Emotional money

Overlapping emotional and financial value

AI could advance to levels that would allow sophisticated understanding of people’s emotions. If that information is coupled with financial behaviours or organisational objectives, it could transform how value is assigned to our services and our experiences.

How the scenario could unfold

In this hypothetical environment, we consider that governments may explore new ways to deliver welfare to people to reduce poverty and inequality and to offset the potential harm done to employment from the growth of artificial intelligence and other tumultuous developments in the job market. In this process, they will be looking at new systems to assess needs and deliver services that benefit people in different ways

In conjunction with this trend, we focus on the expansion and sophistication of artificial intelligence into the field of human emotion. We also examine how a meaningful and quantifiable assessment of a person’s emotional state may influence services. We explore with a particular focus on what might be plausible if emotional states are cross-referenced with financial information. Services employing psychological theories deep within their designs would be given vast new capacities to empower or exploit users or simply to understand and customise to their needs in alternative ways.

We consider the significance of this context from the perspective of a future character we created based on our research with real people.

What might that mean for Mary?

For Mary, life is constantly defined by a financial system that incarcerates her and her family. We explore how services may evolve around people’s needs in this context.

We don’t have much room to be a normal family… cooking, playing, or doing homework together. I just get on with it because I have other people relying on me everyday.

Mary shares a small two bed flat arranged by the housing office with her husband and three small kids. She and her husband work everyday full-time: he works as a security guard and she as a shoe shop assistant. They had a little debt and then her husband suffered a work injury on a building site. He was on benefits until the rules changed and now they can not afford to keep up payments. It’s hard to explain to her friends and colleagues the situation they’re in and how it happened.

Happiness for Mary would be the chance to get herself and her loved ones out of this position and function as a proper family. She wants to be able to breathe and have fun and escape the constant concern about food or bills or being cut-off by the government. When her mum brings sweets round for the kids or when she finds little ways to make them laugh, she sees glimpses of a positive future.

Her goals:

Mary’s goals are to get out of debt and be a ‘normal’ family and to live a normal life. Just to have dignity, privacy and space for her family.

For her, a lack of money stunts almost every element of her life and is a constant cause for concern.

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Sidelined and connected communities

The elderly are sidelined but new tools could help connect them in communities and fight for a place in society.


Pragmatic collectives

Distrust in the ability of governments and large organisations to offer genuine solutions to pressing issues may result in the adoption of individual action organised around new models of ethical priorities and infrastructures.

Explorations in ‘Emotional money’

We explore the future by producing service visions that respond to the needs of someone like Mary in the scenario of ‘Emotional money’. Sometimes, these service visionsarticulate provocative or even implausible caricatures of services, but provocation and implausibility often stimulate the dialogue that is needed for the emergence of new strategies.

  • What beneficial elements of these services could be fostered? What is already happening in some way?
  • What harm may these services do?
  • What might prevent services such as these proliferating?
  • What cultures may develop around a landscape of services such as this?
Find out how we ‘created the framework for future thinking’.
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UBH is a universal government benefits system, which evolved from universal basic income, due to the recognition that happiness is the most important metric for success. Through advanced emotional monitoring, the government can support people with whatever services or community engagement they need to reach an acceptable level of happiness. Unhappiness leads to far greater costs in the end.

Team: The Lab

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Spark is a service that helps you discover your financial personality to align it with your consumption and help you make better financial decisions and achieve financial health and wellbeing.

Find out how we ‘Conducted studio explorations’.
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Little Things

A platform that rewards people who bring micro-doses of happiness to others, so that whatever you bring to the world doesn’t go unnoticed.

By paying a small amount daily, people subscribe to the service to get a little extra attention or a smile walking down the street. Providers can see the profile of the users and are alerted to what sort of positivity they want, when and where. Each ‘little’ interaction is automatically rated based on sensors on the users. Providers get paid and build a reputation for authenticity.

Team: The Lab

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Service Visions


YOLT is an events organising algorithm that connects hosts, venues and people together to create amazing communities of diverse individuals.
Find out how we ‘Crafted service concepts’.
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Guru helps you build your well being using your money. First, it connects your banks to Guru and gets to know you through a short personality test. It shows you all of your financial information in customisable ways that help you understand how your spending is connected with your wellbeing. Next, it gives you bitesize tips on how to use your money to reach your wellbeing and financial goals in different ways. And finally, it reinforces positive progress toward your goals. Collectively it creates a learning loop that helps you align your financial behaviours with what makes you happiest.

Team: The Lab

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Service Visions


Relate divides your relationship needs into multiple categories so they can be fulfilled by different people that are matched perfectly and arranged for you.

Emerging topics

Through these explorations, we see interesting new types of service emerge from multiple types of perspective. —all engaging with money in emotional ways.

The least provocative of the three explorations represents a type of service that could exist in the shorter term, which begins to normalise the combination of emotion and money. It uses  it to build someone’s agency by helping them recognise positive outcomes from their spending. While this dynamic still has potential for corruption, it is an example of a way that artificial intelligence can be used to create awareness and therefore make the most of your  money.

Another emerging topic is about how t happiness metrics could be used as a way to define the need for a service and the subsequent value of an experience (as shown in Little Things and ‘Universal Basic Happiness). While such extreme examples are unlikely, they frame an emerging space where less complex services may use emotional ratings to determine the need, and therefore the cost that someone should be paying, or even determine their rights to access certain services. While the rating of people’s emotional experience is hugely controversial and unveiling in it’s own right, in combination with financial transactions, we might begin to see unusual metrics such as the cost of happiness. Which may unveil an interesting new understanding of the human condition – Who is happiest? How much does it cost? What is the true relationship between happiness and money?

In all these services, there are consistent threats. What happens when the happiness algorithms get it wrong (as they would do during their early juvenile states, at the very least)?. If they determine your understanding of what makes you happy in incorrect ways, what level of authority will they have in people’s mind? Will people consequently make incorrect decisions that aren’t right for them? Will people’s understanding of happiness be affected? What happens if the provider of the service is corrupt or if the service is  just trained by data that is biased towards certain types of experience and might, for instance, benefit certain commercial or political entities disproportionately?

More than most, these scenarios represent a particularly treacherous convergence of worlds. Technologies that begin to get under the skin of people’s mental mechanisms combined with the corrupting influence of money, marks the emergence of a complex and dangerous new territory. Some of the more palatable services here demonstrate how light hearted excursions may carve easy new routes into that territory.

Related to ‘Emotional Money’


Connected localism

Decentralised infrastructures may be adopted by ‘smart’ localised communities to provide an escape route for those who feel that larger, more traditional infrastructures always work to entrap the public.



Spark is a service that helps you discover your financial personality to align it with your consumption and help you make better financial decisions and achieve financial health and wellbeing.

Live Services


Quirk is a personal finance app that helps young people learn about and manage their finances according to their personality and interests so that they can ultimately make better financial decisions that align with their life goals.

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