rately mimic human emotional cues
and understanding, may end up “
imprinting” these social agents’ behaviors
and styles of interaction. Another undesirable outcome would be that children
grow-up treating agents rudely and that
these behaviors leak into human interactions. Designers should study and
consider how to minimize the chance
of these negative scenarios.
Finally, an affective agent may raise
the users’ expectations of competence
or common sense that the system may
not possess. In circumstances where
this could lead to frustration, or other
negative outcomes, it might not be appropriate to make a system respond to
While research and development of
emotionally sentient computer systems is already 50 years old, only recently have these systems been adopted
for real-world applications. Agents that
sense, interpret, and adapt to human
emotions are impacting healthcare, education, media and communications,
entertainment, and transportation.
However, there remain fundamental
questions about the design principles
that should govern such systems. From
the types of signals that are measured,
to the model of emotions that is employed, to the types of tasks they perform and the emotions they express,
there are fundamental research questions that still need to be answered.
Agents can take many forms, from
dialogue systems to physically expressive humanoid robots. While intelligent agents are widespread on mobile devices and desktops, those that
have been designed with emotional
sentience have been limited to constrained experimental settings. However, one could argue the deployment
of emotionally sentient systems is at a
tipping point. The next major advancement in development will be spurred
by large-scale and longitudinal testing
of these systems in real-world settings.
This will in part be made possible by
the increasing adoption of intelligent
assistants (for example, Apple’s Siri,
Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa,
or Google Assistant) and in part by the
availability of social robots.
We have highlighted current design
challenges that are limiting adoption
of these systems, including, how to ac-
count for large interpersonal variabil-
ity, sparsity, many-to-many mappings
between behaviors and emotions, and
how to create a system that avoids so-
cial faux pas. There are ethical issues
raised by emotionally sentient systems
and this needs very serious, careful de-
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Daniel McDuff ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a researcher
at Microsoft Research, Redmond, WA, USA.
Mary Czerwinski ( email@example.com) is a research
manager of the Visualization and Interaction (VIBE)
Research Group at Microsoft Research, Redmond, WA,
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