Research on AI & SAR for education in emergencies

Cathy Richards

Over the past several years, we’ve seen artificial intelligence (AI) technologies play an increasingly integrated role in different parts of our society, including in humanitarian and social justice settings. While certain types of AI may hold the potential to increase the efficiency and impact of organisations working in these sectors, there is still a lot to be learned about how using these technologies affects communities in challenging settings or who hold marginalised identities.

In collaboration with Save the Children, we are starting a new research project to assess the use of AI in humanitarian and development contexts in the Middle East. Specifically, we’ll analyse the opportunities and risks presented by the potential use of socially assistive robotics in education programmes in the region. Socially assistive robotics have the goal of interacting with their human users to give assistance towards a social goal, be it physical healing and rehabilitation, emotional support, or learning and skill practice.

Our research will consist of in-depth desk research, interviews, workshops and community calls–the first of which will be held on 11 June. We plan on considering factors such as the rights of children, how data protection is considered, cost-effectiveness and previous evidence of how using these technologies compares to more traditional approaches. We hope that our learnings can help build responsible ways forward, especially in what are often complex and sensitive contexts.

Want to get involved?

Right now we are at the initial phase of this research and we would love to connect with people and organisations who have worked on this topic. To that end, we will be hosting a community call on 11 June at 8 am EST. We invite any interested folks to join, especially those interested in or with experience in:

  • Using AI and/or socially assistive robotics in humanitarian contexts
  • Using emerging technology with vulnerable populations
  • Implementing ethical and responsible approaches to technology in humanitarian and human rights organisations
  • Working in education within emergency contexts

Attendees will hear from Chaona Chen, postdoctoral researcher at the Institution of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow, Monica Bulger, Founder of LiteracyOnline who specialises in child rights and education technology and Katja Lindskov Jacobsen, senior researcher at the Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen. Questions and sharing your own experiences is welcome!

How to join the call

We will be using an online conferencing service called UberConference. This service allows us to connect up to 100 participants using VOIP or phone. This is not a video conferencing system, so the call will be audio-only.

To join the discussion on UberConference, just follow these steps at the time of the meeting:

  1. Using Firefox or Chrome, go to
  2. If you have trouble using your computer for audio, you can connect using your phone. Just dial +1 607-821-7499 (you don’t need a PIN).

UberConference’s System requirements. For help, visit the UberConference FAQs, or the UberConference support portal.

If you can’t make the call…

…we’ll be using this shared pad to document notes for the call in a comprehensive and participatory way. The notes will stay live, so no worries if you’re unable to join the call but would like to read what we talked about.

Get in touch with Cathy at cathy[at] [pgp key] or tweet @engnroom.

Photo credit: mostafa meraji on Unsplash


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