EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Using digital technology to detect emotions

Technology used to gauge human emotionsI was intrigued to read in the Boston Globe today about the latest use for speech recognition technology. NICE Systems, Inc., based in Israel, has created a system which combines digital voice recording with voice analysis capabilities, including emotion detection, to–among other things–help organizations manage telephone interactions with customers and clients more effectively.

NICE Perform, as NICE calls this multimedia system, enables organizations to record phone conversations for purposes of training and development of staff, as well as to gauge customer satisfaction and improve customer care.

This system has applications for the legal sphere as well—as a means of anticipating or predicting potential legal issues or liability. According to the NICE web site:

Legal advisors can assure compliance with regulations concerning storage and retrieval of interactions to meet legislative requirements, as well as receiving advance warning of possible legal problems by analyzing customer interactions. Repeated complaints or threats to sue might require changes in contracts or other legal remedies, and these can be implemented sooner due to insights gained from NICE Perform.


While all this is fascinating and also tremendously exciting, it is somehow disquieting as well for so many reasons.

There is something disturbing about utilizing speech recognition software to reveal what a man or woman is experiencing emotionally, what his or her state of mind may be, and what factors may be influencing his or her consumer habits. If employees depend on technology to recognize emotions or dissatisfaction in customers, rather than their own senses or experience, what cost is there to human interaction? And what does this mean as well for privacy, if any of our communications as consumers may potentially be digitally recorded, analyzed, and archived? Finally, what information, if any, will callers be given about the uses to which these recordings may be put, and what ethical obligations do organizations have to customers with respect to the uses of systems like this?

(Hmm, maybe conspiracy theorists are right: sometimes paranoia is just good common sense.)

One response to “EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Using digital technology to detect emotions

  1. Greg Thompson

    Thanks for the many insightful articles on mediation related topics. Your remarks about the NICE Perform tool caught my attention, along with your concerns about privacy. My consulting work with collaborative lawyers and mediators is about emotional intelligence; not the Daniel Goleman popular press version, but the original theory of EI as an ABILITY. Some of us are born with low, some with average, and some with high levels of the ability to recognized emotions in self and others. Mayer, Salovey and Caruso developed the original tool to assess EI, the MSCEIT (Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, published by MHS in Canada, http://www.mhs.com/), which gives an objective measure of strengths and areas of potential development.My work has shown that some professionals who think they are very effective at recognizing emotions or dissatisfaction in their customers, peers, and staff, are in fact very wrong. Lawyers and mediators, by virtue of their self-selection into these fields, often feel that they must be above average at recognizing emotions, but that is simply not the case. Although I have no experience with the NICE Perform tool, I think that I do understand the need it addresses. For those organizations that need to improve training and development of staff, as well as to gauge customer satisfaction and improve customer care, the idea of this tool makes sense. I think training and development always makes sense. The reality is that many people do NOT do well with recognizing emotional content easily, and the technology intervention for training and development makes sense for some organizations. For individual EI development, the MSCEIT has set the standard for many years. Perhaps the NICE Perform tool is the way to bring this level of staff development to call canters where turnover is high and customer service needs to remain a priority.You ask two very good questions: What information, if any, will callers be given about the uses to which these recordings may be put, and what ethical obligations do organizations have to customers with respect to the uses of systems like this?Perhaps the paranoia is misplaced here. If the NICE Perform tool is simply a technological version of a person with high EI, then the fact that these organizations are recording and storing phone interactions as a matter of course becomes moot. Emotional content is specific to a given situation, and the individual’s emotional data may disappear in the aggregation of call center data. I encourage emotional learning, and I optimistically look forward to opportunities for individuals to develop their own EI. I hope this tool supports that aim, but I also applaud your questioning of the tools implementation. Greg Thompson1-888-296-6459