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Don't Watch What You Say: Watch What You Feel

Published: January 25, 2014
A new tool has been added to telemarketers' tool kits: Now, call center employees are able to intuit our state of mind, thanks to mood detection software. The software, from companies such as Beyond Verbal enables voice analysis and gives marketers new levels of us to plumb. Just what we need.

Featured in a recent New York Times article, Beyond Verbal's software uses algorithms to identify up to 400 different moods (and who even knew we had so many) from the tone of our voice. Callers can then slant the conversation ("I know where you're coming from...") to better sell to us.

Most of us have known for years that, behind the cliches ("I'm fine, thanks. How about you?"), we're holding back a groundswell of emotions. ("Actually, I feel miserable.")

Now, we simply won't be able to hide our feelings; as Beyond Verbal's Vice-President of Marketing, Dan Emodi, told the Times: "It's not what you say; it's how you say it."

It's also not simply the call center applications that are concerning people. The software may have more far reaching applications, such as acting as a lie detector to screen potential employees or cheating spouses.

As well as the issue of potential privacy - a big one - the validity of emotion detection software is in question. Writer Natasha Singer asks: Is mood detection "any more valid than novelties like handwriting analysis?"

If marketers and others credit the software results, they may well draw invalid conclusions based on the results.

George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon professor of economics and psychology, points out the dangers: "That could end up being used to make arbitrary and potentially discriminatory decisions."

And for those who need a response to telemarketers who call at inconvenient times, well, we have a new tool, too: "Read my voice...can you tell I don't appreciate being interrupted in mid-meal?"

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