News  |  ,   |  November 18, 2019

The Risks of Using AI to Interpret Human Emotions

News article by Mark Purdy, John Zealley and Omaro Maseli.
Published in Harvard Business Review.


What do people really feel?

This has never been an easy thing for companies to determine. For one thing, emotions are inherently difficult to read. For another, there’s often a disconnect between what people say they feel and what they actually feel.

Consider how people respond to Super Bowl commercials. In 2018, TV viewers voted Amazon’s “Alexa Loses Her Voice” — where celebrities attempt to (unsuccessfully) replace Alexa — as the best commercial, according to the USA Today Ad Meter. Diet Coke’s “Groove,” which featured a woman dancing awkwardly after drinking a can of Diet Coke Twisted Mango, was rated as the worst commercial. Based on this poll, one might conclude that the Alexa commercial had the bigger impact. Not so, according to Paul Zak, neuroscience researcher and chief executive officer of Immersion Neuroscience, whose team studied people’s neurologic immersion in the ads. Zak’s team assessed viewers’ level of emotional engagement by measuring changes in oxytocin levels, the brain’s “neural signature of emotional resonance.” The research found that “Groove” actually had greater impact — proof to Zak that for Super Bowl commercials, there is “zero correlation” between what people say and how they subconsciously feel.

When we interviewed Zak about this phenomenon, he summed it up by saying: “People lie, their brains don’t.” [ . . . ]