Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Science & Technology

Apple Buys San Diego Emotion-Recognition Startup

If the founders of Emotient were to use their emotion-recognition software on themselves this week, their mood would probably register as "joy."

The San Diego startup was bought by Apple for an undisclosed sum.

Apple can now use Emotient's facial expression recognition technology to scan people's faces and identify how they're feeling in any given moment.


Emotient says by picking up on subtle facial clues, its software can tell whether people are feeling joy, fear, disgust, surprise or a host of other emotions.

The company has used its technology to analyze reactions to Super Bowl ads and Republican presidential debates, gaining insight into how audiences feel about what they're seeing over time.

Why does Apple want access to people's fleeting emotions? The Cupertino tech giant isn't detailing its plans yet.

A spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that Apple "buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Emotient co-founder Marian Bartlett began developing the company's technology with other scientists while working toward her doctorate in cognitive science and psychology at UC San Diego.


In 2014, Bartlett told KPBS Emotient could provide useful data to healthcare providers, as well as advertisers. She also said it could help retailers better understand how their workers are interacting with customers.

"We could get information about how a particular employee is doing and whether that employee needs feedback or training on customer service."

Perhaps Apple could use Emotient to keep tabs on which of its Apple Store "Geniuses," the employees who fix your phone or laptop, leave the most joyful impression on customers or which employees are making customers angry?

Watch KPBS's previous coverage of Emotient below:

When Computers Can Read You Like A Book