An emotion-sensitive computer system that can detect customers’ anger or frustration and react accordingly could be used in BT call centres.
The UK telecoms giant is a partner in the EU-backed ERMIS project, which has created a prototype computer character able to understand and replicate a variety of human emotions. These range from straightforward anger through to more subtle states such as sadness or boredom.
The ERMIS team used its combined expertise in engineering, psychology and IT to analyse more than 400 features of everyday language. The researchers selected around 25 as being the most important in expressing emotion. These were fed into a neural network system, which combined all the different emotional cues, including facial expressions, to create the prototype character.
According to the team, the character was able to both react to and reproduce the emotional state of its human operator, and endeavoured to make the human user angry, happy, sad or even bored in return.
Martin Spott, BT’s principal researcher on the project, said: ‘We are looking into using this technology in call centres to help in customer service by detecting the caller’s underlying emotions and reacting appropriately.’
According to Spott, when the system is mature enough it will be able to detect a caller’s mood. This would allow it, for example, to automatically change the scripts for a human operator so they can deal with a customer more effectively.
‘We are hoping we can reach at least the level of a trained human with this,’ he added.
Spott believes emotion-recognition systems like ERMIS could be used to care for the elderly within an ambient technology framework. If the system detected that an elderly person had been unhappy for a long period, it would automatically alert a staff member.
Mobile phone group Nokia is also involved in the project, which includes UK universities King’s College, London, and Queen’s in Belfast.
Prof Stefanos Kollias, the project’s scientific co-ordinator at the National Technical University in Athens, said the prototype technology needs further refinement before it is ready for commercial use.
‘The real issue is that there must be 100 per cent confidence in the technology that it will always produce the correct outcome. If there is ever an emotional outcome from the system that is different to how the user really feels, then it becomes annoying rather then useful,’ said Kollias.