Affectiva plays with your emotions. Their platform, which monitors and measures emotions and emotional responses, works through measuring arousal and valence of facial expressions. Arousal is a measure of physical excitation, ranging from calm to excited, and valence measures the positivity or negativity of a reaction to stimuli.
The company came to life in the MIT media lab under Rana el Kaliouby, CTO of Affectiva, which was named one of the top 100 innovations of 2006 by The New York Times.
Affectiva has just raised a $12M Series C funding round led by Li Ka-Shing’s Horizon Ventures as well as Kleiner’s Digital Growth Fund. Both funds have significant ties into Facebook, and although they have no current plans for syncing up, Rana admits that “the Like button is antiquated.” A potential future pairing may be imminent, with Facebook already expressing an interest in facial recognition software with its purchase of Face.com. It’s something even Microsoft has been eyeing up, in the form of a “mood monitoring” patent in June, which would target ads to a website visitor’s emotions.
Their prize technology, which has the most potential for applications online, is called Affdex. “It identifies facial features and looks for facial expressions,” says Rana and is able to tell, “Did you really like it?” The webcam based algorithm can identify enjoyment, boredom, interest, and disgust by measuring small movements of the on-cam face.
Rana says it’s “the next version of the Like button” and uses a webcam to record facial reactions while watching a video, movie, or simply observing content. The Affdex takes in that info from your recorded facial expressions, measured emotional responses are then processed and displayed alongside the video. It’s pretty neat stuff. I watched a few of the Super Bowl ads on their site with Affdex turned on, and it seems pretty accurate in terms of how I was generally reacting to stimuli in the video – although it doesn’t deal well when faced with a general sour face, I found.
Affectiva also works through their wearable Q sensor, a wristband for measuring arousal from the central nervous system and can measure valence, when plugged into their webcam system.
Affdex has the possibility to deeply influence the future of marketing. Instead of having people measuring their own reactions to movies or videos as test subjects in a room, Rana believes this gives a much more sincere response where users can be measured at home.
Beyond just marketing, Rana says that it’s also just a fun way to share personal and genuine reactions to content – hopefully killing the need for emoji ever again. But it also has earnest applications as a way for non-verbal communication for those afflicted with autism – which was its original goal.
The one issue with Affectiva’s Affdex is that if you select it to work, it actively assesses the your true emotions – something that not everyone may want to published. Although, the technology is completely opt-in – your camera won’t turn on until you agree to the terms – it opens up a whole new segment of awkward interactions that may occur from someone knowing your true feelings toward them or what they’re saying.