Tracking reactions to ads via webcam

A man working on his laptop in his pajamas

Jeremy Hobson: It's one thing for a company to track your clicks as you browse its web site. It's quite another for it to track your emotions. But this week in San Francisco, scientists demonstrated new technologies aimed at getting inside your head.

Marketplace's Steve Henn has more.


Steve Henn: Rosalind Picard is a scientist at MIT's Media Lab and the co-founder of a start-up called Affectiva. The company is teaching computers to recognize human emotions. The idea is to give online marketers a sense of how shoppers are responding to their products or pitches.

Rosalind Picard: One way to think about it is, hey, if you were in our store, we'd be able to see if you were looking confused or interested or if you needed help.

But if you are shopping online or streaming a video, the company on the other end of those wires doesn't know if you are amused, annoyed or bored -- or on the verge of closing the deal.

So Picard and Affectiva created a web app that can watch you while you surf, a computer that tracks human emotion through a webcam.

Picard: If you are willing to turn on your webcam and let us see that, we'll try to offer you better service.

Successful salespeople know how to read their customers. Soon, they could let computers do it for them.

In Silicon Valley, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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