How does it feel?

We’re emotional beings. Every decision we make has an emotional undertone, whether you know it or not. But how would you measure it? In the first of a series of essays by leaders in the field of wearable tech, Gawain Morrison, CEO and co-founder of Sensum, looks at how the world of wearable technologies can help us understand our emotional responses

Every day a crowdfunding platform or tech site announces a new piece of hardware for measuring some part of your body or your interaction with the world around you. The early adopters turned out to be sports enthusiasts, hypochondriacs, hackers and geeks.

The first wave of sensor products was largely disappointing. But what do you expect from a new wave of gadgetry? Some will be good, some won’t.

In this new age of physiology data capture, the second generation of smart-watches is already much better, the fitness bands have moved from chest to wrist, and the amount of gadgetry for the way you run, sleep, eat and maintain your body is expanding exponentially.

Much of the same data telling you how well your physical health is functioning – like heart rate, breathing and sleeping patterns – also indicates something arguably deeper: how you’re feeling. Your emotional state is intimately bound up with several physiological phenomena and can be read with surprising accuracy from those same wearable sensors that we love strapping to ourselves.

What’s more, much of the emotional data we can gather with current technology lies entirely beneath our conscious awareness. We are unable to control our expression of it. Sounds scary? It probably should be. But before you freak out about a dystopian future of emotional machines and machines that can read your emotions, let’s consider some directions this could go in.

It’s appropriate to be concerned about the creation and sharing of this digital data, it’s personal to you. But if it’s yours to give, and someone offers you the right ‘emotional relationship’ to engage with them in exchange for access to that data, then this becomes a relatively simple transaction. It’s a process of exchange that we do daily with everyone around us anyway.

What has changed is that now the entertainment, creative, retail, experiential, education, health & well-being worlds around you, that you live, breathe and sleep in, can be part of that.

How would that work? Emotional responses are closely aligned with physiological changes. If you know the context of those changes then you can begin to understand the emotional responses in that context. Let’s look at a few emotional context scenarios where a digital form of yourself could interact with the experiences around you.

In entertainment and media we produced the world’s first emotional response horror film, premiered at SXSW in 2011 (see above), using the audience heart rate and skin conductance to control the music, sound effects and scene selections for a unique cinematic experience every time.

From a gaming point of view imagine that scene walking down a dark hallway and you’ve to control your heart rate to make sure your aim is good enough to shoot the aliens that appear all around you. Now imagine that in the immersive world of VR!

Or in a sport context measuring those moments of highest concentration or control in the face of massive emotions. What an incredible thing to see and to understand when it comes to an elite athlete, both from the perspectives of the audience and the coaches.

Exposing our emotions to the right technologies, businesses and people could greatly enhance the quality of our lives, as long as it’s done with the right ethics in mind. If we treat the digital form of ourselves with the same rights as we would treat the human form of ourselves we have a bright future in achieving harmony with emotional technology, machines, industries, medicine and beyond.

Gawain Morrison is CEO and co-founder of Sensum: The Art & Science of Emotions, a software platform for measuring and responding to emotional responses, for market research, interactive events and unique PR.  

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