Amazon Developing Device That Can Recognize Human Emotions

Amazon is developing a voice-activated gadget that can recognize human emotions. 

The wrist-worn device is described as a health and wellness product according to internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg, which is being developed in partnership with Lab126, the group behind Amazon's Fire phone and Echo smart speaker. The Alexa voice software team is also involved

Designed to work with a smartphone app, the device has microphones paired with software that can discern the wearer’s emotional state from the sound of his or her voice, according to the documents and a person familiar with the program. Eventually the technology could be able to advise the wearer how to interact more effectively with others, the documents show. -Bloomberg

It is unknown how far along the project is, or if the device code-named "Dylan" will ever be brought to market - however work on the project was ongoing recently according to the documents as well as Bloomberg's source. It is currently being beta tested, though "it's unclear whether the trial includes prototype hardware, the emotion-detecting software, or both," according to the report. 

Machines that can understand human emotion has been a longtime theme in science fiction - from Star Trek's Data, to 'Mike' from Robert Heinlein's 1966 The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

And now, once again, science fiction may become reality, as companies such as Microsoft, Google and IBM - and many others - are developing technologies to decipher emotional states from imagery, audio data and other inputs. Amazon, for example, has discussed a desire to build a more lifelike voice assistant - a technology which could help the company better serve health needs, and of course, better advertise

As Bloomberg noted last month, Amazon has a team of employees listening in on and annotating audio clips captured by the company's popular Echo line of voice-activated products. 

A U.S. patent filed in 2017 describes a system in which voice software uses analysis of vocal patterns to determine how a user is feeling, discerning among “joy, anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, disgust, boredom, stress, or other emotional states.” The patent, made public last year, suggests Amazon could use knowledge of a user’s emotions to recommend products or otherwise tailor responses.

A diagram in the patent filing says the technology can detect an abnormal emotional condition and shows a sniffling woman telling Alexa she’s hungry. The digital assistant, picking up that she has a cold, asks the woman if she would like a recipe for chicken soup. -Bloomberg

Another patent granted to Amazon describes a system to distinguish the wearer's speech from background noises, which will be able to be integrated in the wearable device. 

Amazon had tried making inroads into the world of smartphones to rival Apple and Google, however those efforts have thus far been unsuccessful. Instead, the company has ventured into other areas - such as wireless earbuds that are expected to integrate Alexa voice software, as well as a dashboard-mounted Echo Auto for which the company says they already have 1 million pre-orders.

Amazon has also been working on a domestic robot, Bloomberg reported last year. Codenamed “Vesta,” after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the bot could be a kind of mobile Alexa, according to people familiar with the project. Prototypes of the robot can navigate through homes like a self-driving car. -Bloomberg

Perhaps Amazon will team up with Japanese-owned Boston Dynamics down the road for attentive, emotion sensing robot butlers. Or assassins who feel guilt after servicing a target.