Science fiction has taken a step closer to reality with the news that Amazon is developing a voice-activated, wearable device that can recognise human emotions.

The wrist-worn gadget, which is reportedly at the beta testing phase under the code name Dylan, is said to be able to discern a user’s mental state whether that is joy, fear, boredom or stress, among other emotions.

Eventually the technology could be able to advise a user on how to interact more effectively with other people, according to internal documents seen by Bloomberg and an unnamed source described as being familiar with the program.

Billed as a “health and wellness” product, the device works by connecting to a smartphone app while microphones paired with software can take voice readings.

It is said to be a collaborative effort between Amazon’s Alexa voice software team and Lab126, the hardware development group behind Amazon’s Fire phone and the Kindle.

Although it is unconfirmed whether the device will emerge from beta testing to launch as a consumer product, Bloomberg reported that Amazon has already filed at least two patents in which voice software analyses vocal patterns to determine human emotions.

One of them, for an updated version of the Alexa voice assistant, featured an illustration of a woman with a sniffly cold who tells Alexa that she is hungry, prompting the device to ask if she would like a recipe for chicken soup or cough drops with one-hour delivery.

A second patent awarded to Amazon referred to wearable software that can distinguish a user’s speech from background noises.

While no doubt the emotion-tracking technology would be hugely complicated to develop, Bloomberg said that, if successful, it would help Amazon to “gain insights for potential health products or be used to better target advertising or product recommendations”.

But that in turn could raise further concerns about consumer privacy and the sheer amount of data that technology giants are able to collect for commercial purposes.

Sourced from Bloomberg; additional content by WARC staff