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Department of Social Anthropology


Senior Research Seminar with Dr Daniel White (University of Cambridge)

Model Emotion: Algorithmic, Android and Anthropological Approaches to Affect


Anthropologists are not the only ones who have increasingly theorised affect over the last few decades. In the mid-1990s, computer scientists at MIT began examining affect from an algorithmic perspective, exploring ways software could track emotional patterns in users and imagining how a computer might even develop emotional capacities of its own. Meanwhile, in Japan, roboticists were analysing affect by building androids that expressed emotions like humans, questioning what it would mean to create a robot that could recognise and elicit emotion as well as fulfil humans' emotional desires. Asking not only ontological but also ethical questions about affect, these technological interventions into the emotions engendered scientific practices by which modelling human emotion in machines required evaluating what makes for a ‘model’ emotional connection between humans and robots. Drawing on fieldwork among roboticists in Japan and affective computing scientists in the UK, this presentation analyses practices of emotion modelling in computing, robotics and anthropological theory. It proposes that comparable strategies in these approaches to affect yield insights into ongoing problematisations of the relation between the concepts 'affect' and 'emotion' in social theory, and offer tools for better documenting this relation methodologically through fieldwork.

Friday, 19 February, 2021 - 16:15 to 18:00
Event location: 
Online - by email invitation