Israeli start-up eXaudios, which developed a computerized system that analyzes voice to identify a speaker's emotions, has won the the Spring 2010 People's Choice first prize in the prestigious American competition DEMO. The start-up, which is the brainchild of Dr. Yoram Levanon of the Business School at Netanya Academic College, beat 65 start-ups that took part in the competition. The prize is a $500,000 – $1,000,000 investment in the firm.
The start-up claims its product enables call center representatives to significantly increase sales and provide a higher level of service based on understanding a customer’s underlying emotional state. In addition, it can assist financial institutions, insurance companies, law enforcement and collection contact centers, enabling the identification of a person’s personality and attitude, and providing alerts about potential fraud risk level for a transaction.
Life on 2 axes
Dr. Levanon says that his life has always moved along two axes: academic and entrepreneurial. "I researched emotional decision-making processes. I discovered that decision-making processes have three stages: the reflexive stage, in which a part of the brain makes decisions in milliseconds; the pre-cognitive stage, which involves decisions made one-tenth to one-quarter of a second after the event, and the cognitive stage that kicks in half a second into the process and is related to the pre-cognitive decisions.”
“The pre-cognitive decisions have a dramatic impact on people's decision-making, and determine up to 70% of the decision. As far as pre-cognitive decisions are concerned, there is a connection not only to voice intonation, but also to smells and body language. All these are of great significance for many companies that want to understand exactly what the customer feels about their brand," he explained.
Learning from babies
"I published a study on the subject and conducted additional research in an attempt to understand changes in voice intonation during speech. My contention was that a baby who listens to an adult does not understand a single word but can tell by the intonation if he is angry or loving. The subject that fascinated me was – how does he understand this? Even animals understand people through their tone of voice although they do not understand words. When you hear someone speak a foreign language, you can still understand what he meant by the tone of voice.”
“I built a unique model and later had it patented. The model explains how the brain centers are linked to emotions, and control speech muscles. A certain combination of emotions sets off a specific brain center – for example, when a person says 'I love you,' that sets off a certain area. When you say something in an authoritative tone of voice, the region responsible for the authority will be set off. I studied thousands of conversations by people about the emotions they displayed and I created a model that can identify the tone of voice and type of emotion involved."