The affective computer market is predicted to quadruple worldwide by 2020, with its current share increasing from £6.5 billion to £30 billion. This forecast surge in technology which can detect and appropriately respond to human emotion has been seen as a major breakthrough in e-commerce, with businesses being able to measure a product’s potential success on the strength of the positive/negative feelings it stirs in the user. Whilst businesses may benefit long-term from cyber analysis of our physical responses, what’s in it for us? 

Affective computing isn’t a new phenomenon, having been available for more than a decade. Facial expressions, posture, gestures and speech can all be gauged by this form of interactive technology. It can also detect force of rhythm of key strokes and temperature changes of hand on a mouse to decipher a user’s emotional state.

This receptive software has been used to build a number of B2B platforms. India-based Fibre2Fashion said affective computing has enabled clothes retailers to track human emotions and use the data to develop garments, sales, marketing and service. It means they can adapt merchandise in real time depending on the mood of the shopper. Audience receptivity can also be gauged during live streaming of fashion shows so clothes e-tailors can send responses to the buying and collection departments. By identifying the right emotions, it is said e-tailors are able to understand perceptions and what consumers prefer to wear at a particular time of year. For designers, this remote interactivity could prove an invaluable resource in helping spot what is likely to be hot or not in terms of fashion trends.

Affective computing could offer benefits in an almost limitless range of applications, some of which are geared to individual well-being, rather than further profiting big business. For example, in e-learning solutions, the computer can detect from available cues when the user is having difficulty and offer expanded explanations or additional information. Other applications include e-therapy: psychological health services, such as counselling, delivered online. However, it’s worth noting, internet-based therapy, although increasingly common, does not give a therapist as many cues to the client’s emotional state as are available in a real-world session.

Another, perhaps less obvious benefit of the rise of affective computing? It could one day see the demise of the keyboard warrior. After all, if a simple frown at a PC or tablet is enough to register disgust, why bother posting a grammatically-inept 140-character diatribe?

Those who fear affective computing provides further opportunity for a stealth-like grab for what little remains private of their personal profile shouldn’t let their emotions get the better of them. All the while we are in easy reach of the on/off switch; we can always shut that particular window of opportunity.

Leave a comment