Technology & Innovation

The emotion economy in a machine world

By Sameet Gupte, CEO, Servion Global Solutions
Technology & Innovation
Published: 15 December 2017

The relationship between vendors and their customers has always been important. More recently, businesses have been able to better understand their customer by collecting data on past actions, and analysing that data to predict what each customer’s next action might be. However, this is just half of the puzzle when trying to understand what a customer will do. Today, we’ve come further than many thought possible for machines, as technology is being used to read, analyse and even replicate that missing piece – our emotions.

For organisations, it’s no longer just about understanding what we do, but understanding what we feel; this is the ‘emotion economy’, and recent advances in technology have already put us on the path towards it. Futurist Richard Yonck first coined the term, describing the emotion economy as an ecosystem of emotionally intelligent devices and software iterations that will completely change the way we interact with machines. Understanding how this ecosystem works, and learning how to draw value from it, will become vital to the success of any organisation that is looking to engage with customers and stay at the front of the pack amongst competitors.

Money on the mind
The reason that understanding emotion is attractive to businesses is because of the potential revenue streams it offers. Research firm markets and markets claim that the affective computing market, made up of technology that is designed to recognise, understand and simulate human emotion, is set to rise to $59 billion by 2021.

Many large tech firms have seen the potential of harnessing our emotions, and our feelings are already being analysed by a number of organisations, both large and small. Facebook began to lay the groundwork for a future in emotion with its ‘reactions’ functionality. This allows users to express themselves more flexibly on the platform, but more importantly for Facebook, it gives the company valuable data on its users’ reactions. Facebook can now give organisations advertising through the site a much richer picture of how consumers feel. This data can be used to personalise the service, showing users more of what they love, and improving each individual’s browsing experience.

Some organisations have already gone further than tracking emotions. Consequential Robotics has designed the MiRo robot as a programmable companion for the elderly, which is capable of letting relatives and carers know how its owner has been feeling in between visits. In another examples, BeyondVerbal, an AI-driven voice analytics firm, claims to be able to identify human emotions with 80 percent accuracy.

An essential emotion
The reason for this early adoption into the affective computing market is simple – businesses recognise the power emotions can have when it comes to fostering brand loyalty. Creating real emotional bonds will motivate customers to return to the same organisation, and give those capable of engaging with their customers a significant competitive edge. As more companies begin to invest in affective computing, businesses will be clamouring to claim a stake in the emotion economy, and emotion will become a key component for all businesses that interact with customers and users.

This shift in focus towards building emotional bonds between a brand and its customers will change the way businesses interact with us on a fundamental level. Soon, implementing technologies that are capable of detecting and analysing emotion will not just be a project for tech firms, but an essential for any organisation, as companies compete for the affection of customers.

Man vs machine
As businesses invest in the emotion economy, customer engagement is only going to improve the everyday experience for consumers – as technology will learn to anticipate our needs better, and engage with us in a more natural way. One of the key differentiators between man and machine has always been that we can understand and interpret emotion, but this will not remain in the human domain. While it might seem alien now to be talking about emotionally engaging with a machine, the technology that we interact with in just a few years will be a far cry from the majority of modern chatbots.

These smarter, emotive machines will quickly surpass modern automated technology in customer service; eliminating the flawed, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that”, functionality of many virtual assistants present today. Machines will be able to analyse tone, facial expressions and language to determine how best to handle a certain person or interaction – an algorithm the human brain has developed over millions of years in order to survive and avoid danger.

Emotional intelligence
The scope for emotive interactions is enormous. From an AI recognising an upset customer over the phone to advanced robotic assistants such as Pepper. Pepper can recognise human emotions by analysing changes in tone of voice, facial expressions, body language and the type of words used, and can be programmed to respond accordingly. Pepper has already been rolled out in 100 branches of Mizuho Bank in Japan, where it handles customer service queries. In the not-so-distant future, virtual and robotic assistants will be the norm, catering each interaction to the customer, and building relationships with humans that were previously the stuff of science fiction.

As data analysis and AI evolve beyond tracking the ‘who, what, when and where’, affective computing will continue to pick up steam. Consumers will soon be dealing with an influx of intelligent, emotive assistants that will transform the way we interact with technology. This age of emotion is set to transform everything we know about the human/machine relationship.

For organisations, the race is on to discover the best way to utilise advances in affective computing. Those who can carve out a niche will reap the benefits, as they drastically improve the customer experience, building stronger relationships with customers than ever before. However, businesses that don’t invest in the emotion economy will be left scrambling to catch up, as customers decide with their hearts, not their minds.