How does it know how I feel right now?
That yardstick is the Hedonometer, a computerized way of assessing both our happiness and our despair. It runs day in and day out on computers at the University of Vermont (UVM), where it scrapes some 50 million tweets per day off Twitter and then gives a quick-and-dirty read of the public’s mood. According to the Hedonometer, 2020 has been by far the most horrible year since it began keeping track in 2008.
The Hedonometer is a relatively recent incarnation of a task computer scientists have been working on for more than 50 years: using computers to assess words’ emotional tone. To build the Hedonometer, UVM computer scientist Chris Danforth had to teach a machine to understand the emotions behind those tweets — no human could possibly read them all. This process, called sentiment analysis, has made major advances in recent years and is finding more and more uses.