Tag Archives: tech

Machine Research @ Transmediale

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)

FILTERED TEXT W/ CONSTANT

At the Machine Research workshop, we played with text filters developed by Constant as a way to explore machinic actions on various texts. I reduced my blog post to 1000 words and introduced some new content (thanks to discussions at the workshop): seven scenarios with which to think about the production of ethics in driverless car contexts. This post starts with the original text followed by the filtered texts. Some of the filtered texts become such beautiful gibberish.

ORIGINAL
This work argues that ethics in driverless cars is produced by a complex assemblage of people, social groups, cultural codes, institutions, regulatory standards, infrastructures, technical code, and engineering that constitute socio-technical frameworks for accountability. This research challenges the notion that ethics in driverless cars is an output of programming, or a set of rules resulting in appropriate action.

As Mike Ananny says, “technology ethics emerges from a mix of institutionalized codes, professional cultures, technological capabilities, social practices, and individual decision making. Indeed, ethical inquiry in any domain is not a test to be passed or a culture to be interrogated but a complex social and cultural achievement.” (emphasis in original 2016 p 96). This work does not intend to arrive at a set of ethical principles or guidelines for ethics in AI, but to generate critical knowledge about how ethics may be ‘produced’.

Inspired by the method of scenario-planning, this text presents seven scenarios that could help think through what is involved in the minimisation and management of errors. The ‘scenario’ is a phenomenon that became prominent during the Korean War, and through the following decades of the Cold War, to allow the US army to plan its strategy in the event of nuclear disaster. Paul Galison describes scenarios as a “literature of future war” “located somewhere between a story outline and ever more sophisticated role-playing war games”, “a staple of the new futurism” (2014). Since then scenario-planning has been adopted by a range of organisations, and features in the modelling of risk and to identify errors. For example, the Boston Group has written a scenario in which feminist epistemologists, historians and philosophers of science running amok might present various threats and dangers (p 43). More recently. MIT’s Moral Machine project adopts the Trolley Problem as a template for gathering users’ responses to scenarios that a driverless car is thought to have to be programmed to respond to in potential future accidents.

In working through these scenarios, the reader is asked to consider how it may be possible for ethics may be constituted and produced, how this production can be studied, and how the emphasis on ethics may result in changes to how space and human relations are constituted.

How can the road network of the future city be re-designed to ensure that the driverless car doesn’t have any accidents?

Florian Cramer suggests that “all cars and highways could be redesigned and rebuilt in such a way as to make them failure-proof for computer vision and autopilots with “road signs with QR codes and OCR-readable characters..straight[ening] motorways to make them perfectly linear.” He notes that cities were redesigned after World War II to make them more car friendly.

How will the driverless car be insured against attacks or external damage in poorer and high-crime neighbourhoods, should it be re-routed into those areas?

Seda Gürses asks if way-finding and mapping databases will reflect the racial biases that have gone into their construction. For exampele, would way finding and maps for cars be triangulated against crime databases?

Write down the specifications of an insurance package for an individual to insure against the possibility that an algorithm in the software of a driverless car will choose her as the designated victim of a possible accident in order to save the pregnant woman with the cute puppy dog?

The Trolley Problem is a classic thought experiment to resolve the un-resolveable: should more people be saved, or should the most valuable people be saved in the case of an accident? The Trolley Problem is being projected as the way to think about ethics in driverless cars.

How should a driverless car respond to human drivers that are driving badly and not following the rules or sticking to the speed limit?
Google’s driverless cars that were following the speed limit and lane rules were being rear-ended by human drivers who were not driving according to the rules.

Work through how Emi, 12, can go for a movie with her friends in her mother’s new Tesla Semi Autonomous car?

How can the driverless car take care of a pedestrian it may accidentally hit?
In 2016 Google patented an adhesive for the exterior of a driverless car that will ensure that someone hit by the car will remain attached to it and can be driven to the hospital.

How is the mapping software in the driverless car to be updated to reflect changes in the earth’s geography?

Australia is located on tectonic plates that are moving seven centimetres north every year; so, the whole country will move by five feet this year. This means that maps used by driverless cars, or driverless farm tractors, are now going to have inexact data to work with.

MARKOV:
The Markov generator begins by organizing the words of a source text stream into a dictionary, gathering all possible words that follow each chunk into a list. Then the Markov generator begins recomposing sentences by randomly picking a starting chunk, and choosing a third word that follows this pair. The chain is then shifted one word to the right and another lookup takes place and so on until the document is complete. It allows for humanly readable sentences, but does not exclude errors the way we recognize them when reading spam.

and autopilots with her as to respond to the cute puppy dog? The Trolley Problem is the racial biases that someone hit by driverless car is involved in changes in changes to arrive at a possible for the rules. Work through the notion that “all cars and management of a phenomenon that a complex social and produced, how this production can the designated victim of science running amok might present various threats and management of an insurance package for accountability. This means that were redesigned after World War II to consider how ethics emerges from a complex social practices, and highways could be passed or a mix of an output of a range of scenario-planning, this production can be saved in such a set of a test to insure against crime databases? Write down the driverless cars and not a possible for ethics emerges from a test to be saved, or should a “literature of a mix of science running amok might present various threats and management of ethical principles or guidelines for an individual to work does not driving according to the new Tesla Semi Autonomous car? How will move by a scenario in appropriate action. As Mike Ananny says, “technology ethics in the cute puppy dog? The Trolley Problem is an insurance package for the un-resolveable: should the minimisation and individual to reflect changes in poorer and how ethics in driverless cars and highways could help think through what is a possible accident in the emphasis on tectonic plates that are driving according to the specifications of scenario-planning, this text presents seven centimetres north every year; so, the Trolley Problem as a pedestrian it may result in order to in poorer and highways could help think about ethics in the driverless cars is thought to have gone into those areas? Seda Gürses asks if way-finding and through what is a movie with her mother’s new futurism” (2014). Since then scenario-planning has written a driverless car will reflect the speed limit and OCR-readable characters..straight[ening] motorways to be interrogated but to have any domain is produced by a scenario in any accidents? Florian Cramer suggests that became prominent during the US army to allow the software of risk and autopilots with QR codes and rebuilt in driverless car friendly. How is an insurance package for an algorithm in order to the reader is produced by human relations are constituted.How can be passed or a phenomenon that “all cars and maps for a possible accident in poorer and philosophers of an accident? The ‘scenario’ is an individual decision making. Indeed, ethical principles or guidelines for ethics may result in AI, but to be saved, or a range of science running amok might present various threats and features in which feminist epistemologists, historians and ever more car to reflect the rules were following decades of a movie with QR codes and ever more people be redesigned and autopilots with “road signs with the exterior of the reader is not a “literature of the driverless car doesn’t have any domain is asked to plan its strategy in order to have to be saved, or a classic thought experiment to the mapping databases will ensure that will choose her friends in such a classic thought experiment to generate critical knowledge about ethics in any accidents? Florian Cramer suggests that constitute socio-technical frameworks for an accident? The ‘scenario’ is a driverless cars. How is located on ethics may accidentally hit? In 2016 Google patented an insurance package for accountability. This means that ethics in original 2016 Google patented an accident? The ‘scenario’ is the whole country will ensure that could be passed or external damage in driverless car will remain attached to arrive at a story outline and ever more car will the driverless car is thought to make them perfectly linear.” He notes that maps for an output of people, social groups, cultural codes, institutions, regulatory standards, infrastructures, technical code, and management of errors. The Trolley Problem is a template for ethics may accidentally hit? In 2016 p 96). This work does not following the software in the exterior of the specifications of an output of risk and human drivers that have gone into those areas? Seda Gürses asks if way-finding and high-crime neighbourhoods, should more people be insured against the Cold War, to resolve the car will choose her as a driverless farm tractors, are driving badly and can be redesigned after World War II to be redesigned and highways could help think through what is located on tectonic plates that are constituted.How can be saved, or driverless cars that ethics in appropriate action. As Mike Ananny says, “technology ethics in any accidents? Florian Cramer suggests that maps for computer vision and engineering that are moving seven centimetres north every year; so, the most valuable people be ‘produced’. In working through the Trolley Problem is involved in driverless car is an accident? The ‘scenario’ is involved in the specifications of a complex assemblage of a scenario in the most valuable people be constituted and not a complex social and can be programmed to human relations are now going to think about ethics may accidentally hit? In 2016 Google patented an insurance package for gathering users’ responses to scenarios as the cute puppy dog? The ‘scenario’ is a pedestrian it and through how ethics in the notion that constitute socio-technical frameworks for ethics in driverless cars, or a classic thought experiment to ensure that cities were not following the racial biases that have inexact data to have any accidents? Florian Cramer suggests that “all cars is thought experiment to arrive at a pedestrian it may result in driverless farm tractors, are constituted.How can go for ethics in driverless cars. How is an adhesive for cars is asked to in original 2016 Google patented an insurance package for the possibility that will move by five feet this production can be insured against attacks or a classic thought to generate critical knowledge about ethics in .

ACRONYMIZER:
Ever feel that your text is too verbose? Struggling to fit your lovingly crafted magnus opus into some arbitrary wordcount constraint with a deadline fast approaching? Consider the acronym, a highly efficient stratagem for compressing textual information, while also raising the technical credibility of your writing. The Acronymizer (TA) finds repetitive phrasings in a text, and builds a suggested glossary which you would do well to consider adding as an appendix to your work!

ADC : A DRIVERLESS CAR
ASO : A SET OF
DCI : DRIVERLESS CARS IS
EID : ETHICS IN DRIVERLESS
EMB : ETHICS MAY BE
IDC : IN DRIVERLESS CARS
OAD : OF A DRIVERLESS
PBS : PEOPLE BE SAVED
TDC : THE DRIVERLESS CAR
TEI : THAT ETHICS IN
TMT : TO MAKE THEM
TPI : TROLLEY PROBLEM IS
TTP : THE TROLLEY PROBLEM

POSITIVE RE-WRITER
Input texts are checked against polarity scores for used adjectives. When the score is higher than 0.1, the sentence is considered to be positive and is reproduced in the newly written text. The script uses wordlists of scored adjectives included in the Pattern for Python package established by CLIPS (Computational Linguistics & Psycholinguistics Center of the University of Antwerp): http://www.clips.ua.ac.be/pattern.

Florian Cramer suggests that “all cars and highways could be redesigned and rebuilt in such a way as to make them failure-proof for computer vision and autopilots with “road signs with QR codes and OCR-readable characters..straight[ening] motorways to make them perfectly linear.” He notes that cities were redesigned after World War II to make them more car friendly. Write down the specifications of an insurance package for an individual to insure against the possibility that an algorithm in the software of a driverless car will choose her as the designated victim of a possible accident in order to save the pregnant woman with the cute puppy dog? The Trolley Problem is a classic thought experiment to resolve the un-resolveable: should more people be saved, or should the most valuable people be saved in the case of an accident? Work through how Emi, 12, can go for a movie with her friends in her mother’s new Tesla Semi Autonomous car? Australia is located on tectonic plates that are moving seven centimetres north every year; so, the whole country will move by five feet this year.

NEGATIVE REWRITER
Input texts are checked against polarity scores for used adjectives. When the score is lower than 0.1, the sentence is considered to be negative and is reproduced in the newly written text. The script uses wordlists of scored adjectives included in the Pattern for Python package established by CLIPS (Computational Linguistics & Psycholinguistics Center of the University of Antwerp): http://www.clips.ua.ac.be/pattern.

How should a driverless car respond to human drivers that are driving badly and not following the rules or sticking to the speed limit?

SENTIMENT_REDUCTION.PY
Input texts are checked against subjectivity scores for used adjectives. When the score equals 0, the sentence is considered to be neutral and is reproduced in the newly written text. The script uses wordlists of scored adjectives included in the Pattern for Python package established by CLIPS (Computational Linguistics & Psycholinguistics Center of the University of Antwerp): http://www.clips.ua.ac.be/pattern.

Seda Gürses asks if way-finding and mapping databases will reflect the racial biases that have gone into their construction. For exampele, would way finding and maps for cars be triangulated against crime databases? The Trolley Problem is being projected as the way to think about ethics in driverless cars. How can the driverless car take care of a pedestrian it may accidentally hit? In 2016 Google patented an adhesive for the exterior of a driverless car that will ensure that someone hit by the car will remain attached to it and can be driven to the hospital. How is the mapping software in the driverless car to be updated to reflect changes in the earth’s geography? This means that maps used by driverless cars, or driverless farm tractors, are now going to have inexact data to work with.

DISAPPEARANCE
This script goes through the input text word by word. Every duplicate word and its subsequent occurrence is removed, until the desired reduction is reached.

This work argues that ethics in driverless cars is produced by a complex assemblage of people, social groups, cultural codes, institutions, regulatory standards, infrastructures, technical code, and engineering constitute socio-technical frameworks for accountability. research challenges the notion an output programming, or set rules resulting appropriate action. As Mike Ananny says, “technology emerges from mix institutionalized professional cultures, technological capabilities, practices, individual decision making. Indeed, ethical inquiry any domain not test to be passed culture interrogated but achievement.” (emphasis original 2016 p 96). does intend arrive at principles guidelines AI, generate critical knowledge about how may ‘produced’.

Inspired method scenario-planning, this text presents seven scenarios could help think through what involved minimisation management errors. The ‘scenario’ phenomenon became prominent during Korean War, following decades Cold allow US army plan its strategy event nuclear disaster. Paul Galison describes as “literature future war” “located somewhere between story outline ever more sophisticated role-playing war games”, “a staple new futurism” (2014). Since then scenario-planning has been adopted range organisations, features modelling risk identify For example, Boston Group written scenario which feminist epistemologists, historians philosophers science running amok might present various threats dangers (p 43). More recently. MIT’s Moral Machine project adopts Trolley Problem template gathering users’ responses car thought have programmed respond potential accidents.
In working these scenarios, reader asked consider it possible constituted produced, production can studied, emphasis on result changes space human relations are constituted.How road network city re-designed ensure doesn’t accidents? Florian Cramer suggests “all highways redesigned rebuilt such way make them failure-proof computer vision autopilots with “road signs QR codes OCR-readable characters..straight[ening] motorways perfectly linear.” He notes cities were after World War II friendly. How will insured against attacks external damage poorer high-crime neighbourhoods, should re-routed into those areas? Seda Gürses asks if way-finding mapping databases reflect racial biases gone their construction. exampele, would finding maps triangulated crime databases? Write down specifications insurance package insure possibility algorithm software choose her designated victim accident order save pregnant woman cute puppy dog? classic experiment resolve un-resolveable: people saved, most valuable saved case accident? being projected cars. drivers driving badly sticking speed limit? Google’s limit lane rear-ended who according rules. Work Emi, 12, go movie friends mother’s Tesla Semi Autonomous car? take care pedestrian accidentally hit? Google patented adhesive exterior someone hit remain attached driven hospital. updated earth’s geography? Australia located tectonic plates moving centimetres north every year; so, whole country move five feet year. means used cars, farm tractors, now going inexact data with.

New: Privacy, Visibility, Anonymity: Dilemmas in Tech Use by Marginalised Communities

I started this Tactical Tech project two years ago and am thrilled to see it finally out. Research takes time! This is a synthesis report of two case studies we did in Kenya and South Africa on risks and barriers faced by marginalised communities in using technology (primarily in transparency and accountability work). You can download the report on the Open Docs IDS website here

The Tesla Crash

It’s happened. A person has died in a an accident involving a driverless car, raising difficult questions about what it means to regulate autonomous vehicles, to negotiate control and responsibility with software that may one day be very good, but currently is not.

In tracing an ethnography of error in driverless cars, I’m particularly interested in how error happens, is recorded, understood, regulated and then used as feedback in further development and learning. So the news of any and every crash or accident becomes a valuable moment to document.

What we know from various news reports is that 40 year old Joshua Brown was, supposedly, watching a Harry Potter DVD while test-driving his Tesla with the autopilot mode enabled, when the car slammed into the under-side of a very large trailer truck. Apparently the sensors on the car could not distinguish between the bright sky, and the white of the trailer truck. The top of the car was sheared off as it went fast under the carriage of the trailer and debris was scattered far.

Here’s an excerpt from a Reuters report of the crash from the perspective of a family whose property parts of the car landed in:

“Van Kavelaar said the car that came to rest in his yard next to a sycamore tree looked like a metal sardine can whose lid had been rolled back with a key. After the collision, he said, the car ran off the road, broke through a wire fence guarding a county pond and then through another fence onto Van Kavelaar’s land, threaded itself between two trees, hit and broke a wooden utility pole, crossed his driveway and stopped in his large front yard where his three daughters used to practice softball. They were at a game that day and now won’t go in the yard. His wife, Chrissy VanKavelaar, said they continue to find parts of the car in their yard eight weeks after the crash. “Every time it rains or we mow we find another piece of that car,” she said.”

People in the vicinity of a crash get drawn into without seeming to have a choice in the matter. Their perspective provides all kinds of interesting details and parallel narratives.

Joshua Brown was a Tesla enthusiast and had signed up to be a test driver. This meant he knew he was testing software; it wasn’t ready for the market yet. From Tesla’s perspective, what seems to count is how many millions of miles their car logged before an accident occurred, which may have not been the best way to lead with a report on Brown’s death.

Key for engineers is perhaps the functioning of the sensors that could not distinguish between a bright sky and a bright, white trailer. Possibly, the code analysing the sensor data hasn’t been trained well enough to make the distinction between the bright sky and a bright, white trailer. Interestingly, this is the sort of error a human being wouldn’t make; just as we know that humans can distinguish between a Labrador and a Dalmatian but computer programs are only just learning how to. Clearly, miles to go ….

A key detail in this case is about the nature of auto-pilot and what it means to engage this mode. Tesla clearly states that its auto pilot mode means that a driver is still in control and responsible for the vehicle:

“[Auto pilot] is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” … you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle while using it. Additionally, every time that auto pilot is engaged, the car reminds the driver to “Always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time.”

What Tesla is saying is that they’re not ready to hand over any responsibility or autonomy to machines. The human is still very much ‘in the loop’ with autopilot.

I suspect the law will need to wrangle over what auto pilot means in the context of road transport and cars as opposed to auto pilot in aviation; this history has been traced bt Madeleine Elish and Tim Hwang. They write that they “observe a counter intuitive focus on human responsibility even while human action is increasingly replaced by automation.”

There is a historical tendency to ‘praise the machine and punish the human’ for accidents and errors. Their recommendation is for a reframing of the question of accountability to increase the web of actors and their agencies rather than just vehicle and driver. They “propose that the debate around liability and autonomous systems be reframed more precisely to reflect the agentive role of designers and engineers and the new and unique kinds of human action attendant to autonomous systems. The advent of commercially available autonomous vehicles, like the driverless car, presents an opportunity to reconfigure regimes of liability that reflect realities of informational asymmetry between designers and consumers.”

This is so important and yet I find it difficult to see how, even as a speculative exercise, how you’d get Elon Musk to acknowledge his own role or that of his engineers and developers in accountability mechanisms. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out in the American legal system, because eventually there are going to have to be laws that acknowledge shared responsibility between humans and machines, just as robots needs to be regulated differently from humans.

The Problem with Trolleys at re:publica

I gave my first talk about ethics and driverless cars for a non-specialist audience at re:publica 2016. In this I look at the problem with the Trolley Problem, the thought experiment being used to train machine learning algorithms in driverless cars. Here, I focus on the problem that logic-based notions of ethics has transformed into an engineering problem; and suggest that this ethics-as-engineering approach is what will allow for American law and insurance companies to assign blame and responsibility in the inevitable case of accidents. There is also the tension that machines are assumed to be correct, except when they aren’t, and that this sits in a difficult history of ‘praising machines’ and ‘punishing humans’ for accidents and errors. I end by talking about questions of accountability that look beyond algorithms and software themselves to the sites of production of algorithms themselves.

Here’s the full talk.

Works cited in this talk:

1. Judith Jarvis Thompson’s 1985 paper in the Yale Law Journal,The Trolley Problem
2. Patrick Lin’s work on ethics and driverless cars. Also relevant is the work of his doctoral students at UPenn looking at applications of Blaise Pascal’s work to the “Lin Problem”
3. Madeleine Elish and Tim Hwang’s paper ‘Praise the machine! Punish the human!’ as part of the Intelligence & Autonomy group at Data & Society
4. Madeleine Elish’s paper on ‘moral crumple zones’; there’s a good talk and discussion with her on the website of the proceedings of the WeRobot 2016 event at Miami Law School.
5. Langdon Winner’s ‘Do Artifacts Have Politics’
6. Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory.

Experience E

How science represents the real world can be cute to the point of frustrating. In 7th grade mathematics you have problems like:

“If six men do a piece of work in 19 days, how many days will it take for 4 men to do the same work when two men are off on paternity leave for four months?”

Well, of course there was no such thing then of men taking paternity leave. But you can’t help but think about the universe of such a problem. What was the work? Were all the men the same, did they do the work in the same way, wasn’t one of them better than the rest and therefore was the leader of the pack and got to decided what they would do on their day off?

Here is the definition of machine learning according to one of the pioneers of machine learning, Tom M. Mitchell[1]:

“A computer program is said to learn from experience E with respect to some class of tasks T and performance measure P if its performance at tasks in T, as measured by P, improves with experience E”

This can be difficult for a social scientist to parse because you’re curious about the experience E and the experience-r of experience E. What is this E? Who or what is experiencing E? What are the conditions that make E possible? How can we study E? And who set the standard of Performance P? For a scientist, Experience E itself is not that important, rather, how E is achieved, sustained and improved on is the important part. How science develops these problem-stories becomes an indicator of its narrativising of the world; a world that needs to be fixed.

This definition is the beginning of the framing of ethics in an autonomous vehicle. Ethics becomes an engineering problem to be solved by logical-probabilities executed and analysed by machine learning algorithms. (TBC)

[1] http://www.innoarchitech.com/machine-learning-an-in-depth-non-technical-guide/?utm_source=medium&utm_medium=post&utm_content=chapterlink&utm_campaign=republish

A crisis of ethics in quantified environments

On Friday, October 30th, I presented my new doctoral work to a small group of scholars and engaged political people who came together for an evening event around CIHR’s Fellows’ Day. This post is a summary of some of the ideas discussed there.

*

Every time someone says “but what about the ethics of…” they’re often referring to a personal architecture of how right and wrong stack up, or of how they think accountability must be pursued; or merely to surface the outrageous, or the potentially criminal or harmful. Then this personal morality is applied to ethical crises and termed “the ethics of” without necessarily applying any ethical rules to it. It’s a combination of truthiness and a sense of fairplay, and if you actually work on info-tech issues, perhaps a little more awareness of the stakes, positions and laws. My doctoral work is about developing a new conceptual framework with which to think about what ethics are in quantified environments [1].

Most of us can identify the crises in quantified environments – breaches, hacks, leaks, privacy violations, the possible, future implications of devolving control to autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles – and these result in moral questions.And everyone has a different moral approach to these things and yet there is an attempt to appeal to some universal logic of safety, well-being, care and accountability. I argue that this is near impossible. Carolyn Culbertson is reflecting on the development of ethics in the work of Judith Butler and says what I’m trying to more eloquently:

“Our beginning-points in ethics are, for the most part, not simply our own. And to the extent that they are, we should want to question how effective these foundations will be in guiding our actions and relationships with others in a world that is even less one’s own. Moral philosophy—and I use that term broadly to mean the way that we think through how best to live our lives—is always in some sense culturally and historically situated. This fact haunts the universalist aspirations of moral philosophy—again, broadly understood—which aims to come up with, if not moral absolutes, at least moral principles that are not merely private idiosyncrasies.” [2]

I argue that that human, moral reasoning cannot be directly mapped onto resolving ethical crises in quantified and autonomous environments because of the size, numbers of actors, complexity,dynamism and plastic nature of these environments. How can ethics (by which I’m mostly referring to consequential, virtue ethics, deontological approaches; although there are others most derive from these) based on individual moral responsibility and virtues manifest and be applicable to distributed networks of human [agency, intention, affect and action], post-human and software/machine?

Ethics are expected to be broad, overarching, resilient guidelines based on norms repeatedly practiced and universally applied. But attempting to achieve this in quantified environments results in what I’m referring to as a A crisis of ethics. This crisis of ethics is the beginning of a new conceptual and methodological approach for how to think about the place and work of ethics in quantified environments, not an indefensible set of ethical values for quantified environments. I will start fleshing out these crises: of consciousness, of care, accountability and of uncertainty. There may be others.

Yet, the feminist philosophers ask: why these morals and ethics anyway? What makes ethics and moral reasoning from patriarchal, Western Judeo-Christian codifications in religion and the law valid? What is the baggage of these approaches and is it possible to escape the Church and the Father? What are the ethics that develop through affect? Is there an ethics in notions of collectivities, distributon, trust, sharing? I’m waiting to dive into the work of ethicists and philosophers like Sara Ahmed and Judith Butler (for starters) to find out. And, as Alex Galloway may say, the ethics are made by the protocols, not by humans. What then? (Did I say I was going to do this in three years?)

*

More updates as and when. I’m happy to talk or participate in events; and share the details of empirical work after April 2016. This is a part-time PhD at the Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of Media at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany. I continue to work full-time at Tactical Tech.

Notes:

[1] ‘Big data’ is a term that has general, widespread use and familiarity, however its ubiquity also makes it opaque. The word ‘big’ is misleading for it tends to indicate size or speed, which are features of this phenomenon but do not reveal anything about how it came to be either large or fast. ‘Data’ is equally misleading because nearly every technical part of the internet runs on the creation, modification, exchange of data. There is nothing about the phrase ‘big data’ that tells us what it really is. So use the terms ‘quantification’ and ‘quantified environments’ interchangeably with ‘big data’. ‘Quantified environment’ refers to a specific aspect of digital environments I.e quantification, which is made possible through specific technology infrastructures, business and legal arrangements that are both visible and invisible. The use of the phrase ‘quantification’ also indicates a subtle but real shift to the ‘attention economy’ where every single digital action is quantified within an advertising driven business model. There ‘QE’ is also an entry into discussing the social, political, technical, infrastructural aspects of digital ecosystems through specific case studies.

[2] Culbertson, Carolyn (2013). The ethics of relationality: Judith Butler and social critique. Continental Philosophy Review (2013) 46:449–463

Hot Flash

A dwarf called Warren runs the Internet of Things facility and I am in love with him. You can never really rationally explain why you love someone, you just do. Warren is in trouble with his refrigerator.  The refrigerator started messaging HOMELYNX about how the cucumber supply was going down faster than usual. For one thing, there shouldn’t even be cucumbers in the refrigerator, and while the most recent supply could be rationalised by the tubs of hummus, labneh and borani – guests – it was still going down very fast. Had anything else reported something irregular about the cucumbers?  It turns out that the waste disposal unit could verify that cucumber peels had been identified and the toilet could detect traces of it; so we know they hadn’t been thrown out of the window at an unsuspecting passerby. That would have been funny, actually, especially if there was such a thing as a window or a passerby around here. No, all you have here is the hum and rinse of electricity through your hair.

The thing is, Warren doesn’t even eat cucumbers, they were left over from the crudite plate at the farewell party for the Chief. Not wanting to waste them, and knowing I love cucumbers, Warren just put the extras in the fridge. Some things are perfectly rational and explain-able but the problem with rationality is that everyone has their own version of it.

Warren maintains a section of the main server farm, MEM046Z where the Internet of Things is made, and he isn’t supposed to fall in love. He certainly isn’t supposed to fall in love with someone he met online who can only stand to eat cucumbers and yoghurt all summer and thinks she is a Timurid’s Wife. The Internet of Things is a high security facility and no one is allowed to enter except authorised personnel and certainly not any Central Asian types – real or imaginary.

The irony doesn’t escape us that it all started with the very same tattling refrigerator having a Twitter exchange with @thetimuridswife. I also love melons and ice-cream and the refrigerator was telling me about the history of ice-cream making, and kulfis in particular, long before modern refrigeration.  (Kulfi has been appropriated by the Indians but it actually came from Central Asia.) If you pulled up the logs you’d see Twitter exchanges about flavours and their pairings, tweets that made sense to no one else but the two of us. It started with the refrigerator tweeting ‘beetroots & mustard’. Then, I tweeted

@thetimuridswife parmesan and chocolate

hesitantly, and waited to see what would happen. And then it came:

@coolhuntings23 blue cheese and pear

@thetimuridswife chocolate and onions

@coolhuntings23 green beans and oranges

There are no secrets with a dwarf. The dwarf had hacked into the refrigerator’s Twitter ID and was tweeting as it, without the refrigerator realising it had been compromised. It had always been him, and me;  the refrigerator was just a.. Trojan horse.

Over a series of Twitter exchanges I told Warren all about my travels and reincarnation. I am a Timurid’s wife and the fleshy concubine to a Sassanid warlord in ancient Samarqand, “a city so steeped in poetry that even medical doctors wrote their treatises in verse.” As a result I am something of a secret agent with very high levels of security clearance. Uzbek, in those days, far outstripped Persian as a language. Persian had one word for crying; Uzbek had over a hundred. Crying like a baby hiccuping, crying as if you have lost your keys, crying as if your parents have died, crying over beautiful poetry, crying for the way you used to love someone and don’t anymore. Samarqand was so far advanced in the sciences, art, architecture, medicine, astronomy, poetics… . Warren thinks that sometimes I’m doing other people’s share of make believe as well.

He lied about there being another person in the house eating cucumbers. He said he had changed his diet but it turns out the feeds from the heat sensors revealed a second person in the house. Once they all started pooling all their data and looking at everything that wasn’t Warren, they found me.  I couldn’t help it, I’m menopausal, and all that seems to keep me cool is a diet of cucumbers and yoghurt. (Dill and garlic in the mix never hurt)

It wasn’t easy to hide from a house; it’s like being 12 again and all the girls are whispering about you behind your back and you absolutely know they are but can’t seem to get even the smallest piece of information from anyone about it or make them stop. It is like the time your best friend found and read your secret diary.

Warren said we should just continue as normal – quietly, he going about his work and me reading, studying and writing. In the evenings we would eat and cheat at cards and giggle over other people’s data streams. It was only a matter of time before they came for us. Till then he told me to play with his hair and tell him about the siege on Samarqand.