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AI X Ally


A collaborative project between students of anthropology, design, art, and engineering to reimagine the character of artificial agents and assistants in society


Project AllI is an open and collaborative project between students of anthropology, design, art, and engineering to reimagine the character of artificial agents and assistants in society. Inspired by the acknowledgment that our current assistants (Alexa, Siri, Cortana) do not fully represent the diversity of views in culture, with some reports arguing they actively reinforce existing biases, we aim to build a platform for creatively reimagining our relationship with artificial agents that not only better represents the diversity of cultural values but also leverages them to fostering emotional, affective, and artistic flourishing. What kind of A-ll-I do you envision? We invite you to consider, create, and contribute your ideas.


[Some of our current AI assistants:]



The ethnographic record is populated with many examples of what could be called allies: agents that while not exactly or nearly human nonetheless play a reciprocal role in making that society whole and flourish. Particular examples include the canine companions that in cooperative coexistence shaped human-dog evolution; certain deities taking form in natural objects like rivers, mountains, and trees, such as the kami of Japan's traditional cosmology; deified ancestors such as the Hawaiian ‘aumakua that protect one's family, and are cared for in return; or the sometimes fiercely-depicted protectors of Mahayana and Tantric Buddhist traditions, beings that manifest from one's innate capacity for enlightenment in order to help overcome mental and emotional obstacles.


While the different meanings and roles of each of these figures must be situated within their local cultural context, in their pervasiveness and diversity they nonetheless illustrate the creative cultural capacity for ritual, narrative, and material and artistic production to engender figures that, while different from and often more-than-human, are nonetheless active members of society.


Contemporary popular culture is certainly not without its own allies. Think, for example, of the recent reigniting of superhero stories, with culture industries like Marvel and DC churning out ongoing iterations of characters that come to human aid. What kind of cultural conditions are these characters responding to? What problems do they solve? What do they tell us about our contemporary condition? How, in short, do they help us?


Perhaps the most illustrative and iconic allies of recent times, at least in Japan,

is Doraemon, an animated blue robot cat that travels back in time from the

future to become the faithful ally of a boy called Nobita Nobi. Created by

Fujimoto Hiroshi and Abiko Motoo in 1969, Doraemon has become one of the

most widely read manga in the world. Combining advanced technologies with

astute interpersonal insight, he helps Nobita negotiate a number of personal

and emotional conflicts while also helping him in a variety of ways personally

grow and develop.


[Doraemon, by Fujimoto Hiroshi and Abiko Motoo,]                 



We draw inspiration from allies like Doraemon, and indeed from a number of characters in Japan's vast media, artistic, and technological fantasy scape, in order to help us think more constructively about the kind of AI assistants we want as participating members of our society. In short, we propose imagining not an ally but rather an AllI, an AI assistant that also embodies the diversity of our developing values.


Some may argue that the best way to avoid bias in AI assistants is to not treat them as agents at all but rather as inanimate machines. We welcome this as one alternative among many. However, we also find that in some cultural contexts and conditions, especially when AI advances to degrees of simulated intelligence that cannot help but evoke a sense of agency, treating such an agent as simply a servant or a machine may be just as harmful to interpersonal relations as AI assistants that reproduce deeply imbedded biases. An alternative approach may be to think creatively and artistically about how to imagine AllIes that, like the allies of the ethnographic record, may not always resemble known persons, animals, or other familiar personalities, but may prove to be powerful partners precisely because of the radical difference they embody.


Most importantly, we envision AllIes not as assistants or servants but as partners that—like the ‘aumakua, like the canines of our evolutionary past, or even like the fictional characters of our present like Doraemon—teach us how to better care for ourselves by also caring for others.


While the practical aim of AllI is to foster better design practices for engineering AI assistants and agents, its ultimate aim is one of education and cultural critique. As such, it endeavors to develop a discerning perspective on the relationship between AI and society that in many cases and for many problems would advocate not applying AI at all. However, in cases where AI can clearly assist or even inspire, we invite people to help us imagine and even in the future build or otherwise realize AllIes.



In the first stage of AllI, we propose a challenge. Brainstorm and design an AllI with four criteria:


  1. It must offer assistance for a particular challenge you or society faces, and thus improve one's condition, wellbeing, and generally provide support.

  2. It must be reciprocal: the support one receives must also benefit either the AllI or others.

  3. It must be embodied, physically, digitally, or otherwise.

  4. It must incorporate a technological capacity, even if that capacity does not yet exist.


We asked university students to draw, create, or otherwise design an AllI and then explain its features according to the four criteria above.


We invite you to do the same! Follow the same guidelines as our students and upload your work to our AllI archive. We will list some examples there to help inspire you, while featuring all submissions as a record of our diverse perspectives on the many ways we might relate personally to AI assistants. 


Download an assignment-friendly version of the above to use for your class or workshop. For further reading, see the UNESCO report, "I'd blush if I could," and White and Galbraith on "Japan's Emerging Emotional Tech."


人類学者、デザイナー、アーティスト、そしてエンジニアのコラボレーションによって構成される本プロジェクトは、AIエージェントやアシスタントの新たなイメージをデザインすることを目的としています。Alexa, Siri, Cortanaなど現在流通するAIアシスタントは既存のバイアスを助長しているという報告があるように、文化における多様な価値観を反映しているとは言えません。本プロジェクトの狙いは人とAIエージェントとの関係性のアップデートであり、そのために文化的価値や視点の多様性について考慮しつつ、それを人間の感情やアートの領域に利用することを念頭に入れたデザインを考える複合分野からなるプラットフォームの構築です。どのようなアライ(=人間の伴侶的役割を果たす機械)を想像しますか?このプロジェクトでは参加者のアイディアを付き合わせながら、この問いに取り組んでいきます。








[ドラえもん, 藤子・F・不二雄,]   



  1. あなたや社会が直面している何らかの困難の手助けとなることで、状況の好転や幸福度の上昇をもたらすこと。

  2. 相互関係的であること。アライから受けるサポートはアライもしくは社会のためにもなること。

  3. 物理的もしくはデジタル的に何らかの形を伴っていること。

  4. 技術的機能を伴っていること(想像上のテクノロジーでも構わない)。



Anchor 2 Jpn
Anchor 1 AllI Submission


A l l I

Notes and instructions on online submission

1. Fill in each of the fields below with only the information you want displayed in the AllI archive. Note the character limit for each field

2. Information is stored in the Model Emotion database and automatically uploaded to the archive

3. Uploads work best from desktop rather than from tablets or mobile

4. For questions, problems, or requests please contact

*Privacy: no personal information beyond the content provided below is collected or stored in the Model Emotion database

Image upload

1. Describe how your AllI offers assistance for a particular challenge you or society faces, and thus improves one's condition, wellbeing, and generally provides support.

2. Describe how your AllI fosters reciprocity. How does the support one receives also benefit either the AllI or others via the AllI?

3. How is your AllI embodied physically, digitally, or otherwise?

4. How does your AllI incorporate a technological capacity, even if that capacity does not yet exist?

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