Emotions in algorithm: To reach out to customers, apps will have to be more ‘human’

April 13, 2016 / by / 0 Comment
  • SumoMe

Suddenly, it’s full throttle for tech companies that are already in the middle of a high-risk race to make apps “smarter.” While every developer in town has been challenged to find that special algorithm to empower apps to anticipate their owners’ needs with a greater speed and precision, Microsoft Cognitive Services changed the rules of the game by adding human emotion to the equation. In its coverage of the new API tools that the software pioneer recently unveiled in its Build Conference, Tech Crunch enthuses that these radical elements being incorporated into the apps “will have a human side,” making the way they respond to their flesh-and-blood owners “almost magic.”

Arc from Applause elaborates on how Microsoft’s new play will revolutionize the entire app platform and thrust it back into the heights of glory now occupied by competitors like Apple and Google. Cognitive Services will offer developers “intelligent tools” that can program their apps into learning and understanding their human masters, and then convert these data into analytics that can forecast choices; the bot in the apps can then suggest options for the customer to pick from.

The principle itself is nothing new, and has been the foundation of algorithm-predictive empires like Amazon. However, most of these algorithms are based on text data; for example, bibliophiles will just type or click on the title of a book they will purchase. The bots can then “read” a compilation of those choices over the years and, based on past preferences and behavior, suggest a list of books with similar topics or from the readers’ favorite authors.

Cognitive Services will go beyond simple text-based information with apps that will analyze voice, facial expression, and images to come up with a more comprehensive profile of the customer. The Computer Vision API can evaluate an individual’s actions based on one’s selfies and group photos. The Face API will enhance the app’s facial recognition abilities, determining his mood. This is augmented by the Emotions API which reads the voice commands of the user to assess his emotional state at that particular point in time. Developed over long years by Microsoft’s research team, Cognitive Services is to the app what emotional quotient is to human beings.

Business 2 Community gives a catchphrase to this next stage of human-machine interaction: “sentiment analysis.” It then describes the advantages it provides to business owners: Not only are you better equipped to understand attitudes, trends, and your own online image – you’re also able to boost your predictive power by linking sentiment and behaviour models.

An app’s ability to turn emotion, mood, and action into predictive data can help organizations enhance customer experience, which can in turn bring in more revenue. Thanks to a wired world, product quality and cost are not enough for data-driven shoppers to start clicking on that “Buy” tab – what they are hungering for is a shopping-related immersive experience that would be hard to find anywhere else. For example, Coca-Cola reinvigorated a sluggish softdrinks market by tapping into Coke buffs’ need to bond and unwind with their friends in its “Share a Coke Campaign.” Jumpstarting friendship was the underlying emotional experience that made this strategy a winner.

One early manifestation of sentiment-analysis-led algorithm is content curation, which music companies have already leveraged on to build their customer base and reach out to other markets. The cell-device-using music lovers key in their favorite tunes, the apps introduce them to emerging singers, and finally the algorithm analyzes their responses and comes up with a playlist. According to Fast Company, “ … content curation and discovery have become a source of competitive tension” between players like Spotify Apple, and the new kid in town, SoundCloud.

Content curation is one key to finding out what the customer wants and enhancing his app experience, confirms Dom Einhorn, the founder, and CEO of the finance and business news site Born2Invest. Every day, hundreds of thousands of news-savvy readers around the world click on the site to keep up on stock market movements, product launches, economic trends, and socio-political events happening in every corner of the globe. What makes these news reports different from the usual is that they are fielded by “on-the-ground” homegrown online journalists who can give an original perspective on the event; the local flavor gives the reader a complete picture as well as an immersive experience that would be hard-pressed to find in the one-news-item-fits-all-media-platforms approach by global news agencies.

Einhorn elaborates, “Our readers are redefining the actual meaning of news readership. While people will always want to read the major headlines and globe-shaping events, it is important to remember that the individual reader will want to read about subjects that are important to him or her. In the traditional newspaper model, these readers will just go to their favorite sections, like real estate, tech , or investment. But our app can help them filter their favorite topics and read up on them first day-to-day.  News reading is becoming individualized, and content curation is enhancing it into an experience.”

Ultimately, it is a more positively calibrated human touch that can bring about that experience which translates into a satisfied, sustainable customer base. Fast Company points out that companies like the e-retailer Enjoy persist in developing offline services to complement their online apps. While customers click on the app to order a product and have it delivered, the company’s delivery personnel are trained to answer questions and install the item during the actual face-to-face meeting.

Ron Johnson, Enjoy’s CEO, maintains that the online component is not enough: “What we’re adding is a human connection. That’s really hard to do. That’s the missing link in a digital world.”

Evolution may take time and a lot of trials, but it can be relentless. Developers are beginning to see the potential in infusing tech elements like apps with human elements. Microsoft’s Cognitive Services may be the first of many human-computer bridges that Johnson and others like him are looking for.



I am a business journalist and culture writer focused on covering the following sectors and interests: financial stocks, biotechnology, healthcare, mining, IT and design, social media, pop culture, food and wine, TV, film and music. I sometimes write for and Thought Catalog.