Call Centres Introduce ‘Emotion Cancelling’ AI to Protect Workers From Harassment

Call Centres Introduce ‘Emotion Cancelling’ AI to Protect Workers From Harassment

Call centre employees have notoriously unpleasant jobs. They field questions from disgruntled customers all day long and can only respond with corporate-mandated jargon. Many expect AI will one day replace these customer service jobs, but for now, several corporations are using AI to address the incredible emotional distress their employees are under. Well, they’re trying—sort of.

Last week, the massive Japanese conglomerate SoftBank announced it developed “emotion canceling” technology to protect employees from customer harassment, according to The Asahi Shimbun. The voice-altering technology, dubbed SoftVoice, alters angry customer voices into calm ones. It aims to emotionally support call center employees, acting as a “mental shield” for operators.

SoftVoice’s developers told the Japanese newspaper that AI will detect a hostile tone, and automatically alter the customer’s inflection without changing their words. By 2025, the company hopes to sell the technology more broadly. Frankly, this sounds like a dystopian experiment from science fiction, where our overlords water down human emotions to lubricate our corporate exchanges. But SoftBank isn’t alone in this half-assed effort to use AI to support distressed employees.

The Memphis-based regional bank First Horizon is using AI to detect when a call center employee is on the brink of losing it, according to American Banker in March. The bank sends the employees a relaxing video montage of photos of that employee’s family set to music. The videos referred to as “resets” are produced by Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and include inspirational quotes with guided “breathing bubbles” to instruct the employee on relaxing breathing techniques. The report resurfaced on social media this week.


Employees at First Horizon choose their own photos and songs to appear in their one-minute reset videos. First Horizon saw a 13% reduction in burnout levels during an initial test, and then a 20% reduction in a larger test. The company has allegedly rolled the technology out to all 3,000 of its call center operators.

While it might seem strange for AI to be emotionally supporting employees, this is a key step on the path to replacing the jobs of call center operators. A critical function of the job is recognizing when a customer is upset and offering an apology on behalf of the company. SoftBank and First Horizon’s AI systems both deal with emotion recognition, and that’s no coincidence. Effectively, their AI is practicing on the call center employees themselves, but one day, these companies want the AI to deal with disgruntled customers all by themselves. Until then, we’re in this strange limbo where AI is addressing how miserable call center jobs can be.

Image: Comedy Central

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