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The Coming Era of Emotional Machines

Emotion AI is growing rapidly and will bring many changes to our society.

You have a report deadline in 20 minutes, and your software keeps incorrectly reformatting your document. Or you're driving along when another car cuts you off at the intersection. Or you're upset at your boss and decide to finally tell him how you really feel about him in an email.

Wouldn't it be great if technology could detect your feelings and step in to fix the problem, prevent you from doing something dangerous, or point out the benefits of holding onto your job?

Welcome to the world of affective computing, otherwise known as artificial emotional intelligence, or Emotion AI. Rapidly being incorporated into everything from market research testing to automotive interfaces to chatbots and social robotics, this is a branch of AI that will continue to rapidly grow over the next few decades. According to research group Markets and Markets, they expect the global affective computing market to grow from $12.20 billion in 2016 to $53.98 billion by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.7 percent.

For decades, we have become increasingly dependent on our computers and other devices to perform tasks and make our lives easier. Along the way, these machines have not only improved in performance, but have also gained some degree of intelligence, as well — artificial intelligence, that is. While AI has allowed technology to become highly capable at some tasks, such as pattern recognition, there remain many ways our systems continue to come up short. But having a better sense of the user's state of mind would go a long way to knowing what the user wants, even before they know it themselves.

Needless to say, while new technology such as this has huge potential for improving our lives, there are also many ways it could be turned to negative uses. As explored in my book, Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence, this field probably brings as many risks as it does opportunities. Emotionally aware systems and robots will find many roles in health care, education, autism detection and therapy, politics, law enforcement, the military, and more. Yet each will bring challenges as well. Issues of privacy, emotional manipulation, and self-determination will definitely come into play. As these systems become increasingly accurate and ubiquitous throughout our environment, the challenges and the stakes will rise. Anticipating these and acting to mitigate the negative repercussions will be our best course to ensuring a safer and more ethical future.


Yonck, R. (2017) Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence. Arcade Publishing, NY.