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AI Now Institute Warns About Misuse Of Emotion Detection Software And Other Ethical Issues

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The AI Now Institute has released a report that urges lawmakers and other regulatory bodies to set hard limits on the use of emotion-detecting technology, banning it in cases where it may be used to make important decisions like employee hiring or student acceptance. In addition, the report contained a number of other suggestions regarding a range of topics in the AI field.

The AI Now Institute is a research institute based at NYU, possessing the mission of studying AI’s impact on society. AI Now releases a yearly report demonstrating their findings regarding the state of AI research and the ethical implications of how AI is currently being used. As the BBC reported, this year’s report addressed topics like algorithmic discrimination, lack of diversity in AI research, and labor issues.

Affect recognition, the technical term for emotion-detection algorithms, is a rapidly growing area of AI research. Those who employ the technology to make decisions often claim that the systems can draw reliable information about people’s emotional states by analyzing microexpressions, along with other cues like tone of voice and body language. The AI Now institute notes that the technology is being employed across a wide range of applications, like determining who to hire, setting insurance prices, and monitoring if students are paying attention in class.

Prof. Kate Crawford, co-founder of AI Now explained that its often believed that human emotions can accurately be predicted with relatively simple models. Crawford said that some firms are basing the development of their software on Paul Ekman’s work, a psychologist who hypothesized there are only six basic types of emotions that register on the face. However, Crawford notes that since Ekman’s theory was introduced studies have found that is far greater variability in facial expressions and that expressions can change across situations and cultures very easily.

“At the same time as these technologies are being rolled out, large numbers of studies are showing that there is… no substantial evidence that people have this consistent relationship between the emotion that you are feeling and the way that your face looks,” said Crawford to the BBC.

For this reason, the AI Now institute argues that much of affect recognition is based on unreliable theories and questionable science. Hence, emotion detection systems shouldn’t be deployed until more research has been done and that “governments should specifically prohibit the use of affect recognition in high-stakes decision-making processes”. AI Now argued that we should especially stop using the technology in “sensitive social and political contexts”, contexts that include employment, education, and policing.

At least one AI-development firm specializing in affect recognition, Emteq, agreed that there should be regulation that prevents misuse of the tech. The founder of Emteq, Charles Nduka, explained to the BBC that while AI systems can accurately recognize different facial expressions, there is not a simple map from expression to emotion. Nduka did express worry about regulation being taken too far and stifling research, noting that if “things are going to be banned, it's very important that people don't throw out the baby with the bathwater”.

As NextWeb reports, AI Now also recommended a number of other policies and norms that should guide the AI industry moving forward.

AI Now highlighted the need for the AI industry to make workplaces more diverse and stated that workers should be guaranteed a right to voice their concerns about invasive and exploitative AI. Tech workers should also have the right to know if their efforts are being used to construct harmful or unethical work.

AI Now also suggested that lawmakers take steps to require informed consent for the use of any data derived from health-related AI. Beyond this, it was advised that data privacy be taken more seriously and that the states should work to design privacy laws for biometric data covering both private and public entities.

Finally, the institute advised that the AI industry begin thinking and acting more globally, trying to address the larger political, societal, and ecological consequences of AI. It was recommended that there be a substantial effort to account for AI’s impact regarding geographical displacement and climate and that governments should make the climate impact of the AI industry publically available.