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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Emotion Recognition and Smart Cities

A futuristic cityscape connected by satellite and internet connectivity.

A futuristic cityscape connected by satellite and internet connectivity.

An Ethics Case Study

Irina Raicu

Jct600/CC BY-SA 2.0

A large U.S. city that prides itself on its uptake of innovative technologies has deployed “smart” light posts with cameras at various locations within its boundaries. Representatives of a technology company contact city leaders and propose that they be granted access to video recordings captured by those cameras, in order to use emotion-recognition AI and generate reports that would give city administrators an ongoing real-time understanding of their constituents’ sentiments. The underlying footage would not be shared with other entities, and city leaders would be presented with aggregated reports that don’t identify any particular individuals from the videos.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who are the stakeholders involved? Who should be consulted about such a project’s goals and development?
  2. As city leaders consider the proposal, they realize that they should seek input from people who would provide a variety of types of expertise. What academic disciplines would have relevant contributions to make to this analysis? What other types of expertise would be relevant and necessary in this case?
  3. How might this project be evaluated through the ethical 'lenses' of rights, justice, utilitarianism, the common good, virtue ethics, and care ethics?
  4. What ethical challenges might arise in the interactions among city leaders, the technology company, and the city’s residents? How might those be addressed?
Jul 18, 2022
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