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Bloomberg reports that Amazon is “developing a voice-activated wearable device that can recognize human emotions.”

The story says that “the wrist-worn gadget is described as a health and wellness product … Designed to work with a smartphone app, the device has microphones paired with software that can discern the wearer’s emotional state from the sound of his or her voice … Eventually the technology could be able to advise the wearer how to interact more effectively with others.”

The development group behind the program is the same one that worked on the Alexa-driven Echo smart speakers (which have been enormously successful), the story says, though that’s also the same group that developed the Amazon Fire smart phone (which was a huge flop).

And, some context from Bloomberg:

“The notion of building machines that can understand human emotions has long been a staple of science fiction, from stories by Isaac Asimov to Star Trek’s android Data. Amid advances in machine learning and voice and image recognition, the concept has recently marched toward reality. Companies including Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and IBM Corp., among a host of other firms, are developing technologies designed to derive emotional states from images, audio data and other inputs. Amazon has discussed publicly its desire to build a more lifelike voice assistant.”
KC's View:
Stories like these point out the degree to which companies like Amazon challenge our presumptions and assumptions about where technology can and will take us. On the one hand (and you’ll see mention of this below in “E-conomy Beat”) there are growing concerns about things like facial recognition technology and its impact on civil liberties, but at the same time we have Amazon developing technology that can detect and evaluate emotion in speech. Alexa-powered systems help us have smarter homes, but there are concerns about who is really listening, how often, and what they’re doing with what they hear and learn.

All legitimate concerns. Sometimes technology gives us Data (from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or the holographic doctor (from “Star Trek: Voyager”) or WALL-E or the Iron Giant. And sometimes technology gives us the HAL-9000 (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) or some form of Terminator or Yul Brynner’s robot from the original Westworld.

We’re going to need nuanced regulation by a government that is sophisticated and educated in such matters, and smart, responsible innovation by a business community that understands the lessons of Jurassic Park - that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. As citizens and consumers, we have to be smart and vigilant and open-minded.

Are we capable of this as a culture? I have no idea, though I’m not wildly confident.