Sentiment Analysis on the Cutting Edge


One of the much-vaunted benefits of text and social network analytics is the ability to determine how people feel. Whether by assigning weights to positive and negative terms, scanning for smiley emoticons, or using facial-recognition algorithms, sentiment analysis is garnering plenty of attention.

In fact, it's going to be the main focus of a two-day conference this week in New York. The Sentiment Analysis Symposium kicks off Wednesday with half-day workshops on technical and business tracks, and it continues Thursday with a packed agenda of speakers and topics.

As we've discussed here, many sentiment analysis efforts combine human intelligence with machine learning to train algorithms and improve their accuracy. Jason Baldridge, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Texas, will cover this in his "Practical Sentiment Analysis" tutorial Wednesday. In the description, he says today's technology can take efforts beyond traditional "opinion mining" and unlock more insight from semi-supervised learning and nontextual information like social networks, sensor feeds, audio, and video.

Thursday's schedule involves a rapid-fire succession of short talks. I'm hoping to attend the afternoon sessions, at the very least. Here are some topics in which I'm especially interested:

  • MIT Media Lab professor Rosalind Picard will discuss the latest in facial recognition machine learning, which, she says, has become "highly accurate" at differentiating between frustrated and delighted smiles.

  • University of Maryland professor VS Subrahmanian will talk about "Forecasting the Spread of Sentiments and Emotion in Social Media." In the course description, he says anger and fear can be traced via Facebook and Twitter to the benefit of retailers, online services, and politicians. "In this talk, we will use a major forthcoming international election as a colorful case study of how to track sentiment and emotion on any given topic, make forecasts about how far those sentiments and emotions will spread, and suggest ways in which to maximally influence the outcome to be consistent with the needs of client." This talk about influencing outcomes is reminiscent of the social physics theories put forth by MIT data scientist Alex Pentland. It seems awfully sinister, but maybe it's just good old marketing and public relations, with a little more data thrown in.

  • Dell's Shree Dandekar will talk about using enhanced text analytics to generate "social ROI" in real-time. This session is scheduled for just 10 minutes, so I'm hoping it will blow my mind.

  • Yuval Mor, CEO of Beyond Verbal, will talk about analyzing vocal intonation to determine emotion. In his course description, he discusses implications for machine interfaces that understand how humans feel, and he promises to share best-practices for incorporating emotion detection into voice solutions.

These kinds of cutting-edge applications seem almost like the stuff of science fiction. Can I program my phone to screen out angry callers? Can I craft a message that's guaranteed to sway people's emotions? How far out are these innovations? I'm hoping to get the answers this week.

Members, are any of you going to the conference? What do you think about sentiment analysis?

— Michael Steinhart, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn pageFriend me on Facebook, Executive Editor, AllAnalytics.com

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Michael Steinhart, Contributing Editor

Michael Steinhart has been covering IT and business computing for 15 years, tracking the rising popularity of virtualization, unified fabric, high-performance computing, and cloud infrastructures. He is editor of The Enterprise Cloud Site, which won the Least Imaginative Site Name award in 2012, and he managed TheITPro.com, a community of IT professionals taking their first steps into cloud computing. From 2006 to 2012, Steinhart worked as an executive editor at Ziff Davis Enterprise, writing and managing research reports, whitepapers, case studies, magazine features, e-newsletters, blog posts, online videos, and podcasts. He also moderated and presented in dozens of webinars and virtual tradeshows. He got his start in IT journalism at CMP Media back in 1998, then moved to PC Magazine, managing the popular Solutions section and then covering business technology and consumer software. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications/journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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Re: A fortune in the making
  • 3/3/2014 7:36:45 PM
NO RATINGS

@Beth It is incredible how much technology can do for us isn't it? Do you think this type of technology can also stop 'a fortune being taken?' Would they be able to recognize 'guilty faces' or emotions of potential shop lifters?

A fortune in the making
  • 3/3/2014 5:47:18 PM
NO RATINGS

Do I have this right? Is Subrahmanian saying that the spread of sentiment-based social media messages can be forecast? Marketers might pay a pretty penny to be able to forecast with high reliability how a few well-placed sentiments might spread!

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