Apple has acquired artificial intelligence company Emotient

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Apple, Inc. has acquired Emotient, Inc., a company that uses artificial intelligence to read people’s facial expressions.

Founded in 2012, Emotient’s technology is primarily focused on the marketing industry and delivers insights in the form of three key performance indicators including detailed data on emotions for every face in each video frame, including attention, engagement and sentiment.

The company says these insights add business value to advertising, media, consumer packaged goods and other industries.

Emotient claims that it is the leader in emotion detection and sentiment analysis and is part of a “neuromarketing wave” that is driving a “quantum leap in customer understanding.”

Although primarily marketing focused, The Wall Street Journal notes that doctors also have tested the technology to interpret signs of pain among patients unable to express themselves, and a retailer used it to monitor shoppers’ facial expressions in store aisles.

Apple has all but confirmed the acquisition by issuing its standard response of: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

AI push

The acquisition of Emotient is part of Apple’s broader push into developing next-generation artificial intelligence systems, including the acquisition of deep learning AI startup Perceptio in October, along with VocalIQ and mapping visualization startup Mapsense, Inc. in late September.

Potential uses for Emotient’s technology are varied and could include Apple using it to test products, analyze customers in Apple Stores, reading how Facetime users are feeling, or improving image recognition in iCloud and iPhoto.

The race to develop next-generation artificial intelligence systems isn’t one Apple is pursuing alone, with rivals Google, Inc. and Facebook, Inc. also spending big, but whereas those two have clear objectives as to what they would do with the technology, Apple’s goals are anyone’s guess, unless of course they’re planning to take on Mark Zuckerberg in an effort to develop an AI-powered butler like Jarvis in the Iron Man movies.

Prior to acquisition, Emotient had raised $8 million from investors, including Intel Capital and Seth Neiman.

The price of the acquisition is unknown.

Image credit: tuckett/Flickr/CC by 2.0