Reading The 'Body Language' of Your Text Messages

Communication can be tricky… What we mean to say and what gets heard, are often two very different things. But what if we had insight into the other person’s brain… and could tailor our communication to them? Texting with romantic partners, colleagues, your mother-in-law… could get a lot easier.

Es Lee is a data scientist and founder of a company called Mei. And his technology promises to help us with our messy human interactions — it provides AI-driven insight into communication. Right now, Mei analyzes text messages…

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

Your grandma might actually be… the closest thing to an AI that we know…

Es Lee: With enough data, it starts actually doing this better than people can. …There’s no way a person could have actually listened to 250,000 conversations, right? Or conversations between, you know, 500,000 people.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm

Es Lee: But a machine is able to do that and take every single one of those data points and say, “Hey, this person… within, like the first 20 words says something like ‘handsome,’” And 99 out of 100 of those [times], that person had marked that they were romantically interested in that person. The machine is able to do things and recognize patterns in ways that people can’t… If you’re young and this is your first romantic relationship, you might not be able to read any of the signs that this person likes you, right? ‘Cause you’ve never seen it before. But you take somebody who’s seen enough relationships and… Your grandma might actually be… the closest thing to an AI that we know because she’s just seeing enough information that she can go, “Oh, yeah, I heard him say that. So, yeah, in my experience, like, yeah. That has not turned out well.”

Laurie Segall: Your grandma might be as close to an AI… That’s really interesting. It’s like pattern recognition and also based on personality types that you guys define. Is that how you guys do it?

Es Lee: It’s the Big Five personality profile. …So, for example, if the algorithm starts picking up that the person on the other side is a lot more reserved, it’ll say “Oh, you know, this person seems like they’re a lot more reserved than you. You might want to try a little harder to relate to them.”

Laurie Segall: What other kind of soft nudges does the AI give us?

Es Lee: Well, on the flip side, if you’re reserved and the other person is a lot more outgoing, it might say, “Hey, this person’s a lot more outgoing than you. You might want to try to keep it light… You know, keep things light with them.”

Laurie Segall: I mean, as always, AI is so flawed, right…

Es Lee: Yeah

Laurie Segall: … and can get it really wrong sometimes. So what if the AI is giving me advice that’s just terrible?

Es Lee: Yeah. Yeah, that’s fair. It’s not infallible. But I would argue that it’s probably better than your friends.