08 gennaio 2016 | 14:43

Apple acquista Emotient, start-up che usa l’intelligenza artificiale per leggere le emozioni

Apple ha perfezionato l’acquisto di Emotient, una start-up che utilizza la tecnologia dell’intelligenza artificiale per leggere le emozioni delle persone analizzando le loro espressioni facciali.

Non è ancora chiaro quale sia il piano di Apple per questa tecnologia, che inizialmente fu venduta agli inserzionisti per valutare le reazioni degli utenti alle loro pubblicità. I dottori hanno inoltre testato l’intelligenza artificiale per interpretare i sintomi di panico tra i pazienti che non sono in grado di esprimersi. I rivenditori, infine, li usano per registrare le espressioni facciali dei clienti lungo le corsie.

Tim Cook, ceo di Apple (foto da wsj.com)

Migliorare il riconoscimento delle immagini è un tema molto caldo nella Silicon Valley, dove ci sono già Facebook e Alphabet di Google (rivali di Apple) ed altri che investono pesantemente in tecniche di intelligenza artificiale.

Una portavoce di Apple, come si legge su Wsj.com, ha confermato l’acquisto di Emotient, anche se si è rifiutata di fornire ulteriori dettagli.

Apple Buys Artificial-Intelligence Startup Emotient

Emotient technology is used to assess emotions by reading facial expressions

Apple Inc. has purchased Emotient Inc., a startup that uses artificial-intelligence technology to read
people’s emotions by analyzing facial expressions.

It isn’t clear what Apple plans to do with Emotient’s technology, which was primarily sold to advertisers to
help assess viewer reactions to their ads. Doctors also have tested it to interpret signs of pain among
patients unable to express themselves, and a retailer used it to monitor shoppers’ facial expressions in
store aisles, the company had said.

Improving image recognition is a hot topic in Silicon Valley, where Apple rivals Facebook Inc., Alphabet
Inc.’s Google and others are investing heavily in artificial-intelligence techniques.

An Apple spokeswoman confirmed the purchase with the company’s standard statement after an acquisition,
saying Apple “buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our
purpose or plans.” She declined to elaborate on the deal terms.

Emotient, based in San Diego, had previously raised $8 million from investors including Intel Capital. The
company had been seeking a new round of venture-capital financing, but wasn’t able to secure it on favorable
terms according to a person familiar with the matter.

Emotient Chief Executive Ken Denman declined to comment.

The company this week revised its website and removed details about the services it had been selling.

Apple has expressed interest in the field. In a 2014 patent application, it described a software system that
would analyze and identify people’s moods based on a variety of clues, including facial expression.

In October, Apple confirmed that it had acquired another artificial-intelligence startup, VocalIQ Ltd., that
aims to improve a computer’s ability to understand natural speech.

In May, Emotient announced that it had been granted a patent for a method of collecting and labeling as many
as 100,000 facial images a day so computers can better recognize different expressions.

Its technology leaves some skittish, including Paul Ekman, a psychologist who pioneered the study of reading
faces to determine emotions and is an adviser to Emotient. In the 1970s, he created a catalog of more than
5,000 muscle movements to show how even the subtlest facial tics could reveal a person’s emotions. Dubbed the
Facial Action Coding System, it is the foundation for several startups trying to read emotions using
artificial-intelligence algorithms.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last January, Dr. Ekman said he was torn between the potential
power of software that can read emotions and the need to ensure that it doesn’t infringe on personal privacy.
He said the technology could reveal people’s emotions without their consent, and their feelings could be
misinterpreted.

Wednesday, Dr. Ekman said he still has these concerns, and has pushed Emotient to warn people if it is
scanning their faces in public places, but the company hasn’t agreed to do so. An Emotient spokeswoman says
the company doesn’t reveal information about individuals, only aggregate data.

Among more-established companies, Google in 2012 published a paper detailing how an artificial-intelligence
program taught itself to recognize cats. The company has adapted that software to improve search results,
though it has tread more carefully around facial recognition. It banned any apps for its Google Glass Web-
connected eyewear that used facial recognition, for instance.

Facebook has been more aggressive, rolling out facial-recognition software across its social network that
automatically recognizes faces to make it easier to tag people in photos. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg
said this week he hopes to build a personal artificial-intelligence assistant that could recognize friends at
the front door to let them in.