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Screw moodrings! Keep track of your emotions with a mood-phone

depressionIt’s been suggested by psychologists and other experts that keeping track of your emotions is a good way of identifying potential treatment options for whose who suffer depression and anxiety. Still, the act can be an overwhelming and terrifying concept in and of itself. Thanks to a new smartphone app, however, doing so may soon be as easy as talking to your friends on the phone.

The Xpression app is the work of Matt Dobson and Duncan Barclay, the founders of EI Technologies, a British company that specializes in speech recognition software. What Xpression offers is the chance to make mood tracking an almost entirely passive experience for the subject; the app, when installed on the user’s smartphone, is activated once and remains active in the background of any and all calls made on the phone. During those calls, the app “listens” to the voice of the user, tracking whether or not there are tells of five particular emotional states: Calm, happy, sad, angry, or anxious. Those tells will be noted by the app and added to a list tracking the user’s moods and when they change, emailing that compiled list to a third party at the end of each day.

The way the app recognizes the emotions is by sending 200-millisecond-long recordings of the user’s voice to a remote server, where it will be analyzed with particular attention paid to loudness, intensity, pitch, and speed. The results are then matched against a database to estimate the user’s likely emotional state. According to the University of East Anglia’s Stephen Cox, who works as the speech processing lab there and also acts as an advisor to EI Technologies, the system “extract[s] acoustic features and let[s] the machine-learning system work it out.” Eventually, such analysis will be able to be done within the app itself, removing any need for transmission of snippets of audio. EI points out that, although the app does eavesdrop on calls made on the phone, calls themselves are not recorded, and no central data about the user is collected by the app outside of the virtual emotional diary.

There is, as you might expect, already interest in potential uses for Xpression, with one British insurance company reportedly looking into the possibility of using it to track workplace stress levels to measure the effectiveness of the existing stress therapy the company employs. Before then, Xpression will have to undergo clinical trials to track its own success rate; those trials are scheduled to begin later this year. Undoubtedly, many will be excitedly waiting for the results – and won’t need an app to recognize that particular emotional state.