APU faculty wins large grant to study the ethics of Emotional AI in smart cities


Nov 10, 2020

APU Professors Peter Mantello and Nader Ghotbi are part of an eight-person research team representing six universities in Japan and the UK which has been awarded a large grant through the UK Research and Innovation's (UKRI) Fund for International Collaboration (FIC) for a three-year research project titled "Emotional AI in Cities: Cross Cultural Lessons from UK and Japan on Designing for an Ethical Life." This grant, a joint UK-Japan initiative, totals nearly 100 million yen.

Artificial intelligence, or AI—computer programs or systems designed to make decisions based on data or other inputs—has become a common topic in news and the media. While many AI systems deal with simple physical data, there is another application for AI that deals less with simple inputs and instead with a more human aspect: Emotions.

"[…] we have reached a stage where machines are able to do what was only thought possible by humans–and that is to read the emotional state of a person."
—Professor Peter Mantello,
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

Emotional Artificial Intelligence is an emerging technology which allows systems to sense, learn, and interact with people's emotions, moods, and intentions, by using data from our body movements, voices, facial expressions, and even body temperature.1 As these technologies appear in smart devices, buildings, and cities, they change how people experience their surroundings, giving rise to questions of the ethical and social implications including privacy, security, safety, and bias in systems. If these questions and the needs of the people are not addressed it could lead to mistrust of technology, as seen in recent pushback against facial detection and recognition technologies.

Lead Japan researcher Professor Mantello notes:
"Emotions are a fundamental part of the human experience. They influence our ability to learn, make decisions, and can affect our overall well-being. But for the longest time they were neglected in the development of technology because emotions seemed difficult to quantify, and the technology to read emotions did not really exist. But with advances in affective computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, we have reached a stage where machines are able to do what was only thought possible by humans – and that is to read the emotional state of a person."

The research team aims to assess what it means to live ethically and well with Emotional AI in smart cities in cross-cultural commercial, security and media contexts. The team is interviewing key stakeholders involved in developing or deploying emotional AI in smart cities, and will also examine governance approaches (laws, norms, values) for collection and use of data about emotions in public spaces in order to understand how these guide Emotional AI technological developments.

"As emotional AI (EAI) emerges in cities, it will have profound impacts on the daily lives of citizens."
— Dr. Lachlan Urquhart,
University of Edinburgh

Member of the UK team, Dr. Lachlan Urquhart, 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."2

Importantly, the team seeks 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, they aim to feed all the research insights, including citizens’ views, back to the diverse stakeholders shaping usage of Emotional AI in cities.

A lasting legacy of the grant will be the establishment of a think tank to provide impartial ethical advice to governments, industry, educators and other stakeholders on Emotional AI and cross-cultural factors.

This project is joint funded by UK and Japan research councils as part of the UKRI-JST Joint Call on Artificial Intelligence and Society , and runs from January 1, 2020 until December 31, 2022. The full economic cost value of the project is approximately £710,000 (comprising £497,710 from UKRI’s Economic and Social Research Council and 29,645,000 Yen from Japan Science & Technology funds).

The Japan team is led by Professor Peter Mantello (dataveillance and predictive policing expert, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University), and includes Dr. Hiromi Tanaka (digital media & gender expert, Meiji University), Professor Nader Ghotbi (cross-cultural ethics and health expert, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University), Professor Hiroshi Miyashita (AI and data privacy expert, Chuo University), and Tung Ho Manh (research assistant and PhD student, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University). The UK team is led by Professor Andrew McStay (expert on social impact of emotional AI, Bangor University), and includes Professor Vian Bakir (dataveillance and disinformation expert, Bangor University), Dr. Lachlan Urquhart (multidisciplinary expert in IT law, computing and smart cities, University of Edinburgh) and Dr. Diana Miranda (criminology and surveillance technology expert, Northumbria University).

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

1. From Exploring the ethics of emotional artificial intelligence (press release, Northumbria University)
2. From Large Grant Win will Facilitate Research on Emotional AI in Smart Cities at the University of Edinburgh (University of Edinburgh)

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