Robbie Scarff (LLM (with distinction) in Human Rights Law)

Thesis title: Regulating emotional artificial intelligence: exploring expert and citizen perspectives using design fictions


I study emotional artificial intelligence, specifically looking at the potential risks it poses and what the regulatory response to these risks should be. I'm also particularly interested in understanding the perspectives of a wide range of stakeholders, especially citizens, and using their views to inform the regulatory response. I previously studied human rights law, so I tend to integrate that experience into my work now. 


Outside academia, I enjoy climbing munros, watching and playing football and writing.


BSc in Sports and Exercise Science (First Class)

LLM in Human Rights Law (with Distinction)

Research summary

My overarching research interest lies in understanding the ways in which technological developments are causing profound changes in society.  For my LLM dissertation I wrote about the various ways in which emerging technologies are impacting upon different human rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, privacy and equal treatment. I found that while there are many positive aspects to the GDPR, there are also many ways in which this data protection regulation is unable to protect people from some of the harms brought about by new technologies. 

This lead me directly to my present study of emotional artificial intelligence, AI which attempts to read, interpret and influence our inner emotional state. There are so many ways this technology could help people, but equally so many ways it could cause harm. Understanding these impacts, how people feel about the technology, and working towards an appropriately measured regulatory response is the overall goal of my PhD. 

Current research interests

Emotional AI is not a widely deployed technology, and not very many people know about it just now. This presents a challenge if I want to interview people and ask their views on it. So, to address this challenge I have a particular interest in using a research method called design fictions. This involves creating short, fictional scenarios in which potential uses of emotional AI are given context and "made real". This will allow people to gain an understanding of potential future uses of emotional AI and to consider their views on it in various situations.

Past research interests

I've always been interested in the way things impact upon people and what people think about those things. During my undergraduate dissertation, I studied the impact of asking people to reduce their activity level and be as sedentary as possible. While not my original intention, the most interesting outcome was interviewing people and finding out how incredibly difficult they found this restriction. This experience of interviewing people and learning that a lot can be gained by asking people to discuss their views on things has informed my current approach to conducting research.