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AI in the street

AI in the street

Scoping everyday observatories for public engagement with connected and automated urban environments

This collaborative project will explore divergences between principles of responsible AI and the messy reality of AI as encountered in the street, in the form of automated vehicles and surveillance infrastructure. The aim is to ground understandings of AI in lived experiences.

AI in the street is funded under the AHRC BRAIDLink opens in a new window programme (Bridging Divides in Responsible AI)

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Project Summary

Over the last decade, the street has emerged as one of the primary sites where everyday publics encounter AI. Industry and public sector organisations have deployed a variety of AI-based technologies in UK streets, from autonomous vehicles (AVs) to navigation apps, data-driven modelling in smart city projects and facial recognition technologies (FRT). These deployments have been accompanied by significant policy initiatives defining societal benefits of AI-driven innovation (safety, levelling up, sustainability, inclusion) as well as institutional engagements with affected communities through policy exhibitions, user-centred workshops and citizen cafés. However, from the perspective of the street, AI innovation often manifests as a messy social reality, provoking frictions that exceed existing frameworks for responsible innovation: in Cambridge, firefighters had to move a delivery robot that was in their way, while in Australia suburbs were left without electricity after a food delivery drone made an emergency landing on top of a set of power lines. There remain, then, significant divergences between the general frameworks for responsible AI and the particular lived realities of AI in the street. To build capacity among everyday publics and AI innovation consortia to engage across such divides, this 6-month project will develop a situated, creative approach to public engagement with AI: street- level observatories of everyday AI.

To bridge divides between lay and expert understandings of AI innovation, we will evaluate and prototype a set of street-level observatories for everyday AI. The aim of these observatories is to explore how everyday publics perceive and engage with AI at a primary site – city streets – where specific transformations, benefits, harms and (ir)responsibilities of AI in society can be made visible and thus legible for both publics and stakeholders. To realise this, we will collaborate with local partners and the arts to trial creative interventions that invite people on the street to observe the effects of AI in the lived environment. Our scoping project will 1) build partnerships across the humanities, arts and social sciences and with organisations and groups committed to situated forms of public engagement with AI-based science and innovation in connected and automated cities. In partnership with local government, we will 2) trial street-level AI observatories in 4 diverse UK cities—Cambridge, Coventry, London and Edinburgh— and one international location, Logan (Australia). The observatories will combine digital, place-based and/or embodied approaches, such as data walks and sensor media (apps) and will be designed to support shared learning across the project teams and partners.

Trialling AI observatories in city streets will enable us to undertake 3) a joint process of evaluating and prototyping an everyday AI observatory. This will make visible the entanglement of everyday social life with AI, showing people and technologies in complex real- world settings where sectoral, disciplinary and specialist interests intersect. This will be a space of interest to partners in local and national government, public policy innovation, and AI scientists and industry representatives, and create opportunities for developing shared understandings of societal responses and priorities between industry, policymakers, researchers and everyday publics.

Project Team

Project lead: Noortje Marres Link opens in a new window(University of Warwick)

Project co-leads: Alex Taylor (University of Edinburgh), Mercedes Bunz (King’s College London), Theo Damoulas (University of Warwick), Maya Indira Ganesh (Cambridge University), Thao Phan (Monash University), Rachel Coldicutt (Careful Industries)

Team: Dominique Barron (Careful Industries), Yasmine Boudiaf (University of Warwick), Rachael Burton (Careful Industries),
Iain Emsley (University of Warwick),
Louise Hickman (University of Cambridge), Bettina Nissen (University of Edinburgh),
Beatrice Gobbo (Politecnico de Milano) et al.

Partners: Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership, London Office of Technology and Innovation, NESTA, Nokia Bell Labs, Traveltech for Scotland, Scottisch AI Alliance, Transport for West Midlands

Contributing artists: Talking Birds, Link opens in a new windowAmbient Information SystemsLink opens in a new window

Hero Image credits
: Anne Fehres and Luke Conroy & AI4Media / Better Images of AI / Hidden Labour of Internet Browsing / CC-BY 4.0

This project has received additional financial support from the Monash-Warwick Alliance Co-Fund