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Big Data Digest: How many Hadoops do we need?

Joab Jackson | Jan. 19, 2015
This week brought a new data processing framework and computers that are more intimate with your feelings.

Speaking of graphs, database company Neo Technology got some press this week for attracting US$20 million in funding to help get its Neo4j graph database out into the enterprise market. Once largely an academic concern, graph databases are finally being used in production environments. Neo4J is used by Walmart, eBay, CenturyLink, Cisco and the Medium publishing platform, GigaOm reported.

While we think of computers as number crunchers, researchers are increasingly looking at ways they can work with the most slippery of data, human emotions.

This week's New Yorker magazine has an article on a number of startups developing technology that can help computers read human emotions. It is a surprisingly robust field.

Author Raffi Khatchadourian tracks the history of one such company, Affectiva. Its software scans a face, identifying the main features (eyes, nose, eyebrows), and notes how the more movable parts of the face (the lips) change over time. Affectiva has built a huge database of facial expressions which can be used by its software to identify the emotional state of the user -- be it happy, sad, confused or any one of dozens of other emotional states.

Naturally, advertising agencies and television networks are interested in any technology that can get a better read on humans. Verizon, for instance, once had plans for a media console that could track the activities of everyone in the room.

"All this data would then shape the console's choice of TV ads," Khatchadourian wrote. "A marital fight might prompt an ad for a counsellor. Signs of stress might prompt ads for aromatherapy candles. Upbeat humming might prompt ads 'configured to target happy people.' The system could then broadcast the ads to every device in the room."

Those worried how this software could be used by marketers to badger consumers in ever more intrusive ways can at least take heart that it could also be used in less mercenary ways. Affectiva CEO Rana el Kaliouby, long a student of what she calls "affective computing," was initially drawn to the possibilities of using the software as an "emotional hearing aid" to help autistic children better communicate with the world.

 

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