NPR "Xeni Tech" – Emotion detection spots upset customers

For today's edition of the NPR News program Day to Day, I filed a report about new "emotion detection" software that could help companies detect when their call center torture victims phone customers are shrieking in agony not happy.

Israel-based tech firm NICE Systems has developed software that records calls and "listens" for emotional signals that the call is going badly. Using algorithms, the system evaluates volume, pitch change, and trigger words like — oh, say…

"Cancel the account. Cancel the account. Cancel the account. CANCEL THE ACCOUNT. CANCEL THE ACCOUNT. CANCEL THE ACCOUNT. FOR GOD'S SAKE JUST CANCEL THE FUCKING ACCOUNT." (about that)

The technology could be valuable to large companies that rely on call centers, explained NICE Systems' Robin Schaffer, because it can help them spot problems in customer support and improve their service.

Link to archived audio (3:35, in Real or Windows Media). Link to NPR "Xeni Tech" segment archives.

Image: Link to full-size. Screengrab from the NICE Systems "Perform" application. (thanks, Scott Alexander!)

Reader comment: Anonymous says,

I worked at a research company a few years ago that an Isreal-based firm was trying to get to test out their voice-based lie detector for use in criminal justice, so I got a first hand view of it. The examples used were interviews with famous criminals (OJ, Martha Stewart, etc) and the results (percentages of a list of a huge amount of emotions, among them fear, hunger, joy, sexual appetite, etc, all from one voice!) were so vague and quick changing that they could be interpreted to mean anything. It would have been a sad day if a device like that was used for law enforcement. The traditional lie detector is many times over more reliable but even that can barely be relied upon.

So just so you know, since this looks like the same software I saw but with a friendlier skin (literally – same layout with happy graphics instead of serious police-enforcement graphics), nobody has found any correlation between everyones voice and a particular emotion. Although one person might do something consistantly with his/her voice with a particular emotion there hasn't been found ANY rule that could work for a handful of people let alone all of humanity.
They will make some money off this since it seems like it could totally be possible, but really it's nothing.