Emotion AI and Fabulation: Seeking Biopolitical Futures of Respectful Care

Noura Howell, Georgia Institute of Technology

Emotion AI claims to predict people’s emotions based on biodata – data about people’s bodies and behaviors. Emotion AI operates in mundane and high-stakes contexts such as social media, transit, schools, hiring, and personal wellness tracking. While proponents expound benefits for well-being and security, critics decry foundational scientific flaws, lack of cultural nuance, and harms against marginalized groups. After introducing this problem space, this talk explores: How might design futuring help radically reimagine alternatives around Emotion AI that are ethical, beneficial, and respect the irreducible complexity of diverse lives and experiences? To pursue this, we’ll examine two tangible design artifacts that explore critical alternatives with Emotion AI through embodied, social interaction with color-changing garments and sonic furniture. Then, we’ll introduce fabulation, an emergent and varied approach being adapted for design futuring, and examine two case studies of fabulation with bodily fluids and biodata. Finally, we’ll reflect on how fabulation can offer ways of reimagining Emotion AI and the datafication of people’s bodies, seeking biopolitical futures of respectful care.

Noura Howell, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in Digital Media at Georgia Tech. Her work explores social and ethical implications of Emotion AI through design research and qualitative methods. She completed her PhD at UC Berkeley in the School of Information as a member of the BioSENSE lab. Before grad school, she worked as a software engineer and human-centered designer at the MIT Media Lab, Intel Labs, Microsoft, and The Echo Nest (a music data startup later bought by Spotify).