Emotional intelligence for smartphones?

Engineers have developed a new computer program that gauges human feelings through speech, bringing the prospect of a phone that can pick up on your mood and, say, play you music to match.

The University of Rochester program doesn’t look at the meaning of the words, but instead analyzes 12 features of speech, such as pitch and volume, to identify one of six emotions from a sound recording.

“We actually used recordings of actors reading out the date of the month – it really doesn’t matter what they say, it’s how they’re saying it that we’re interested in,” says Wendi Heinzelman, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The system analyzed new recordings and tried to determine whether the voice in the recording portrayed any of the known emotions. If the computer program was unable to decide between two or more emotions, it just left that recording unclassified.

“We want to be confident that when the computer thinks the recorded speech reflects a particular emotion, it is very likely it is indeed portraying this emotion,” explains Heinzelman.

And, claims the team,the program reached 81 percent accuracy – a significant improvement on the 55 percent managed by earlier studies.

The team’s prototype displays either a happy or sad face after it records and analyzes the user’s voice – but more complex applications are possible.

“The research is still in its early days, but it is easy to envision a more complex app that could use this technology for everything from adjusting the colors displayed on your mobile to playing music fitting to how you’re feeling after recording your voice,” says Heinzelman.