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Student Showcase Archive

Gyorgyi Galik

PhD Work

PhD work

“Alexa, Help Me Save the Planet”: Designing an AI assistant to reduce invisible environmental pollutants in cities

My Ph.D. thesis critically analyses the reductionist, technological approaches of smart cities and persuasive technologies aimed at tackling air pollution and mitigating the effects of climate change. It offers evidence-based practical alternatives to these approaches and suggests how future work in this field might expand this narrow design space.  

There is scientific consensus that global climate change is occurring and that the greenhouse gases emitted by human behaviour are the primary driver. Despite this agreement, collective action to reduce emissions has been lacking. And according to the latest estimates, global temperature is on track to rise by an average of 6°C. Inaction can partly be explained by the nature of the problem; the effects of climate change are often indirect, delayed, and difficult to understand. With the ultimate aim of fostering low-carbon social innovation, in this thesis I redesign an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant technology to encourage behaviour change that reduces invisible pollutants in cities. I apply a second-order epistemology to address the current limitations of AI assistants and enhance the field of smart technology design.

Local governments around the world are spending millions to monitor environmental pollution using smart city technologies. Firstly, I analyse and critique these technologies and I propose a new set of design qualities. By developing these design qualities, I hope to provide a conceptual lens that might help other designers of smart urban technologies gain a relational understanding of pollution-producing practices in cities. I am specifically interested in the assumptions built into these technologies by their designers, and I argue that those can also have long-term implications for both environmental and human health.

Secondly, I look through a variety of behaviour change models to understand which ones are the most appropriate to reduce energy consumption in the home to improve pollution in cities. Lastly, I test my own design qualities by designing a smart system, based on a custom voice user interface.

My methodological approach aims to demonstrate how design research can raise novel questions and inform disciplines with an interest in behaviour change, environmental pollution and urban technology design. It demonstrates how technologies may facilitate the articulations of citizenship, participation and agency themselves. The work has value for those working in design for behaviour change, HCI and persuasive technologies, and for decision makers and designers involved in the creation of smart city systems and emerging AI technologies.

Research Questions

Can design for behaviour change use AI assistants to reduce invisible environmental pollutants in cities?

What are the most appropriate behaviour change models for changing domestic behaviours to improve urban air quality?



  • Gyorgyi Galik
  • PhD


    School of Design


    Innovation Design Engineering, 2014–

  • Degrees

  • MA Design Management, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, Budapest, 2010; MA Visual Communication Arts: Spec. in Video Art, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, Budapest, 2009
  • Experience

  • Gyorgyi has worked frequently in cross-disciplinary teams in innovation labs and design studios including: Future Cities Catapult, Superflux, Kin Design & Research, PAN Studio, NYU - Environmental Health Clinic, Concordia - Hexagram, Kitchen Budapest.
  • Exhibitions

  • 2016 ‘London 2036’, 03 Dec 2015 — 20 Mar 2016, London Situation Room, Big Bang Exhibition, Somerset House, London, United Kingdom 2015 May 19 through October, 2015: 'Carbon Pencils from Pollution', World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Awards

  • Nominee, Design of the Year: Digital Category, Design Museum, 2014; Playable City Award, Bristol, 2013
  • Conferences

  • • Speaker: 'Emerging tools for participation' @ Co-creation and Civic Participation: Rethinking Public Services, European Week of Regions and Cities, London House, Brussels, Belgium • Speaker: ‘If we are so smart, then why aren’t we healthier?’ @ Creatin
  • Publications

  • The Pursuit of legible policy: Encouraging Agency and Participation in the Complex Systems of the Contemporary Megalopolis, Mexico City; Future Focused Thinking: Plans and Speculated Actions-A Conversation