Empathic Technologies: Influence and Disinformation

About the author

Richard Bailey Hon FCIPR is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.

The Virtual Mind the PR Gap 2020 event runs over two days. In this post we introduce the day one keynote speakers and summarise their research. Details of how to register for free are given at the end of this article.

Andrew McStay is Professor of Digital Life at Bangor University and director of the Emotional AI Lab, an international research group that examines the ethical, societal and cultural impact of artificial intelligence technologies that function in relation to data about human emotion, moods and affective states.

His recent book, Emotional AI: The Rise of Empathic Media, examines the impact of technologies that make use of data about affective and emotional life. Current projects include studies of emotional AI, children and parents, and (separately) cross-cultural analysis of emotional AI in UK and Japan.

Vian Bakir is Professor in Journalism and Political Communication at Bangor University, UK. She is an expert in the impact of the digital age on strategic political communication, dataveillance and disinformation. Her books include: Intelligence Elites and Public Accountability (2018); Torture, Intelligence and Sousveillance in the War on Terror (2016); Sousveillance, Media and Strategic Political Communication: Iraq, USA, UK (2010) and Communication in the Age of Suspicion (2007).

Professor McStay says:

Much of our work is future-facing in that we’re interested in Emotional AI technologies that will become more familiar in the next few years. Emotional AI technologies use data analytics and machine learning to artificially understand human emotion and feeling.

Here are some examples of empathic AI applications:

Microsoft is building workplace analytics that detect stress and fatigue; Garmin’s personal wearables monitor emotion and wellbeing; social media companies mine sentiment of words and images; Spotify sells mood data to advertising conglomerates; Ford and Honda are equipping cars to track fatigue; ads in London’s Piccadilly Circus watch people to see if they like them; Amazon’s Alexa will soon react to voice tone; Empath and others track callers and workers in call centres; Fujitsu and Softbank build assistive care robots that register emotion; AXA are building biometrics into insurance premiums; Intel offers schools cameras that monitor emotion and quality of engagement; and Mattel and Anki build toys that listen and watch for child emotion.

Some of these examples may seem a little strange and unrelated to PR, but look again: each are about influence.

Key findings from their research are:

  • Via surveys, focus groups and expert interviews looking at biometrics in a range of other contexts – toys, children, cars, cities – they found data about emotions is being used across a range of industries for purposes of influence and behaviour change. Citizens, understandably, are concerned but they also see opportunities, especially in entertainment, gaming and robotics.
  • Through a 2020 survey of UK citizens, they found that people are very uncomfortable with how their personal data about emotion is used for political campaigning. This might not be a surprise to PR professionals, but level of concern is such that they are more concerned about social media, politics and democracy, than unwanted biometric profiling.

Professor McStay tells me:

‘We’re interested in emotion, data and influence: specifically technologies, social acceptability and strategic communications.’

Virtual Mind the PR Gap 2020 is a free event, but you need to register for each session you wish to join. There are three sessions over two days.

AI, creativity and fake news in a post Covid-19 world

Date and time: Thursday 9 July 12noon to 1.30pm

Keynote speakers: Professor Andrew McStay and Professor Vian Bakir (both at Bangor University)

Panellists: Kevin Read (Pembroke and Rye), Stuart Youngs (Texture AI), Stuart Bruce, Vian Bakir and Andrew McStay co-chaired by Philip Young (Birmingham City University) and Ann Longley (Something New Together)



The future of work, careers and learning in a post Covid-19 world

Date and time: Friday 10 July 12noon to 1.30pm

Keynote speakers: Satyen Dayal (Edelman), Dr Heather Yaxley (Applause Consultancy and Knowledge Management Consultant at CIPR) and Dr Sarah Roberts-Bowman (Northumbria University)

Panellists: Satyen Dayal, Heather Yaxley, Sarah Roberts-Bowman, Jon Gerlis (CIPR) and Steve Miller (PRCA) co-chaired by Richard Bailey (Leeds Beckett University and PR Academy Insights) and Dr Nicky Garsten (University of Greenwich)



Virtual drinks, networking and PR quiz

Date and time: Friday 10 July 5pm to 6.30pm

registER free