January 12, 2005

Voicemail software recognises callers' emotions

messghap.jpg New Scientist has a story on a voicemail system that labels messages according to the caller's tone of voice and could be helping people identify which messages are urgent. The software, called Emotive Alert, is developed at the MIT Media Lab.

The system, installed at the phone exchange or in an intelligent answering machine, listens to messages and sends the recipient a text message and an emoticon indicating whether the message is urgent, happy, excited or formal.

In tests on real-life messages, the software was able to tell the difference between excited and calm and between happy and sad, but found it harder to distinguish between formal and informal, and urgent and non-urgent.

The software was also combined with a speech-recognition system that links patterns of words, such as an increased use of negatives, to particular emotions. However, doing this deprives it of one of its talents: the ability to label messages in any language. The researchers hope soon to build a system in which the acoustical fingerprint can be personalised for somebody's most frequent callers.

But Andrew Monk, from the University of York, UK, warns that Emotive Alert could be manipulated by spammers. Telemarketers and voicemail spammers will design messages designed to score highly on urgency metrics so that they can be artificially boosted to the top of your priority list.

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