The Internet of Things Is Getting Emotionally Intelligent

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We tend to think of computers as finite things­ individual devices that, while constantly connected to one another, exist in a concrete form that we can interact with. The Internet changed that to some degree, bridging the gap by layering the world in a web of connectivity.

But how we think of a “computer” and the way we interact with technology is fundamentally changing. By 2035, it’s estimated that there will be a trillion connected devices in the world with a market value of $5 trillion. These devices will be woven into everyday objects like our clothing, vehicles, and homes. The Internet of Things (IoT), utilizes the ubiquity of the world wide web to connect everything from traffic lights to sneakers, allowing for an entirely new way of interacting with the items we’ve had our entire lives.

As IoT devices have exploded and AI has given us the means by which to measure and utilize the vast stores of data created by these devices, we’re approaching a new paradigm. One in which the internet ­connected devices in our lives are emotionally intelligent, ­ able to react, and interact with the world based on thousands of data inputs, including how the user feels and acts.

What Is the Internet of Things?

Beyond “devices connected to the internet” what exactly is the Internet of Things? The concept isn’t new. IoT has been a buzzword in Silicon Valley since the first successful Internet startups succeeded in the mid­90s. But processing power and connectivity had to catch up. IoT relies on a constant connection to the Internet ­ through a cellular network if the device is mobile, or through a steady WiFi signal if it is stationary. The devices themselves need to be nimble, inexpensive to produce, and scalable. Smartphones are a prime example. In a little more than 10 years, 2.71 billion smartphones have been produced and sold to 35.13% of the world population. The same is now possible of always­on medical devices, appliances, vehicles, and more.

5G connectivity is already being tested and rolled out in select markets, offering multi­Gbps peak speeds that are capable of not just delivering Netflix videos to your phone faster, but connecting machines and devices seamlessly across large distances. Qualcomm estimates that 5G networks will have a $12 trillion impact by 2035, in big part due to the massive IoT opportunities. For IoT ubiquity to work, networks need to be constantly connected. Current 4G networks can’t guarantee that and WiFi is tethered to relatively short­range communications. We’re on the cusp of an explosion in connectivity that will enable data collection in ways that were never before possible. 

The Human Experience Digitized

Companies are extrapolating detailed user profiles for advertising targeting from things as simple as user activity. The articles we read on Facebook. The searches we perform on Google. To a greater extent, those same companies are learning how to discern behavioral patterns based on when and where users interact with that content. Does someone read primarily news articles on Facebook every morning between 8:30­9:00 on their commute? Do they search for restaurants every evening between 5:30­7:00?

Now imagine the granularity of the user profile that can be created when almost every device in a consumer’s life is connected to the internet, collecting data and mapping user activity 24 hours a day. This is the reality we are approaching, and to some degree, it’s an unexplored frontier. IoT is so new that standards and regulations are still being developed. Companies are performing technology leaps in tandem, racing to digitize the human experience in a way that has never been done before.

There are many questions about how much data can be collected, who owns that data, and how it should be used, but the possibilities are limitless when exploring the next steps in the development of the technology.

Some examples of Emotional IoT already in action include search kiosks in stores that will make recommendations based on how you react to what you see, smartphones that can sense and respond to your mood, video games that respond to passive player input, and even robots or monitoring systems that offer empathy when they sense distress.

Emotional Intelligence in IoT

Emotion AI is a rapidly growing sector that helps amplify voice user interfaces and other systems to go beyond content and evaluate context. Rather than relying on advanced algorithms to parse the words spoken by a user and determine intent, Emotion AI analyzes the tone of voice, cadence, volume, and other factors that can indicate emotions in the human voice. As the artificial intelligence powering these systems improves, Emotion AI can make smarter decisions about how to answer questions, engage with a user, or preemptively adjust to conditions. The applications are endless, especially in highly emotional interaction industries like healthcare, finance, and marketing.

But Emotion AI relies on a huge volume of data. For it to work effectively, there needs to be thousands of data points updated constantly that map the behavior of the subjects being evaluated. In a voice user interface that means always­on listening ­ something voice assistants are designed to do. In more robust applications, it means gathering data about location, physical activity, and more. That’s where IoT devices come in.

Emotionally intelligent IoT subsequently allows for highly-personalized customer experience. Systems that can evaluate consumer response to a sales pitch and help the salesperson adjust. They are already helping retailers personalize the brick and mortar experience through the use of beacons and mobile apps. In healthcare, patients can be monitored and their care adjusted based not just on the cut and dry results of medical tests, but on their perceived stress and anxiety levels. PTSD patients can be monitored for activities, speech patterns and actions that indicate help is needed.

The applications are extensive, but there are concerns that will need to be addressed for any such technology system to effectively integrate at scale. The trick to successful IoT implementation is to maximize benefits, minimize risk, and ensure a safe and secure system that protects user data and privacy. Until this can be provided, consumers are likely to remain wary of any system that collects data on such a personal level.

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