While it may be difficult for humans to detect sarcasm via email and text, IBM’s Watson is claiming to be able to do the trick. A new application, the IBM Watson Tone Analyzer, claims to be able to “assess and refine the tone in textual communication.” While such a task is meant to come naturally to our species (a debatable claim, at times), computers, which are inherently on the robotic and mechanical side, have historically had more trouble with the job. Until Watson, that is.
Building off of similar technology used in IBM Watson Personality Insights, which deduced “cognitive and social characteristics, including Big Five, Values, and Needs,” from things like emails, texts, and tweets, this latest tool will analyze and provide insights “about the emotional, social and writing tones reflected” in a written message.
No doubt a valuable insight if effective, a tone analyzer could serve as a useful, objective, third-party judge of written correspondence, ensuring that no one accidentally writes a passive-aggressive email. Moreover, IBM believes, insights from the Tone Analyzer, “can be used for a number of purposes including personal and business communications, self-branding, market research, public relations management and automated contact center management.”
The analysis will be based on three core components: emotional tone, social tone, and writing style/tone. When it comes to emotional tone, Watson will be able to deduce whether a message most reflects cheerfulness, negative emotions, or anger. In terms of social tone, Watson will be looking at how open, agreeable, and/or conscientious a writer seems in his or her message, all as adopted from the Big-five personality model. And finally, your writing style/tone will be analyzed to determine how analytical, confident, and/or tentative you seem. A full breakdown of your message will include a thorough explanation of “which words in the provided text contributed to which tone.” Watson will also provide “alternate word suggestions to refine the text to reflect desired tones.”
Of course, as cool as this technology is, it is still limited by the fact that it is, you know, a computer, and not a master of wit. Sarcasm is a bit difficult to pick up on, as are things like puns and playful jabs that often liven up emails and texts. But just maybe, as computers grow ever more advanced, they’ll start developing a more refined sense of humor. Try it out for yourself here, and see what you think.