You’re lost deep in a tree of alternatives on an automated phone answering system and not happy about it. Your breathing tightens. You begin to mutter. Perhaps you even spew a few epitaphs. Suddenly, as you are about to take out your frustrations on the phone set, someone comes on the line offering to help.
That scenario just may play out in a couple of years. Researchers at the University of Southern California are working on software that listens not just to what callers are saying but also to how they say it reports The Financial Times of London.
The software will recognize when callers are angry and transfer them to a real live human being. Designed to detect phone rage, it is being developed under the leadership of Shrikant Narayanan, professor of electrical engineering, computer science and linguistics.
Unhappiness with automated phone systems is a growing concern on the part of companies and organizations. Software like that being developed at USC could go a long way in avoiding the kind of negativity that often results from such frustration. For companies, it could make the difference between keeping or losing a customer.
Is software that eavesdrops on what we say when we think we are speaking into an empty phone a helpful tool or an invasion of privacy? In this case, probably a helpful tool, but who’s to say how such emotion gauging technology will be used. Will it be turned on when someone is trying to sell over the phone? Will it then be able to identify when you’re ready to buy or what points in the sales pitch yielded the greatest interest? If this technology reaches market at an affordable price point and if it actually works (USC claims 80-85% accuracy) then it could be a boon to both small businesses and those who sell to them. However misuse could carry a stiff penalty for companies whose customers think their privacy is being abused.