Large Grant Win Will Facilitate Research on Emotional AI in Smart Cities at the University of Edinburgh

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Dr Lachlan Urquhart, a lecturer based at Edinburgh School of Law, is part of a research team that has won a large grant examining the impacts of emotional AI being rolled out in smart cities in the UK and Japan, with particular attention paid to the impacts on citizens. The 3-year project is called ‘Emotional AI in Cities: Cross Cultural Lessons from UK and Japan on Designing for An Ethical Life’. 

Japan and the UK are both at a critical juncture where technological, social and governance structures can be appropriately prepared before mass adoption of Emotional AI. While Japan and UK are advanced in AI development, they differ in social, political, normative and techno-ethics histories. Potential cultural differences are apparent between normative expressions of emotion – both online and offline – and Japanese and European understandings of privacy and sensitive data.  

The project will seek to understand the attitudes of key stakeholders and diverse citizens with regard to Emotional AI, and will examine governance approaches for use of intimate data about emotions in public spaces. Ultimately, the research team plains to feed research insights and citizens’ views to the diverse stakeholders shaping usage of Emotional AI in cities.

Dr Lachlan Urquhart, who is a multidisciplinary expert in IT governance, computing and smart cities, commented on what the project hopes to achieve: 

As emotional AI (EAI) emerges in cities, it will have profound impacts on the daily lives of citizens. By attempting to make internal emotional states visible, it immediately raises questions about data privacy in public spaces, emotional surveillance of everyday life and how governance mechanisms should best protect civic values and rights. We want to understand what citizens, law enforcement, and industry think. We are particularly interested in how to design ethical EAI systems that they actually want to live with. By doing this in both Japan and the UK, we have scope for truly novel cross-cultural lessons on best practice in both governance and system design.

The project is joint funded for approximately £710,000 by UK and Japan research councils as part of the UKRI-JST Joint Call on Artificial Intelligence and Society, and will run until December 2022. The UK team is led by Andrew McStay of Bangor University, with co-investigators based at the University of Edinburgh, Northumbria University, and Bangor University. The Japan team are based at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Meiji University, and Chuo University.  

For more on this project: Emotional AI lab