Monday, January 16, 2006

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Using digital technology to detect emotions

Technology used to gauge human emotionsI was intrigued to read in the Boston Globe today about the latest use for speech recognition technology. NICE Systems, Inc., based in Israel, has created a system which combines digital voice recording with voice analysis capabilities, including emotion detection, to--among other things--help organizations manage telephone interactions with customers and clients more effectively.

NICE Perform, as NICE calls this multimedia system, enables organizations to record phone conversations for purposes of training and development of staff, as well as to gauge customer satisfaction and improve customer care.

This system has applications for the legal sphere as well—as a means of anticipating or predicting potential legal issues or liability. According to the NICE web site:

Legal advisors can assure compliance with regulations concerning storage and retrieval of interactions to meet legislative requirements, as well as receiving advance warning of possible legal problems by analyzing customer interactions. Repeated complaints or threats to sue might require changes in contracts or other legal remedies, and these can be implemented sooner due to insights gained from NICE Perform.

While all this is fascinating and also tremendously exciting, it is somehow disquieting as well for so many reasons.

There is something disturbing about utilizing speech recognition software to reveal what a man or woman is experiencing emotionally, what his or her state of mind may be, and what factors may be influencing his or her consumer habits. If employees depend on technology to recognize emotions or dissatisfaction in customers, rather than their own senses or experience, what cost is there to human interaction? And what does this mean as well for privacy, if any of our communications as consumers may potentially be digitally recorded, analyzed, and archived? Finally, what information, if any, will callers be given about the uses to which these recordings may be put, and what ethical obligations do organizations have to customers with respect to the uses of systems like this?

(Hmm, maybe conspiracy theorists are right: sometimes paranoia is just good common sense.)