Program creator Dale Musser: “At the point I was looking at this data, I realized at the vice-presidential debate there were 399 statements. That seems like a lot for an hour and a half."

Dale Musser’s new office in Naka Hall is still sparse. Like his office, the future of his new computer program, Debate Analyzer, is just as open to change. 

The program examines the transcript of the debates and measures the amount of emotions that the words connote. For example, in Trump’s “bad hombres” statement, the program indicated mostly “conscientiousness,” “confident” and “emotional range.”

This new program is not entirely Musser’s own creation, though. He uses IBM Watson’s Tone Analyzer tool, which runs text through an algorithm that determines the emotions those words represent.

Musser has been a computer science professor at MU since 2008. This fall, he also joined the School of Journalism, where he helps with mobile app development and was named the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s chief technology adviser.

He originally wanted to figure out a good way to demonstrate to his journalism students how to use the IBM Watson service.

“The night I was creating the demo was the night of the first debate,” Musser said. “So I finished writing the code to analyze a block of text, and I’m like, ‘What should I analyze?’ I heard Trump say something really stupid, and then I thought, ‘Debate text — that’ll be interesting.’”

He took a few quotes from live reports online of that night’s debate and put it into the program. He became interested in how the program would interpret the entire debate, not just the few comments.

“In the particular piece, it was labeled as very angry and sad,” Musser said. “And I’m like: ‘Is the whole thing angry and sad, or are there good times and bad times? How does this flow?’”

The next morning, when the full transcripts were put online, he started running entire debates through the program. He indicated to RJI Executive Director Randy Picht that this program might be interesting for further research.

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