Emotions and AI seem like polar opposites; natural enemies and competitors in the fight between humans and machines. However, some proponents of artificial intelligence are asking us to open up to our robot companions. But this isn’t about us understanding how they work, it’s about increasing the empathy of the machines that convenience our lives. But is this a worthwhile price to pay for increased efficiency? Fortune investigates.
Artificial intelligence requires us to draft a social contract with our technology, said Rana El Kaliouby, co-founder and CEO of emotion AI company Affectiva, who presented on emotion and AI at Fortune’s Brainstorm Reinvent conference in Chicago on Monday. We’ve got to trust it, she explained.
To build that trust between humans and technology, El Kaliouby said that empathy is key. In other words, machines have to understand the humans using them. When an Amazon Alexa doesn’t understand its owner’s request, it becomes quite frustrating to the user. El Kaliouby thinks that consumer frustration boils down to Alexa’s lack of empathy.
What if a computer could tell the difference between a smile and a smirk?
Rana El Kaliouby, Affectiva CEO
The face is the gateway to human emotion and interaction. Scientists have been studying facial emotions for hundreds of years. Building off of the work that psychologist Paul Ekman did by mapping facial muscles into action units, AI developers like El Kaliouby can today teach machines to recognize human emotion and react to it.