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IBM's Watson Can Detect the Attitude in Your Writing

Have you ever received an e-mail that sounds snarky and overreact because you’re reading the undertones between the lines? Or has anyone ever snapped at you for an offensive e-mail that you sent with the best of intentions?

IBM is working to eliminate that problem with Watson Tone Analyzer. Big Blue is convinced a computer can accurately and automatically detect the tones conveyed in a message and has taken on the challenge of helping you assess and refine your tone in written communications. Of course, the new Watson feature is still in experimental mode but it could be a welcome addition to your communications toolbox.

“Building on similar linguistic analyses that power IBM Watson Personality Insights, Tone Analyzer analyzes given text and provides insights about the emotional, social and writing tones reflected in that text,” said Rama Akkiraju, distinguished engineer, master inventor, IBM Watson User Technologies. “Such insights 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.”

What’s In Your Tone?

Let’s look at each dimension of the Tone Analyzer’s scorecard. IBM has developed a model for inferring emotions from written text. The company focused on three categories: cheerfulness, negative emotions and anger. Cheerfulness may include joy, contentment or happiness while anger denotes hostility, frustration or annoyance. Other negative emotions include fear, despair, guilt and rejection.

As IBM has defined it, social tone includes aspects of social propensities in your personality. Again, IBM defined three categories: openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Finally, writing tone offers feedback on how analytical, confident and tentative your writing is. Akkiraju explained that analytical tone aims to reveal your reasoning and analytical attitude about things while confidence tone points to the degree of certainty exhibited by an individual toward something. Tentative tone shows the attitude of inhibition.

“In addition, the Tone Analyzer service explains which words in the provided text contributed to which tone,” said Akkiraju. “Furthermore, it offers alternate word suggestions to refine the text to reflect desired tones. There is no minimum word requirement for the text input in order for the Tone Analyzer service to perform its functions well.”

Business Applications

We caught up with Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, to get his thoughts on Watson’s latest innovation. Is there a real need for this? Or is IBM just seeing what Watson can do? He told us it’s a little of both.

“Since their very beginning, computing systems have had trouble analyzing and understanding tonal meanings, to the point that the smart yet literal minded robot — or person — has long been a cliché in modern culture and entertainment,” King said.

The fact that IBM Watson can successfully parse some tonal variants in written speech is quite an achievement, he said. But it doesn’t stop there.

“It also has practical connotations for businesses struggling to keep up with increasing floods of information,” King said. “Using Watson to effectively consume and flag material that requires further analysis and action could be an invaluable service for many time- and content-stressed organizations.”

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