When we think about artificial intelligence, it’s usually something involving robot overloads and the answer to how many tablespoons are in a cup. Less often do we think about their emotional intelligence, something so intrinsic to human interaction that we take it for granted.

SwissCognitivePamela Pavliscak, CEO of Change Sciences to took the stage at TNW Conference 2018 to discuss the “emotion revolution” we’ll see in our machines and software within the next years. For AI and virtual assistants to make the most positive impact, they’ll need to know how to understand and behave within the framework of our very human emotional cues.

This concept isn’t new; technology companies have tried to humanize technology for ages, to varying degrees of success. One of the most infamous examples is Microsoft’s Clippy – an early example of virtual assistant that might’ve been ahead of its own time. “Clippy lacked emotional intelligence, and didn’t learn from you. That was before AI though,” says Pavliscak. Maybe if Clippy were better at knowing when you wanted advice, it wouldn’t be such a pain.

Now that voice assistants are more intelligent, people are warming up to frequent interaction. According to Pavliscak, 37 percent of voice assistant users wish the AIs were a real person – and not just kids, she notes, although it doesn’t take much for a kid to love a robot – or even a water heater that looks like one . “We don’t need much to humanize our technology. If it has eyes; if there’s a hint of a gesture; if it has a voice; if has a backstory, or any kind of irregular erratic movements… we humanize everything.” This is so pervasive that 27 percent of people aged 18-24 would have a relationship with a robot (no, not necessarily that kind of a relationship).

So then how do we leverage this innate desire to emotionally relate with AI? In part, by making AI better at understanding us.

For example, facial recognition (and interpreting the emotional data within faces) has gotten really good. Though it has some worrying applications – China’s pervasive facial recogntion comes to mind – the benefits are potentially even more expansive. For example, researchers are studying how to use AI to recognize and help prevent road rage – and the accidents it causes.

Humans are toolmakers, and in the same way a calculator helps you solve math problems, it’s possible AI of the future will help us leverage our emotions – and even understand them better. USC is developing a virtual therapist that can identify emotional triggers in patients suffering from PTSD, for instance. It’s not a stretch to imagine such a therapist would eventually be able to identify such signs as well as a human can – while also adding a degree of anonymity you can’t get with a real person. […]