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Need Help Deciphering That Vague Text Message? AI Wants To Help

Understanding and interpreting a text message isn't always easy. That's where some artificial intelligence companies want to help, by analyzing conversations and providing feedback.
Jack Guez
AFP/Getty Images
Understanding and interpreting a text message isn't always easy. That's where some artificial intelligence companies want to help, by analyzing conversations and providing feedback.

Texting is the go-to way to communicate these days. It keeps us connected, but it also has some gray areas. What does that upside down smiley face mean? Why don't people use periods at the ends of their sentences anymore?

A number of tech companies are using artificial intelligence to help improve texting relationships. Mei, is one of those companies. It aims to "deliver real-time personalized analysis and advice based on your text conversations."

Journalist Rainesford Stauffer has written about this issue for The New York Times.In an interview with NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday,she says these apps are meant to analyze our messages and provide feedback on our interactions with others. She says the feedback is often what people are searching for as they try to figure out the confusion that sometimes springs up when they're texting.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

How these apps are designed to help with texting

I think the idea behind an app like Mei, is based on text messages and call logs that come in through your phone, it is capable of detecting and understanding everything from personality and mood to how we interact and when we interact with our contacts. As it builds this personality profile, it gives you feedback on your text.

The examples of that were really interesting. It was everything from "your mom loves you very much" to "you seem like more of an introvert than an extrovert" or detecting abnormal behavior if you're not texting like your usual self.

What companies are doing to address privacy concerns

That was one of things that I really got to speak with the founder about and he did reassure me that though they collect communication with every contact to build an accurate profile of the user, the only personally identifiable information they have is your phone number. They don't have your name. They couldn't pick you out of a crowd, but the person on the other end, who you're corresponding with, is not aware that a personality profile is being built on them or that their information is being analyzed in this way.

I think the argument to that is you could turnaround and show a friend that you're sitting next to someone's text and say "Hey, what do you think this means? Do you think this is a little odd?" But the idea of information being harvested with the intention of analyzing mood and personality adds a little bit to that gray area of who has access to what and what we're reading into.

On whether people truly need help texting

I think that now more than ever our communications are loaded in the sense that it's possible to read into a lot. I think that we have a desire for answers about what the person on the other end of the line is thinking and I think apps like Mei work to fill that void. I think the most interesting element of this is the emphasis on trying to make communication and technology more human through increased technology. I think we're really yearning for human to human understanding and trying to figure out how to relate to each other through all of these different forms of communication.

NPR's Hiba Ahmad and Lynn Kim produced and edited this story for broadcast.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.