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Affective computing is a form of technology where the computer is able to respond in some way to a human stimulus, usually one that is related to sophisticated mood or emotional cues – whether that is interpreting human gestures and body language, measuring vital signs, or taking in other inputs in order to generally understand the user's mood, emotional state or general social condition, and respond to it. Although most human interactions with computers have traditionally been one-sided, where the technologies do not get passive input from users, all of that is changing with new affective computing tools that can actually sense input from the user.
In some ways, many tech enthusiasts feel that affective computing started with more basic technologies that started to track a user's physical movements and physical dimensionality through sensor fusion and other techniques. Video gaming systems started to employ this type of technology throughout the 1980s, 1990s and the beginning of the millennium. At the same time, more technologies became able to get physical inputs such as blood pressure and heart rate, and work them into fitness technology products and services.
Today, affective computing is progressing into a unique realm that involves technologies figuring out a user's emotions, and taking in sensory input in a much more sophisticated social way. Examples include some wristband technologies that attempt to get users' emotional cues through vital signs, and an android-based robot called Tega developed at MIT that interacts with young students through speakers, a camera and other hardware.
In some ways, affective computing dovetails nicely with advances in artificial intelligence. Many of those who are not close to the technological world are shocked to see realistic-looking human-sized robots respond to the body language of humans around them. People are often taught to believe that computers do not have this capability, however, with the combined power of artificial intelligence to develop conversational response, and affective computing to develop sensing of human emotion, these AI entities are getting much closer to becoming full social participants at a roundtable with humans.