Algorithm Predicts Marriage Success (HAL 9000 Will See You Now)

A new computer algorithm has more success than human therapists and marriage counselors when it comes to predicting whether or not your marriage relationship is working.

In fact, the algorithm did a better job of predicting marital success of couples with serious marital issues than descriptions of the therapy sessions provided by relationship experts. The research was published in Proceedings of Interspeech on September 6, 2015.

Researchers recorded hundreds of conversations from over one hundred couples taken during marriage therapy sessions over two years, and then tracked their marital status for five years.

An interdisciplinary team — led by Shrikanth Narayanan and Panayiotis Georgiou of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering with their doctoral student Md Nasir and collaborator Brian Baucom of University of Utah — then developed an algorithm that broke the recordings into acoustic features using speech-processing techniques. These included pitch, intensity, “jitter” and “shimmer” among many – things like tracking warbles in the voice that can indicate moments of high emotion.

“What you say is not the only thing that matters, it’s very important how you say it. Our study confirms that it holds for a couple’s relationship as well,” Nasir said. Taken together, the vocal acoustic features offered the team’s program a proxy for the subject’s communicative state, and the changes to that state over the course of a single therapy and across therapy sessions.

Of course, science fiction writers have enjoyed toying with the idea of robot psychologists for decades. Consider Philip K. Dick's robot psyche tester from his 1953 story Colony:

The robot psyche tester whirred, integrating and gestalting. At last its color code lights changed from red to green.

"Well?" Hall demanded.

"Severe disturbance. Instability ratio up above ten."

"That's over danger?"

"Yes. Eight is danger. Ten is unusual, especially for a person with your index. You usually show about a four... If you could give me more data-"

Hall set his jaw. "I can't tell you any more."

"It's illegal to hold back information during a psyche test," the machine said peevishly. "If you do that you deliberately distort my findings."

Readers may wish to compare this device with the machine psychologist from James Blish's Cities in Flight, the mechanotherapist from Bad Medicine (a 1956 Robert Sheckley story) and the more complex Dr. Smile, from Dick's 1964 novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

However, for voice analysis, humans must listen to HAL 9000, from Arthur C. Clarke's from Arthur C. Clarke's 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey:

"Hal, switch to manual hibernation control."

"I can tell from your voice harmonics, Dave, that you're badly upset. Why don't you take a stress pill and get some rest?"

"Hal, I am in command of this ship. I order you to release the manual hibernation control."

"I'm sorry, Dave, but in accordance with special subroutine C1435-dash-4, quote, When the crew are dead or incapacitated, the onboard computer must assume control, unquote. I must, therefore, overrule your authority, since you are not in any condition to exercise it intelligently."

Via USC.

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