Apple Inc. Buys AI Startup That Reads People’s Emotions

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Apple acquired Emotient, an artificial intelligence (AI) technology startup that reads people’s emotions by analyzing their facial expressions, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

A spokesperson for the Cupertino-based tech giant confirmed the acquisition with the standard statement that Apple “buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we do not discuss our purpose or plans.” The spokesperson refused to provide further details regarding the transaction.

Apple is interested in artificial intelligence

Apple is interested in the field of artificial intelligence. In September, it was reported that the tech giant increased its efforts in hiring AI experts, particularly in machine learning to help develop smarter phones.

In October, Apple acquired VocalIQ Ltd., another AI startup, to improve the ability of its computers to understand natural speech.

In 2014, Apple submitted a patent application for a software system that can analyze and identify people’s moods based on various clues such as facial expression.

About Emotient’s technology

Emotient recently raised $8 million from investors including Intel Capital. The startup was trying to seek a new round of financing from venture capital firms but failed to secure favorable terms, according to people familiar with the situation.

In May, the AI startup announced the approval of its patent for a method of collecting and labeling as many as 100,000 facial images per day. The process allows computers to recognize different facial expressions better.

In its website, Emotion claims to a leader in emotion detection and sentiment analysis based on facial expressions. Its cloud-based services provide a direct measurement of a customer’s unfiltered response to ads, content, products, customer service or sales interactions.

Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist who pioneered the study of reading faces to determine emotions, serve as an adviser to Emotient. He expressed concern regarding the power of Emotient’s technology to read emotions and its obligation to ensure that it does not violate personal privacy.

In a previous interview with the Wall Street Journal, he explained that the technology could reveal people’s emotions without their consent, and there is a possibility of misinterpretation of their feeling.

On Wednesday, Dr. Ekman said his concerns about the technology remains, which prompted him to push Emotient to inform people that it is scanning their faces in public places. The startup did not agree to his recommendation. A spokesperson for Emotion said the startup only discloses aggregate data and keeps individuals information private.

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