Apple Acquires AI Firm Emotient, Their Tech Can Read Emotion In Facial Expressions

Stephen Jordan

Apple Inc. seems to recognize the fact that studying facial expressions is a very big topic of interest for many technology companies. Which is why the company recently acquired the San Diego-based tech company Emotient, a startup that employs artificial intelligence technology to read emotion from facial cues, reports the Wall Street Journal. What Apple intends to do with the startup company, specifically, is not yet known; however, it is safe to assume that whatever the end result is, it will be something of a game changer.

Emotient's AI technology, up to this point, has primarily been used by doctors, advertisers, and retailers. The startup company was in the process of raising additional funds, but those endeavors proved to be unsuccessful. Emotient was able to raise a total of $8 million from various investors, like Seth Neiman and Intel Capital.

It looks like funding won't be much of a problem now that they have been acquired by Apple -- a purchase that should not be all that surprising. In an email, the company was only willing to be vague about the purchase.

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."

AI and the possibilities of what can be done with it, specifically the analysis of human faces, has been an increasingly popular topic of conversation within the last couple of years in the Silicon Valley. Industry heavyweights like Google and Facebook have been investing in AI and image recognition, and Facebook has been experimenting with their facial recognition capabilities.

But using AI to detect human emotion by analyzing facial expressions is not just something being sought after by the Silicon Valley crowed. Tech companies in general are gaining more and more interest in this topic. Companies like Affectiva are working together with retailers and brands to help them with any number of different things, like being able to stop a shopper from shoplifting by picking up on facial cues, or determining what a consumer thinks of a particular product they're looking at. Such efforts could also be geared towards figuring out whether or not a patron is enjoying the meal they are eating. This type of AI experimentation could lead to a very large array of uses and applications in everyday life.

Apple purchasing Emotient is not their first time getting involved in the artificial intelligence field. Last October, Apple confirmed that they had acquired VocalIQ, a company with technology that can help computers better understand natural speech. But acquiring both VocalIQ and Emotient is quite telling. It could very well mean that Apple is working a special kind of software that can accurately understand your reactions and moods.

Emotient was founded by six researchers from the University of California, and was granted patents that covered areas like the use of AI to read images and determine whether or not one particular person would be found attractive by another person. An additional patent includes systems for deciphering the tone of a conversation, and being able to suggest what can be done or said to improve the rapport of the conversation.

The San Diego-based Emotient describes itself as such on its website:

"Emotient is the leader in emotion detection and sentiment analysis, part of a neuromarketing wave that is driving a quantum leap in customer understanding. Our services quantify emotional response, leading to insights and actions that improves your products and how you market them."