Gone are the days when we thought of artificial intelligence (AI) as some remote technology used by the CIA to hunt down most wanted criminals. Now AI is a part of daily life that many of us take for granted. That talk-to-text feature on your phone that saves you from the extra time it takes to actually type out a text? AI. The digital assistance we receive we have an urgent question only Google or Alexa can possibly answer? AI. Entire industries are slowly being transformed by voice assistants that no longer just answer yes or no, but make suggestions. Technology is becoming more and more personalized as time goes by.
Emotion recognition originated as a method to help predict criminal behavior by analyzing their mental state. But now this emergent technology is bursting onto the scene of daily life- and many industries, including event planning. Here’s how it stands to affect the future of your career.
What is Emotion Recognition?
Essentially, emotion recognition is the process of collecting data from facial and verbal expressions to identify a variety of human emotions. The AI software used for emotional recognition does this with eerie accuracy by using signal processing and computer vision. It analyzes human emotion through text, audio, or video. Not only does this technology use data points to identify your emotions, it attempts to predict your future behavior. That’s where its potential to impact the industry comes in.
Emotion recognition represents a new way to analyze customers’ reactions to new products or services and test user experience. Event planning businesses are working in a competitive experiential market. Quality experiences take precedence over status, quantity, and materialism. Taking this into account, data analysis is targeted toward gleaning information about how people feel.
Yes, post-event surveys are helpful tools for gaining this kind of information. But there are a few drawbacks. For one thing, surveys are optional, so not everyone takes the time to fill them out. Many businesses have changed survey formats from multiple choice to include open-ended questions. But surveys obviously lack the ability to register spontaneous emotion in the moment, such as during live events. Enter emotion recognition.
Many tech companies have begun to sell software that enables cameras to “interpret” how people feel. At this point in time, it’s very difficult and expensive to use cameras that scan an entire room of people at once, and record information about how they feel. Businesses get around this by setting up cameras in places where just one person will be looking into it at a time. For example, a camera behind a bar can register people’s reactions when they order or taste a specific drink. Likewise, cameras at live events can register people’s facial expressions when they register or check in for the event, make purchases, interact with vendors, and so on. In this way, emotion recognition yields valuable information about how people react to objects and other people, such as staff or vendors.
The data is then used to analyze any emerging patterns. For example, if there were more “angry” faces than other expressions during a speech, the speaker’s content or ability to engage the audience may be in question. Event planners can review reactions to exhibits to possibly gain information about which were most enjoyable for attendees. The potential is enormous and possibly groundbreaking.
Many people feel that this kind of advanced technology represents a major breakthrough in research and data analysis. It’s been used in the healthcare field to help medical professionals assess the well-being of patients (in which case it’s controversial and hardly an exact science, but possibly helpful for research purposes). Huge entertainment corporations like Disney are using it to register the emotions viewers experience when watching movies.
It’s Not an Exact Science
Still, emotion recognition is hardly an exact science, and is highly controversial. Presumably, the data it yields is to be used in conjunction with other, more precise data. Think about it. Even during person-to-person contact, it would be inaccurate to assume we know for sure what the messages are behind others’ nonverbal communication. Of course, direct interactions give us much more emotional information than technology ever could, but even real time conversations have misunderstandings. It’s part of human nature that we don’t have the ability to actually inhabit another person’s mind and read it verbatim.
Potential Advantages of Emotion Recognition
The key advantage of emotion recognition is that it allows for the collection of emotional data, which is notoriously hard to measure. Obtaining feedback in real time is a task that evaded this industry before now. And obviously, that information is valuable to event planners in an experiential market. Experiential markets are highly personalized, and If the focus is on the quality of the individual attendee’s experience, emotion recognition is uniquely beneficial.
It also holds the promise of convenience. For example, attendees can be checked into an event without an actual staff member in the registration area. The precise number of people who visited each exhibit of an event can be known (and their emotions can be at least crudely analyzed).
Facial recognition on its own can potentially speed up check-in lines by reducing delays. It takes time to greet attendees at check-in, wait for them to produce ID, and let them through. During this process, some delays are usually inevitable; someone has to rummage through their purse to find ID, another has an endless litany of questions for the check-in staff, ect. It’s easy to see how the use of facial recognition in place of manual check-ins can save time- even barring any delays.
It’s important to remember that privacy is protected to a high degree. When using facial recognition to check people in, the images that enter the system are anonymous; there is no information about their identity being sent into cyberspace. Also, the images are immediately deleted by the software. After the event is over, the whole database is deleted, so no one’s image remains on record.
Potential Negative Outcomes
Unsurprisingly, the main ethical concerns with emotion recognition are regarding privacy. As this kind of technology becomes more and more mainstreamed, many people fear the dawn of totalitarianism due to police and government agency’s ability to surveil the entire population. It’s easy to theorize about how this could lead to massive abuses of power. But even aside from those large-scale societal concerns, many people feel that it’s a personal invasion of privacy to have their pictures taken without their knowledge or consent. This viewpoint circles back to societal concerns in that many people view it an early step toward the loss of the rights of the individual.
And facial recognition in general may not be so good for collecting demographic information. For example, it often fails to distinguish between races and non-binary gender identities. There is a concern that it could lead to racial profiling or prejudice rather than yielding accurate, nonbiased data.
Furthermore, we can only speculate on the level of accuracy this technology produces in terms of emotions. There is no universal expression for any singular emotion. While many people smile when they are happy, not everyone does. Many people frown when they are sad and scowl when angry, but a scowl could easily be misinterpreted by technology as a frown. There possibilities of misrepresentation are indefinite but important to consider.
Although certain data exists that shows which facial expressions are most often associated with specific feelings, this data could never be entirely conclusive. And even consistent data doesn’t necessarily mean that any particular group will display those same behaviors at any given time. In other words, your attendees as a whole may differ from the people in the studies.
Also, emotional recognition does not take into account context and cultural norms, which can vary greatly. For example, some cultures are much more expressive than others, and that can translate to facial expressions. Aside from cultural differences, different circumstances produce different emotions in people. For example, if you’re hosting a conference, the context of emotions is different from that of a party or other social event. Happiness or pleasure may not be expressed with a smile, but with a studious expression that conveys rapt attention. The enjoyment one feels while learning at a professional conference or workshop is different from the enjoyment of a party or outing with friends.
This is not to diminish the potential of facial recognition to improve data collection for event planners, and therefore allow them to create more personalized experiences. There are ways to predict links between people’s facial expressions and emotions, and emotion recognition is one of them. But the algorithms behind this technology aren’t foolproof, so the data it provides should be taken into account only in conjunction with other forms of data.
Many businesses are choosing to offer opt-in and opt-out options. To do this, you can simply ask for and record the consent of each attendee. This is probably the safest, most ethical, and least controversial way to enjoy the benefits without the repercussions. When asking for consent, you’ll want to explain exactly what you plan to use the data for. This way, people feel more comfortable- and their minds don’t wander down some macabre path as they ponder your motives and their personal rights. If you’re taking extra measures to secure the data, such as using local servers, feel free to let your attendees know that, too.
When it comes to ethics, as with many other technologies, it’s how you use emotion recognition that counts.