It has been a hot, busy summer. I haven’t taken a break yet except for four days in Yosemite National Park (which was stunning) after the Tech, Law & Society Summer Institute at UC Irvine in California. I spent a lot of time traveling between Berlin and Lüneburg for my fellowship at MECS. It was blissful having office space and solitude to write. I feel like I’ve made some headway with my research but its early days yet in terms of actual words on the page that will make it into a dissertation.
I synthesized some of these ideas in the 2018 State of Responsible IoT Report, titled ‘A-Words: Accountability, Automation Agency, AI’ I also worked them into a 53s video for a ‘Thoughts of the Week’ series by Deutsche Bank that you can watch here:
One of the other things I started over the summer was work with colleagues at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana to edit a new issue of Spheres. The theme for this Winter 2019 issue is the ‘Spectre of Artificial Intelligence‘. We have got some really exciting articles from not-your-usual suspects and addressing AI from diverse perspectives, from Area Studies to Sound Studies.
It has also been a pretty hectic summer for fieldwork interviews, conferences and events. I presented papers or gave talks here:
– Data Justice 2018 at the new Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University.
– Policy frameworks for Digital Platforms: From Openness to Inclusion. IT For Change and the Center for Policy Studies, IIT Bombay.
– Tech, Law & Society Summer Institute at UC Irvine, CA.
– 4S – Annual Conference of the Society for the Social Studies of Science, Sydney.
I feel like I have been listening a lot more than I have been talking (I promise! really!) and reading a lot of new things. I have spent a lot of time walking around in circles in airports and struggling with new ideas. This means I’ve got some new, challenging, interesting things to try out for size. I’m excited for Autumn. So here’s what is coming up:
– Lüneburg for the Digital Cultures Conference
– Dortmund for a small and new local event called Process 2018
– Boston for the Public Interest Tech Summit at Digital HKS (Harvard Kennedy School)
– Vienna for The Future of Demonstration
– Namur for Kikk Festival
Please come and say hello if our paths cross.
I just started a six month part-time fellowship at the MECS – Media Cultures of Computer Simulation – Institute for Advanced Study at my home institution, Leuphana University, in Lüneburg, Germany. Here is what I’m working on there. I’m in great company with some really smart PhDs and Post-Docs and am really happy to be part of this community.
Aside from being on a treadmill of writing proposals and applications for money/workshops/summer institutes/fellowships, January and February were good months for staying indoors and writing. I wrote about big data, biometrics and Aadhaar for Cyborgology; this was a short version of the longer piece originally commissioned by Tactical Tech for their new Our Data Our Selves project.
I recently came across the Center for Humane Technology and tried to write something measured (read: stuffed my cynicism into a box) about their philosophy and practice of disconnection from the internet and what is problematic about the individual ‘responsibilization‘ for everything that is wrong with the information economy. And followed that up drawing on Sarah Sharma’s work to think through the CFHT’s construction of ‘time well spent’.
Also, winter was a time for sowing seeds. More to come on all that.
The Planetary Futures Summer School was a gift in terms of material to chew on and write about. I had a post up on Cyborgology about the visit to the Malartic Gold Mine.
“A mine is a complex space of flows” says Dr. Mostafa Benzaazoua.
I’m not expecting a professor of geological engineering to use a phrase from the media studies cannon. I write in my notebook” “maybe media studies before mining science?!!!” Or perhaps that phrase has now entered into everyday scholarly parlance. Over the course of the next few hours, Dr. Benzaazoua gives us a detail-rich lecture on how gold is mined from the earth, and the spaces of flows the mine and its products inhabit. The next day we leave before dawn to visit Canada’s largest open pit gold mine.
When you visit an open pit gold mine, it takes time for your eyes to adjust to the grayscale landscape. More lunar than Luxor, you don’t see anything even remotely golden at a gold mine, except perhaps the cheesy gold hard hats (we) visitors wear. We are watching the open pit of the mine from a viewing gallery many metres away and above it; it is very, very quiet here. You expect to hear something, but we’re too far away to hear the machines drill the earth and bring up rocks, which are loaded into large trucks. Each truck has eight wheels, each wheel costs $42,000 and is about ten feet high. The trucks lumber about like friendly, giant worker-animals. To drive them requires significant skill; we are told that women make better drivers. The trucks take the rocks away to the factory where they are analysed for gold.
Someone says something later about the mine being cyborg: the organic Earth, with its transformative automated elements – the drilling machines, trucks, – and the ‘intra-action’ of the two being the mine itself.
Read more here.
I spent two weeks in August at Planetary Futures, a summer school at Concordia University in Montreal organised by Orit Halpern, Marie-Pier Boucher, and Pierre Louis Patoine, and hosted at Milieux, the centre for art, technology, and culture at Concordia. The course made links between planetary scale catastrophe and the Anthropocene, and histories of infrastructure, colonialism, and investigated design and fiction as vehicles of speculation about the future(s). It brought
“together the disciplines of the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences to collectively investigate this question of how we shall inhabit the world in the face of the current ecological crisis and to rethink concepts and practices of environment, ecology, difference, and technology to envision, and create, a more just, sustainable, and diverse planet. The course will include field visits to extraction sites, energy infrastructures, earth science installations, and speculative architecture and design projects.”
Back in early April on a trip to the Theorizing the Web conference in New York, two artists-in-residence at New Inc, Stephanie Dinkins and Francis Tseng, invited me to test out something at their monthly “AI Assembly”.
I believe that it is difficult for everyday users to understand and make sense of digital technologies; and specialists like computer scientists or lawyers can be restricted by their disciplinary training in being able to see the ways in which technology and society interact.
Yet, I think we have to inspire a wider conversation about digital literacies given the present and future of ubiquitous computing and artificial intelligence. From data breaches, to the complex decision-making expected of machine learning, what are the ways in which people may conceptualise values and norms for regulating human-machine relationships in a near future?
There are a number of methods to map out the social-political-economic dimensions of future scenarios, and they’re commonly used across different fields in the automotive industry. (Mathematical modeling for predicting crashes has in fact been around since the 1980s). I’ve also been thinking about using SF (speculative fiction, science fiction, speculative feminism, science fabulation, string figuring: Donna Haraway expands SF beyond ‘science fiction’) as a way of telling stories about power, society,and technology.
Inspired by these, I’m curious about the imagination, and the role that imaginaries play in shaping and articulating how people think about a near future with machines and technology. I believe that ‘socio-technical imaginaries’, a concept developed by Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyung Kim, underlie and shape the development of technologies in society, may be an interesting theoretical framework to adopt and adapt. I’m trying to find a way to bring these elements together, and the New Inc experiment is part of that.
Here’s more about all this on the Cyborgology blog here.
Crossposting my latest piece on Cyborgology.
Accident Tourist: Driverless car crashes, ethics, and machine learning is an essay that attempts to unpack a particular narrative of ethics that has been constructed around driverless car technology. In this, I show that ethics has been constructed as an outcome of machine-learning software rather than developed as a framework of values. How can we read this ethics-as-software in the case of crashes, such as the Tesla crash from May 2016? How does ethics play out in determining accountability and responsibility (for car crashes), which I claim is a powerful force determining the construction of ethics in AI. Looking at the history of accountability for aviation crashes, I conclude that the notion of accountability in AI cannot be output- or outcome-driven, but should instead encompass the entanglements between machine and human agents working together.
The results of the Machine Research workshop from back in October were launched at Transmediale: the zine, and a studio talk.
During the workshop, we explored the use of various writing machines and ways in which research has become machine-like. The workshop questioned how research is bound to the reputation economy and profiteering of publishing companies, who charge large amounts of money to release texts under restrictive conditions. Using Free, Libre, and Open Source collaboration tools, Machine Research participants experimented with collective notetaking, transforming their contributions through machine authoring scripts and a publishing tool developed by Sarah Garcin. (The image accompanying this post is a shot of the PJ, or Publication Jockey, with some text it laid out on a screen in the back). The print publication, or ‘zine, was launched at transmediale is one result of this process. You can read the zine online
The studio talk brought together one half of our research group that talked about’infrastructures’. Listen to it here: (I’m speaking at 44:09)
A few months ago I was at a workshop in Brussels, on the side of which Antoinette Rouvroy and Seda Gürses were invited to speak. They both said really important things about their work: algorithmic governmentality, and Why Are We Talking About The Cloud Now?, respectively.
I asked Rouvroy about what resistance looks like in the face of narratives of big data that appear totalizing (the narratives about, and big data, both appear totalizing). What are the things that escape digitalisation? She said that there is a tendency of life to be recalcitrant to organisation, and these things:
– Physical things: the fact of bodies and organic life, which are wholly unpredictable;
– Utopias we had/have that don’t find a place in any present
– Dreams of the future.
– If we were really present and complete, we would not talk to each other: we are separated from ourselves through language anyway; trying to find a way back is resistance.
“Algorithmic thinking is tempting because it precludes hesitation, doubt, and failure; failure is a space to hold on to.”