies are going board in adapting Ai’s profound capabilities in sentiment analysis. Scratch the surface a bit and one will be surprised to know that even several fortune 500 companies are availing these services.

But critics are still not convinced about emotion AI capabilities

Every product or services that come with unassailable hype have to invariably cope with unforgiving critics. Emotion Ai obviously hasn’t managed to remain immune to such critics. One such prominent critic has been Lisa Feldman Barrett, professor of psychology at Northeastern University.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, professor of psychology at Northeastern University.

Barrett is widely hailed as one of the world’s most leading experts on psychology of emotions. She has often minced no words in claiming that AI systems that claim to accurately read facial expressions are based on outdated science and risks being completely unreliable and discriminatory.

Barrett argues that there is a growing body of evidence to conclusively claim that facial expressions & body languages not only vary across different cultures but also within the same culture. This universal fact has been completely disregarded by companies that pride themselves for using cutting edge technologies like emotion AI, she adds.

She tries to drive this point by claiming that researches have found near about 30% people across western countries scowl when they are angry. However, researches carried out in other regions with different cultural habits are likely to show altogether different results, with significantly more or less people scowling when they are angry

Barrett is not alone in bringing out the heterogeneity in the way humans express their emotions. There are scores of psychologists who strongly back her up on this hypothesis.

Even if we choose to remove psychologists for a moment and look at this hypothesis purely from the layman point of view, it is still tough not to get convinced about heterogeneous and diverse ways humans express their emotions across the culture.

For instance, people living in religiously conservative countries like India and Pakistan are more like to more underwhelming and reticent in expressing their emotions. On other hand, western countries, which are comparatively non-religious and open societies, are more prone to express their emotions unabashedly.

This is not to dispute that human emotions are universal but their expression isn’t. Emotions are characterized by different shades and milieu when it comes to expression.

Broadly, critics point out at following drawbacks in emotion AI

  • Expression of human emotions not only varies across different cultures but also within the same culture.


  • Hypothesis that human emotions are expressed almost homogenously is a classic case of being too over-simplistic.


  • Unlike data and statistics, human emotions are way too complex for machines to decipher accurately.


Conclusion:  Notwithstanding the hype around emotion AI, there is little doubt that this ambitious project is still work in progress. It will probably take many more years for emotion AI to understand and accurately comprehend the intricacies of human emotions. And we simply cannot rule out that this hypothesis won’t fructify into a reality, since over the decades technology has often managed to shock mortal humans with its astounding achievements.

Today we are living in times when even our gigantic aspiration to build a human colony on Mars has started to appear in the realm of possibility. Therefore, who knows, in future emotion AI might as well shock us by precisely analyzing human emotions more accurately than we could ever imagine.

Until then it would be too early to decisively conclude whether emotion AI is a reality or hype.


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