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Apple wants to get better at reading your face

The latest in Apple's string of artificial-intelligence purchases is a company that specializes in tech that deciphers human emotions.

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Emotient software has been trained to recognise the micro-expressions that give away human emotions.

Photo by Emotient

Your iPhone may know you, but does it truly understand you? It may get a chance to learn.

Apple has purchased a company that specializes in reading human emotions using its face-tracking technology, reported The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

Emotient, based in San Diego, California, uses artificial-intelligence algorithms to decipher the many micro-expressions that pass across your face. The goal is to interpret exactly what you're really feeling in real time.

In the past Emotient's technology has been used by advertisers to read the emotions of people looking at their ads, by retailers who want to understand how shoppers feel in their stores and by doctors who want to gauge the pain levels of patients who can't express themselves. The company's CEO Ken Denman last year claimed the technology is 95 percent accurate.

Facial-recognition technology is going through something of a boom among tech giants, with artificial-intelligence experts in high demand across Silicon Valley. Facebook already uses the technology to identify people in photos on its social network, and this week Mark Zuckerberg said he wanted to create an AI-enabled robot assistant that could recognize and welcome guests at the door. Google has thoroughly documented its own developments in image recognition and deep learning, which use algorithms to navigate and solve highly complex problems.

The past four months have seen Apple snap up a number of companies with various niche specialties including speech technology, machine learning and motion capture. Add facial recognition and emotion reading to the mix, and Apple has a pretty comprehensive portfolio of artificial-intelligence-related technology. This could point to virtual or augmented-reality projects, The Financial Times suggested, both of which would rely on a combination of these technologies.

Of course there's also the possibility that Apple wants to build the technology into future generations of its current products. A promotional video released by Emotient two years ago asked the question: "What if your devices could read your emotions and respond to them?" This feels like something Apple's personal digital assistant Siri could really benefit from.

Apple confirmed the purchase of Emotient to The Wall Street Journal, in the form of the stock phrase that it "buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans." But it's unlikely we'll learn what Apple's plan for Emotient is immediately. After the famously secretive company bought Beats Music in 2014 it took almost a year for it to release its own Apple Music streaming service and Beats One radio.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Emotient has pulled its contact details from its website.

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