Face the future – Bangor University awarded substantial grant to explore Emotional AI in our cities

As Emotional Artificial Intelligence (AI) starts to be rolled out in smart cities, a team from Bangor University has won a substantial grant to study ways in which citizens can live harmoniously with technologies that sense, learn and interact with their emotions, moods, attention and intentions.

‘Emotional AI in Cities: Cross Cultural Lessons from UK and Japan on Designing for An Ethical Life’ is a 3-year project jointly-funded by British and Japanese research councils and will be led by Andrew McStay, Professor of Digital Life at Bangor University.

Japan and the UK are at a critical juncture where technological, social and governance structures can be appropriately prepared before mass adoption of Emotional AI. In the case of smart cities, a mistrust of the latest civic infrastructure and its management has been witnessed recently in social and legal debates surrounding the use of facial detection and recognition technologies.

While Japan and UK are advanced nations in AI development and adoption, they differ in social, political, normative and techno-ethics histories. Other issues that will provide a rich scope for the team’s research include the logics of sensing technologies and the extent to which emotion display is universal across cultures; the nature of ethnocentric differences in social media usage and expression of online emotion; and potential differences between Japanese and European conceptions on what constitutes privacy and sensitive data.

As well as interviewing key stakeholders developing or deploying emotional AI in smart cities, the international research team will examine governance approaches (laws, norms, values) for collection and use of intimate data about emotions in public spaces to understand how these guide Emotional AI technological developments. It will seek to understand diverse citizens’ attitudes to Emotional AI, and will co-design citizen-led, creative visions of what it means to live ethically and well with Emotional AI in cities. Ultimately, it aims to feed all the research insights, including citizens’ views, back to the diverse stakeholders, including governments, industry and educators shaping usage of Emotional AI in cities.

Looking ahead to the study, Professor Andrew McStay said: ‘Only 5 or so years ago, Emotional AI was the preserve of start-ups trying to create services out of affective computing. Today, the largest companies are deploying emotional AI and empathic technology systems in cars, streets, classrooms, homes and more. Its presence is growing in diverse sectors, converging on smart cities. For both Japan and the UK, we urgently need to know what the societal implications of the emergence of these technologies are, how will they be deployed in our cities, what is coming next, how do citizens feel about it, are policies appropriate, and the place of data ethics in societies with quite different histories and demographics.’

For more on this, and related, projects, see the Emotional AI lab .

·        This project is joint funded by UK and Japan research councils as part of  the UKRI-JST Joint Call on Artificial Intelligence and Society. It runs from 1 Jan 2020 – 31 Dec 2022. Its Full Economic Cost value is approx. £710,000 (comprising £497,710 from UKRI’s Economic and Social Research Council and 29,645,000 Yen from Japan Science & Technology funds).

Publication date: 23 January 2020