One of the biggest problems that event planners face is figuring out how attendees feel during their event and how they engage with the sessions, activations, entertainment, etc. Emotional recognition is a powerful way to collect that data – and a controversial one.
Tracking attendee engagement and satisfaction is essential for creating a successful experience, but only 28% of planners measure it accurately or in detail. That’s not exactly surprising considering that only 48% of planners use technology to collect and analyze data. Surveys and questionnaires can help shed light on people’s motivations and feelings, but nobody cares about replying to the tons of emails coming from planners.
Some planners use apps strategically at the end of every session but it all inevitably ends in survey fatigue.
Enter emotion recognition.
Emotion recognition is a new opportunity for continuous analysis of attendee reactions throughout the event. In essence point a camera at people, let AI interpret their body language and boom, no need for surveys. Is it the end of surveys as we know them?
Not so fast.
There is a growing movement of event professionals and attendees against the use of facial recognition and facial analysis at events.
First things first, let’s take a look at what emotion recognition is and why it is so controversial.
Emotion Recognition, What Is It?
Emotion recognition is the process of collecting data predominantly from facial and verbal expressions to analyze human emotion. While humans do this all the time as part of our normal social interactions, “computational methodologies have also been developed” that utilize things like signal processing, machine learning, and computer vision to do the same thing. Wikipedia 2019.
It’s a form of artificial intelligence (AI) that aggregates a number of data points to figure out how you feel. And it’s pretty powerful stuff.
Human beings use a combination of signals to recognize the type of emotion another person is experiencing. These signals include facial and verbal expressions, body posture, but also context and cultural bias.
Scientists have developed techniques using AI software, to try and replicate the way humans detect emotions. These techniques supposedly allow machines to correctly analyze a person’s emotions and state of mind and possibly predict that same person’s future behavior. They mainly focus on facial recognition software.
What is emotional recognition for?
The Chinese government has been implementing emotion recognition to predict criminal behavior as part of a nationwide effort to increase surveillance efforts. The idea is that you can identify criminal suspects by analyzing in real-time their mental state (aggressiveness, stress levels, etc.) using video footage and emotion recognition technology. For the fans of Minority Report, there you go.
Apart from its application in surveillance, emotion detection technology can be used in fields as different as market research (to determine how customers feel about a brand or a product), healthcare (to help medical professionals assess the wellbeing of patients), the automotive industry (to monitor and detect driver impairment in smart cars), or video games (to test user experience). (Source The Guardian).
The Controversy: Are You Ready for Your Close-up?
The use of emotion recognition is controversial mainly because of the privacy concerns it raises, and the potentially harmful applications it can have.
For some, it’s the fear of entering an Orwellian Big Brother era, where police and national intelligence agencies can surveil the whole population and target certain populations.
For others, it’s imagining a world where everybody is aggressively and constantly targeted by commercial entities who want to sell their services or products.
Some have taken steps to resist the use of such technologies. For example, cities like San Francisco and Oakland, CA are banning the use of facial recognition by the city government, and 40 music festivals have pledged to ban facial recognition systems.
On the other hand, emotion recognition supporters rave about the opportunities it can bring, such as improved security through constant scanning of crowds for criminal elements, faster processing at airports, and speedier check-in at events, hotels, etc.
So what are the pros and cons of emotion recognition methods?
How Event Professionals Can Use It
People are getting more familiar with facial recognition technology. We already use it to unlock our phones or go through security at airports. The events industry is getting on-board.
Facial recognition and analysis is already facilitating and speeding up check-in operations, and providers are taking lengthy measures to respect data regulations and attendees’ privacy in general.
The emotion recognition side of AI still needs to pass a few hurdles, but it’s very compelling nevertheless. The potential for optimizing the attendees’ experience by providing a more accurate way of measuring people’s satisfaction with different elements of the event is something we should all be paying attention to.
Facial recognition cameras are already used in events to collect sentiment data. They are capable of assessing how ‘happy’ a person is based on subtle, distinct features of their face. Because facial recognition software can process thousands of faces almost instantaneously, you can get real-time ‘happy maps’ that allow you to see which areas/booths/sessions get people the most engaged.
DITCHING EVENT SURVEYS FOR GOOD?
Understanding the impact and reception of specific event elements will prove immensely valuable to event planners, as that data will inform what to invest in from event to event. But the real-time potential is also very promising. Detecting places and activities that make people ‘unhappy’ in real-time would allow organizers to investigate and address problematic situations immediately, guaranteeing an overall better event experience.
Other options for collecting sentiment and engagement data include surveys and questionnaires, which people are notoriously reluctant to fill in, and wearables, which can provide extremely valuable data but require attendees to physically carry or wear something around the event with them. It will be very interesting to see how emotion recognition through facial recognition evolves and compares in both utility and cost.
WILL EMOTION RECOGNITION AT EVENTS WORK?
This is, of course, provided everything works perfectly. And we are not necessarily there. Despite the marketing claims of many companies, we may still be far from 100% bulletproof implementation.
We are still in an industry where wifi hardly works. We are also in an industry where 2 years ago AI could process hundreds of instances at a time, today that limit is completely gone. Things are slow, but super fast. With 5G getting into the game, we can anticipate data collection not to be an issue.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DATA?
What if I am sneezing? Does it mean that I didn’t like the session I am attending? A couple of years are needed to make sure the technology becomes smart (or creepy) enough to really understand what’s going on.
PRIVACY IS BECOMING CURRENCY
Attendees are taking ownership of their privacy. At a recent event, one attendee came to me and asked me for an alternative way to access event information as they did not want to give reading/writing access to the app on their phone.
We can anticipate more privacy initiatives soon regulating facial analysis too. With Europe out of the infancy of GDPR and California just about to embark (January 2020) in its California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), privacy is going to remain a hot topic for event professionals.
Confusion is dominant with planners left in the hands of suppliers that promise security but are often times caught up in widespread data breaches.
It’s a ‘handle with care’ item for now.
If you decide to implement facial analysis, you will need to work with your provider to cover at least the following:
- keyboard_arrow_right Offering opt-in/opt-out options
- keyboard_arrow_right Securing and recording the consent of each participant
- keyboard_arrow_right Explaining clearly what you plan to use the technology and the data for
- keyboard_arrow_right Ensuring the security of data through the use of local servers
- keyboard_arrow_right Protecting the privacy and security of attendees in accordance with regional laws and regulations
- keyboard_arrow_right Ensuring the appropriate disposal of data after the event
There is no such thing as intrinsically good or bad technology. It’s about how we use it.
Emotion recognition could represent an unprecedented opportunity for event professionals to improve event experiences for their guests by acknowledging their feelings and reactions in real-time, addressing any bottlenecks onsite, and tracking the popularity and engagement of specific event elements for a richer ROI analysis.
But, as always, it is incumbent on us as event professionals to be mindful of the problems associated with any new technology, and to guide and educate people who may be resistant to it.