ethikal.ai is the Japanese counterpart of an international research collaboration between universities in Japan and the UK exploring the cross-cultural dimensions of the emerging world of emotional artificial intelligence. The funding for this remarkable three-year project has been made possible by the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Fund for International Collaboration (FIC) and the Japan Science and Technology’s Human Information Technology Ecosystem (HITE). Titled Emotional AI in Cities: Cross-Cultural Lessons from UK and Japan on Designing for an Ethical Life, the research aims to assess what it means to live ethically and well with Emotional AI in smart cities in cross-cultural commercial, security health, and media contexts.

Importantly, the project 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 affect detection and recognition tools in cities. Ultimately, we aim to feed all the research insights, including citizens’ views, back to the diverse stakeholders shaping usage of Emotional AI in cities.


What is Emotional AI

Emotional Artificial Intelligence is an emerging technology that 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. 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 the recent pushback against facial detection and recognition technologies.

Emotional AI is a rapidly growing industry with a current estimated value of USD 20 billion. Its presence can be felt across numerous industries – whether it’s self-driving vehicles, AI home assistants, to even predictive policing and Human Resource management. While AI has yet to achieve even half of its estimated potential, our daily lives have already been touched by the impact of emotion recognition and sensing artificial intelligence. 

What is AI ethics?

AI ethics consists of values, principles, and guidelines to assist public and private sectors in departmental in ensuring that they build and implement affect detection and recognition tools ethically, safely, and responsibly. Emotional AI vendors claim that their technologies can assist human managers to find better ways of understanding and supervising the employee. They also insist it can help to make objective and unbiased managerial decisions about a worker’s performance. Yet, affect-driven automated management tools whether operationalized through self-tracking devices or imposed externally through panoptic systems can foment higher degrees of anxiety, lower trust levels, and encourage discrimination. Beyond these innate problems comes the shaky science to support emotion-sensing tools. 

For decades now researchers in disciplines such as neuroscience, sociology, anthropology, biology and, psychology have been unable to agree on whether emotions are hard-wired into the psycho-physical make-up of the human body or if they are contingent on social understandings. Added to this dispute are claims by Emotional AI vendors that all humans manifest a discrete number of universal emotions and that they are innate and identical from culture to culture. This last point is particularly salient considering that as emotional AI technologies cross international borders, their data sets and algorithms are seldom tweaked for gender, ethnic, and cultural differences. Nonetheless, empathetic surveillance in the workplace is unequivocally and uncritically being ushered in as part of the ‘new norm’ in the golden age of big data. As such, their impact on new regimes of affective labor will offer tremendous power in the hands of those who wield them.

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….with advances in affective computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, we have reached a stage where machines are now capable 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

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