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Photo: Screenshot of Bryan Walsh playing the Emojify game

New AI tools purport to be able to identify human emotion in images and speech patterns.

Why it matters: Prompted in part by the push of the pandemic, tech companies have been advertising emotion recognition programs, but experts warn they may not work — and may be misused.

How it works: Emotion recognition software is meant to do just that — use decades-old psychological research about how humans express emotions and recognize it in image, video or even in speech.

The catch: There are serious concerns about how effective emotion recognition AI really is and whether it can even be used ethically.

  • A multidisciplinary team led by University of Cambridge professor Alexa Hagerty recently produced the Emojify Project, which allows users on the web to try out emotion recognition tech for themselves.
  • It's not hard to "fool" the system by producing a less than real facial expression that corresponds to one of the six supposedly universal emotions conveyed by all human beings — like the "smile" I'm presenting in the picture above this piece.

What they're saying: In a piece published earlier this week in Nature, AI ethicist Kate Crawford argued the technology should be regulated because it can draw "faulty assumptions about internal states and capabilities from external appearances, with the aim of extracting more about a person than they choose to reveal."

  • Last week my Axios colleague Ina Fried broke a story about a digital civil rights group asking Spotify to abandon a technology it has patented to detect emotion, gender and age using speech recognition.

The bottom line: The two questions we should ask about emerging technology are: does it work? And should we use it?

Go deeper: ACLU to FOIA information about national security uses of AI

Go deeper

Exclusive: Texas nonprofit got massive border contract after hiring Biden official

Migrants attempting to enter the United States from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Photo: David Peinado/Xinhua via Getty Images

A Texas nonprofit that recently hired a Biden transition official got a contract worth as much as $530 million to help manage the influx of migrant children at the southern border, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The contract is by far the largest ever awarded to Family Endeavors. It's potentially worth more than 12 times the group's most recently reported annual budget — a sign of the demand the new work will place on its operations.

20 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: $1 million ad buy defends Georgia law to business critics

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A leading conservative group is targeting the business community with a seven-figure ad buy on CNBC and local TV defending Georgia's new voting law from its corporate critics, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: By focusing on the C-suite through a network it watches, Heritage Action for America is offering a rejoinder to some companies — even Major League Baseball — after they waded so prominently into politics.

22 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Advocates, Democrats plan to push major pot reform

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Advocates and lawmakers favoring marijuana reform are trying to capitalize on the social justice movement and COVID-19 economic rebound to legalize and normalize the use of pot.

Why it matters: The supporters are also trying to take advantage of polls showing broad public support — and get ahead of the reality Democrats could lose their control of Congress after the midterm elections next year.