How AI Could Track and Use Your Emotions

Companies are using it to better understand people

Key Takeaways

  • Artificial intelligence systems are increasingly monitoring human emotions.
  • Your emotions could potentially be tracked using your Wi-Fi router, according to a new study from London’s Queen Mary University.
  • Over 60% of US companies use AI in their marketing, one expert said.
human face in a digital space
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Artificial intelligence can now gauge human emotions, and it’s being used in everything from education to marketing, experts say. 

Your emotions could potentially be tracked using your Wi-Fi router and analyzed by AI, according to a new study from London’s Queen Mary University. Researchers used radio waves like those used in Wi-Fi to measure heart and breathing rate signals, which could determine how a person is feeling. The study shows just how pervasive emotion-monitoring could become.

"In education, AI could be used in adapting content to serve the needs of each child best," Kamilė Jokubaitė, CEO and founder of Attention Insight, who was not involved in the study, said in an email interview. "For example, when the child shows frustration because a task is too difficult, the program adjusts the task to become less challenging."

Wi-Fi Reveals All

For the recent study, participants were asked to watch a video selected by researchers for its ability to evoke one of four basic emotion types: anger, sadness, joy, and pleasure. While the individual was watching the video, the researchers emitted radio signals, like those transmitted from any Wi-Fi system, towards the person and measured the signals that bounced off them.

The researchers were able to reveal information about an individual’s heart and breathing rates by analyzing changes to these signals caused by slight body movements. The signals were then analyzed using AI.

"It’s impossible to gauge emotion through text, but it is possible to measure sentiment based on data such as past behavior and content."

"Being able to detect emotions using wireless systems is a topic of increasing interest for researchers, as it offers an alternative to bulky sensors and could be directly applicable in future ‘smart’ home and building environments," said Noor Khan, one of the paper’s authors, in a news release. "In this study, we’ve built on existing work using radio waves to detect emotions and show that the use of deep learning techniques can improve the accuracy of our results."

Traditionally, emotion detection has relied on the assessment of visible signals such as facial expressions, speech, body gestures, or eye movements, the study’s authors said in their paper. But these methods can be unreliable, as they don’t always capture an individual’s internal emotions. Researchers are increasingly looking towards "invisible" signals, such as ECG, to understand emotions. Using a combination of AI and radio signal could be even more effective, the researchers said.

Companies Are Using AI to Monitor Your Feelings

Observers say AI is already predicting human behavior. Over 60% of US companies use AI in their marketing, Matt Bertram, CEO of EWR Digital, said in an email interview. "With the assistance of AI, marketers are relying less on assumptions and more on data-driven insights to predict customer behavior both in the present and in the future," he added. 

AI is helping companies predict customer intent and provide personalized marketing with customized product recommendations, Bertram said. 

"Going a step further," he said, "customer sentiment data harvested from social media can identify patterns to allow customer behavior to be predicted months in advance." 

"Being able to detect emotions using wireless systems is a topic of increasing interest for researchers."

Facial emotion recognition systems powered by AI are used in the automotive industry to assess drivers emotions and provide needed assistance, Jokubaitė said. 

Predicting human attention is already possible with predictive eye-tracking. AI-powered eye-tracking analytics that lets developers assess design element visibility during a website or advertisement development process, Jokubaitė added. "Thus, brands can easily get deeper insights into their audience viewing patterns and easily test and optimize different creative concepts for maximum engagement."

The network of a city in New York
Frank Lee / Getty Images

AI is likely to be watching our emotions even more in the future, experts say. 

"As we enter into an increasingly predictive economy, AI is creating a new form of listening, anticipating, predicting, and reacting," Aaron Kwittken, founder and CEO of PRophet, an AI software firm, said in an email interview. "It’s impossible to gauge emotion through text, but it is possible to measure sentiment based on data such as past behavior and content."

But, Kwittken cautioned, while AI-emotion reading technology could be useful, he added that "it is not a replacement for human instinct and judgment."

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