Emotion recognition is a hot new area, with numerous companies peddling products that claim to be able to read people’s internal emotional states, and AI researchers looking to improve computers’ ability to do so. This is done through voice analysis, body language analysis, gait analysis, eye tracking, and remote measurement of physiological signs like pulse and breathing rates. Most of all, though, it’s done through analysis of facial expressions.
A new study, however, strongly suggests that these products are built on a bed of intellectual quicksand.
The key question is whether human emotions can be reliably determined from facial expressions. “The topic of facial expressions of emotion — whether they’re universal, whether you can look at someone’s face and read emotion in their face — is a topic of great contention that scientists have been debating for at least 100 years,” Lisa Feldman Barrett, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University and an expert on emotion, told me.
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