Can This Marriage Be Saved? Ask a Computer
Just in case you think computers and robots cannot replace almost every job there is, consider this: A computer algorithm developed at the University of Southern California can “listen” to the voices of a husband and wife in marriage therapy sessions and predict if the relationship will improve.
The algorithm, which is still being developed, listens more to tone of voice over time than the actual words and can predict outcomes with 79% accuracy, which is better than psychologists who are trained in marriage counseling.
Researchers used hundreds of conversations recorded from more than a hundred couples in marriage counseling sessions over a two-year period for analysis. As part of the study, recently published in the journal Proceedings of Interspeech, couples were followed for five years.
Shrikanth Narayanan, Panayiotis Georgiou and Md Nasir of the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering in collaboration with Brian Baucom at the University of Utah broke the recordings into acoustic features using speech-processing values like pitch, intensity, jitter, shimmer and even warbles in the voice that reveal intensified emotion.
Nasir emphasized that, “What you say is not the only thing that matters. It is very important how you say it.” That’s not news to psychologists or even to couples, but being able to construct mathematical values that can measure emotion through tone of voice adds a level of science to the study of relationships that has never existed.
The research is only beginning. Next the team plans to add nonverbal communication like gestures as well as the actual words spoken to the algorithm. The scientists hope that computer analysis of couples’ sessions can help psychologists understand at an early stage how effective their course of therapy is.
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