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The Future of Emotion AI & The Empathy Economy - Insights From SXSW 2021 (Part 3)

- 12 Apr 2021 by Yehezkiel Faoma Taslim

It was an honor to represent Indonesia in the SXSW 2021! We met lots of wonderful connections from around the world and visited innovative booths by startups from various industries.

The most exciting part, though, was getting valuable insight straight from subject matter experts on key issues in people and technology.

In this special series, we want to share with you the essence of some of the most brilliant conference sessions and keynote speeches in SXSW 2021.

The Future of Emotion AI & The Empathy Economy

An AI-driven economy based on empathy? For many of us who attended this talk, it must be the first time hearing those three words so close together. This brilliant session, titled The Future of Emotion AI & The Empathy Economy, was delivered by Rana el Kaliouby, Ph.D., Co-Founder and CEO of Affectiva, a company developing Emotion AI.


Emotion AI = EQ + IQ + Technology


Emotion AI is what you get when you combine EQ (emotional intelligence) with IQ and technology, explained Dr. Rana, and she believes that it is the key to an empathy economy, where businesses could genuinely connect with stakeholders at an emotional level.

Humanizing Technology

As AI takes over more roles and technology grows ever more involved in our lives (especially due to COVID-19) there is a real need to ‘humanize’ technology.

We communicate with others using only 10% words and a whopping 90% nonverbal communication — rising eyebrows, a tap on the shoulder, small nods. When we move online, that 90% of meaning is lost even with video. This makes it more difficult to keep employees motivated and engaged, and to communicate to customers/communities and stay connected.

What if we could capture that 90% of nuances in communication, all the social cues and hints of emotions? This is what an Emotion AI does — quantifying emotions — and it’s giving rise to an empathy economy that gives value to organizations who practice and use AI for empathy.

Using AI In The Empathy Economy

1. Engage & Understand Consumers

Dr. Rana illustrated how difficult it was to gauge the audience’s reaction during her SXSW talk since it was online. Companies also face the same problem to a degree, in that they can’t really see their consumers’ reaction to their offerings or campaigns.

Emotion AI can help in media analytics and market research by allowing companies to understand their consumers. By measuring facial expressions (after allowing permissions) the AI can detect moment-by-moment response to an ad and determine which parts are the most entertaining or engaging for the consumer.

The same principle can be applied to designing UX. If the AI detects that you look frustrated in certain parts of the website or app, it can use the data to tell developers how to create better user experience.

2. Employee Experience & Mental Health

Besides consumers, Emotion AI can be utilized to understand and improve experience for employees. In call centers, an AI can detect stress levels in a caller’s voice, reroute it to the best agents available, and avoid agents who are already fatigued.

The same principle can be applied to help us empathize better with employees, especially since we can’t detect burnout when we’re not face to face. An Emotion AI can measure employees’ emotional and mental state over time and provide early warning when the numbers deviate from the ‘normal’ levels, so leaders can take action for the employees’ well-being.

3. Conversational Interfacing

Humanizing technology includes a shift from a transactional interface (merely input and output) to a conversational interface, one you can have meaningful interactions with. Think chatbots, Siri, or Alexa, but much more sophisticated.

By giving AI emotional intelligence, they can utilize the information gathered about you (tone, mood, mental state) and connect with you on an emotional level. This allows the AI to understand you, give you the right recommendations, and support you to be more motivated, happy, and productive.

4. Connect Emotionally, Virtually

Earlier we mentioned how 90% of nonverbal meaning gets lost in virtual communication. The Emotion AI’s ability to quantify emotions could be the answer to making virtual communication as meaningful as physical communication.

In virtual learning, AI helps teachers understand and engage with their students as if in a real classroom by measuring engagement levels, attention, and so forth, so that the teacher can address each student’s needs accordingly.

Dr. Rana shared a recent case study regarding how Emotion AI helps children with autism, who often struggle perceiving other people’s emotions. Implemented similar to Google Glass, the Emotion AI helps these to understand people’s emotions via facial recognition, giving real-time information on what their conversational partner may feel or think based on nonverbal cues. The results were overwhelmingly positive in helping them better understand and communicate with other people.

Empathy is also important in telehealth and doctor-patient interaction (bedside manner). The main problem with virtual consultation services that popped up recently is the distance it creates between patient and psychiatrist. Emotion AI helps bridging that gap so doctors can understand and empathize with their patients and serve them better.

The Future

There is still a long way to go in the realization of an empathy economy. Besides technology and research, there are ethical and moral considerations, such as the risk of bias in AI. But the development of Emotion AI is advancing and we can be confident that conversational interface will be the new norm in the future, so that technology doesn’t only improve human-machine interaction, but also human-human interaction.

Insights From SXSW

And that concludes our special series on insights from SXSW! It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with and introduce Dreamtalent's assessment and recruitment solutions to brilliant minds from all over the world.

Till next time!

Read part 1 here: The Empathetic Workplace

Read part 2 here: Fighting Unconscious Bias In AI With Diversity