It seems that Amazon is a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in particular Commander Deanna Troi, the half-human, half-Betazoid that can sense emotions. Amazon wants its Alexa digital assistant to have the same capability. In a filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Amazon describes an Alexa-powered wearable that can discern different human emotions.
Think of it as the modern day mood bracelet, only instead of changing color to supposedly let you (and others) know how you're feeling, it simply listens. Well, it's not quite that simple—the wearable listens and processes the sound of your voice to determine your emotional state. It's what humans have been doing for ages, but without the aid of machine learning.
Straight out of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Amazon's Alexa may be getting a Deanna Troi-like upgrade.
According to Bloomberg, internal documents reveal that this is a wearable that goes on the wrist, though it's not clear if it would also function as a smartwatch. Those documents also indicate that this is a joint collaboration between Amazon's Alexa team and its Lab126, which is the hardware group responsible for the Echo smart speaker.
Full details are not available because this is not something Amazon is willing to talk about. However, the patent dates back to 2017 and describes special software analyzing voice patterns to discern between emotions like "joy, anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, disgust, boredom, stress, or other emotional stress."
Of course, this being Amazon, one of the proposed uses is recommending products based on a user's emotion. It could also be used to fine tune responses.
How useful something like this might actually be depends entirely on how it's implemented. In one of the diagrams accompanying the filing (shown above), a woman tells Alexa she is hungry, while also coughing and sniffling. Alexa responds by asking if she would like a recipe for chicken soup. The idea there is that chicken soup is the common comfort dish when someone has a cold, though offering up a recipe to someone who is feeling under the weather has dubious value—I've never felt like cooking when I'm sick. In the diagram, Alexa then asks if the woman would like to order cough drops.
Bear in mind that Amazon is working on shortening its free two-day shipping perk for Prime members down to just one day. Ordering cough drops or some other remedy that could arrive so quickly is not a far fetched idea, and plays into Amazon's ecommerce mentality.
Whether this actually becomes a shipping product and/or technology, though, we'll have to wait to find out.