Apple scoops up A.I. startup that analyzes users’ emotions


Less emojis, more AI.
Photo: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

Apple’s latest acquisition is of a small artificial intelligence company called Emotient. The startup has technology that analyzes people’s emotions through their facial expressions.

Apple “buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” Apple’s spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal. That’s the typical statement Apple gives when snatching up small companies.

It’s not clear yet what Apple has in mind for Emotient, but we sure can speculate.

Since Emotient’s technology is essentially a form of facial recognition, Apple could do something as small as implement it into the Camera app for a smile shutter feature. But since the tech extends to the person’s emotions, it could very well tie in with Apple’s recent push toward making users more aware of their health and how to improve it. Much of that health focus surfaced when Tim Cook took the reigns as CEO.

Emotient already had a few different business models. Mostly, advertisers got ahold of it to determine how consumers were reacting to ads. Similarly, retailers have used it to see how shoppers are feeling when they’re walking through store aisles. Yet on a different front, doctors have used the technology to try to interpret the emotions of patients who have a difficult time communicating or are unable to.

The startup already raised a collective $8 million from investors and was looking for some more venture capitalist love, but was unable to seal any deals. The report from The Wall Street Journal didn’t disclose how much Apple paid to buy out the company. Something tells me they’re probably happier with this deal though.

Apple acquires companies pretty often and recently, many of those have been artificial intelligence companies. Just this past October it scooped up Perceptio, a startup that focused on complex AI and algorithms to learn more about users without needing to share much data or cross boundaries for privacy. And the week before that, Apple bought VocalIQ, yet another AI startup from the UK that worked on natural language recognition and input.

Back in 2010, Apple famously acquired Siri, the personal assistant app that Steve Jobs stated he considered a form of AI. That, of course, eventually produced the sassy iOS attendant that loves to remind us about our lack of friends.

One thing is certain: technology is slowly and steadily learning more and more about us as humans and it seems like Apple wants to make sure our privacy isn’t compromised in the process.