Emotional analysis is now in the palm of your hand

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on January 23, 2014

From The News Desk

As I wrote about a few weeks earlier, emotional intelligence is one of those oddly burgeoning industries -- for better or for worse. Companies are emerging, hawking products products whose primary function is to deal with more internal and subjective human realms.

As I mentioned before, Beyond Verbal's technology fits perfectly into this category. The Tel Aviv-based startup has been working for years on a product that records vocal tracks and analyzes the emotional undertones. This has been available to test out online on Beyond's website, through a widget called "Moodies." Today, Beyond is announcing the release of its Moodies mobile app.

The point of both the Web and mobile app is not to sell its product to consumers, but to get the word out. Beyond wants people to see the intrinsic power of its technology and to cultivate new ideas for how to better utilize it. The company has had an open developer program for a few months now, and while it hasn't released too much information about what's being created through that, this app is a way for the company to build even more outside awareness of its capabilities.

"Our business model is not to keep this technology for our sake," Dan Emodi, Beyond's VP of marketing and strategic accounts, told me.

What we have here is a free iOS app that can listen in on your conversation and ostensibly analyze what you're really saying. It listens to voice tracks and uses algorithms to deduce the emotions of the speaker -- a great thing to do when having an emotional conversation with a lover, for instance, or just plain fun when eavesdropping on others in public space (which, by the way, is not something I'm suggesting).

As Emodi sees it, anyone can use the app the way they like. He recounted to me his spontaneous decision to record a conversation he was having with his kids, which he then played back. In his estimation, what started as an average parent-to-child lecture turned into a much more educational and illuminative experience for all parties. "The kids actually said," Emodi recounted, "'Hey father, you're too self-controlled here. You probably should have been more assertive.'" But really, what kid would actually say that to his father?

Emodi also mentioned how one woman has used the app to analyze her twelve pet cats. (Although, given that she houses a dozen cats, perhaps she is the person in need to deep analysis.) While Beyond can understand different languages it sadly cannot interpret cat meows, so it's unlikely any real feline conclusions were drawn. "[The woman] said the results were interesting," Emodi told me. Interesting, perhaps, for a cat lady.

I've been playing with the app myself for a few days now. In truth, I've had an odd nervousness about using it, whether with friends or even in situations when I'm calling someone and just want to hear my own voice. The most recurrent analysis is that I'm sad. This may only be the case because I'm using it "for research," as in I'm alone in a room gibbering away into my iPhone to see how an app works. It's possible the software can pick up on that.

Quite honestly, though, these kinds of programs scare me a bit. It's the old privacy issue. We're at an age technologically when companies are gathering endless personal data about people to do lord knows what. Companies like Beyond make it possible to extend this data to matters beyond personal accounts and finances. Beyond, it seems, isn't in this sort of data collection game, of course -- it just has a very novel product and wants the world to see it. But, it's also enlisting companies to use it -- big ones too. We can only guess what "megacorporations" can do with a device that accurately measures emotion.

But we're only in the nascent years of dystopia, so we might as well enjoy it while we can. Download the app; record your friends; cry on the inside thinking about the impending singularity doom.