My 'Sentiment Analysis App' was a Joke, MIT's Work on Affective Computing Clearly is Not

By Peter Bernstein April 18, 2012

 “Wow!” Is a word I reserve for special occasions when something really astonishes me. This is one of them. On April Fool’s Day I wrote a piece, “MIT Media Labs Reveals Electronic Sentiment Analysis App that Really Works.” It involved breakthrough technology I fictionalized as coming from the MIT Media Labs that would allow for the creation of a smartphone app that people could use to evaluate whether somebody was full of themselves, full of it or full of love. It was a complete figment of my imagination.   As you will see unfortunately I did not contact them. What follows is not so much a retraction as a tip of the hat toward the ingenuity of others.

It all started today when I read with more than a bit of surprise the following posting by Lauren Landry of one of my favorite sites BostInno.com. It is entitled, “Forget Emoticons: 7 Technologies at MIT That Can Recognize Your Emotions.” As I said above, WOW! Who knew?

I am not going to spoil you fun of reading the entire Landry piece. However, here is a taste:

In an effort to salvage everyday emotions, the Affective Computing Research Group in the MIT Media Lab has been developing computers that can read facial expressions, electronic bracelets that can detect stress and guitars that respond to emotions conveyed through gestures.

“Emotion measurement technology will be soon ubiquitous,” said research scientist Rana El Kaliouby to BBC News. “It will allow people to communicate in new different ways. It’s a kind of very sophisticated version of the ‘Like’ button on Facebook.”

As noted, you also ought to check out the BBC News great video on this. And, read the descriptions of seven other projects from MIT that are/were related to the subject.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Check out the full list of the Affective Computing Group’s projects.

With the talk of the U.S. losing its innovation edge, and while I admire the heck out of the crew at MIT, it would be interesting to take stock of all the “affective” (things relating to moods, feelings and attitudes), going on at other major research facilities in the private sector and academia on the subject. I suspect that truth may be much stranger than fiction. That would be a good thing.  It probably has significant commercial value going forward as well.

Time to start thinking about something completely different. Next time I come up with something whimsical before I hit publish I am going to check and make sure it has not been invented.




Edited by Juliana Kenny
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