The Technology That Could Help Improve Employee Engagement

Danielle Beurteaux

affective-computingThe big news in recent Apple acquisitions was the company’s deal to purchase Emotient, an emotional intelligence company that uses facial recognition technology to interpret emotions. Emotient’s products were developed for commercial applications, like advertising. “Micro emotions” are analyzed and then converted into data that can be used to do things like score a commercial for effectiveness or for market research. Emotient is also able to keep the actual faces private, according to a recent patent application, which would help for instances when the technology is deployed in public, like judging passerbys’ reaction to an ad in a shopping mall.

What’s Apple’s interest? The ability to read faces has great potential for everything from its own advertising, stores, Siri, and product testing, to products involving social media, health… the list goes on.

Affective computing, as it’s known, has recently seen much improvement. A few decades in the making, there are now several companies working on a more sophisticated reading of our emotions which could be applied to a whole range of applications, not all of them quite so commercial. But a leader in this technology, Affectiva, has a product called Affdex which was developed in MIT’s MediaLab. The private sector was already interested in its potential early on – the developers were fielding interest from the likes of Unilever and Samsung, even while it was still in development. Since its release, it’s been used for TV shows, film trailers, and ads.

The market for affective computing is predicted to grow to $42.5 billion by 2020.

Could affective computing technology help companies become more competitive and better places to work? Think about:

  • Using this technology to measure employee emotions and engagement, and then using the results to make changes in the workplace.
  • Implementing more effective team building procedures.

Affective computing applications aren’t quite at the point where we’ll be seeing them incorporated into every cubicle. For one thing, you can justifiably question their accuracy and point – emotions aren’t consistent, representative, and there are cultural differences in, for example, how much smiling is going on. Affdex found that there are gender differences in male and female smilers in the US and France, but none in the UK.

But, as MIT’s Rosalind Picard, the academic who coined the term affective computing, told The Telegraph, “The age of emotional machines – it’s coming.” So one day your biggest job advantage might be your emotions.

For more insight on how to help your companies flourish, see Engaged Employees Are Your Business.


Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.