Audrey, Anyone?

An Audrey in my office

I just dug out my old Audrey, a com­puter appli­ance designed for the home released in 2000 and then canned in 2001. What a shame to think a device with such thought­fully designed soft­ware and hard­ware was so quickly releg­ated to the dust-pile of e-history. Any­way, see­ing Audrey reminded me Laurel Swan and I presen­ted a paper on Audrey at 4S in 2005 titled Audrey, Any­one?” The abstract is below. We did man­age to inter­view some of the ori­gin­al design­ers on the team includ­ing Ray Win­ninger. How­ever, things got the bet­ter of us and we nev­er wrote it up in fin­ished form. Here’s the abstract we wrote:
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Wiki­pe­dia has an entry, here.
A short chapter we came across in doing back­ground research on Audrey is Leslie Regan Share’s The gen­der­ing of a com­mu­nic­a­tion tech­no­logy: the short life and death of Audrey”, in Out of the Ivory Tower: Fem­in­ist Research for Social Change, edited by: Mar­tinez, Andrea and Stu­art, Meryn. Toronto: Sumach Press.

Paper presented at Assets

I’m very happy to have been a part of the work lead­ing up to a paper presen­ted at Assets 2017, the ACM con­fer­ence on Access­ible Com­put­ing. Report­ing on work from a group of us at Microsoft Research, the paper describes an ori­ent­a­tion to our stud­ies with the blind and vis­ion impaired.

Cecily Mor­ris­on, Edward Cutrell, Anupama Dharesh­war, Kev­in Doherty, Anja Thieme, and Alex Taylor. 2017. Ima­gin­ing Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Applic­a­tions with People with Visu­al Dis­ab­il­it­ies using Tact­ile Ideation. In Pro­ceed­ings of the 19th Inter­na­tion­al ACM SIGACCESS Con­fer­ence on Com­puters and Access­ib­il­ity (ASSETS 17). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 81 – 90. DOI.

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What are you reading?

Happy to have the short con­ver­sa­tion I had with @danielarosner pub­lished in Inter­ac­tions Magazine’s reg­u­lar What are you read­ing?” column. We exper­i­ment with a brief inter­change about two won­der­ful books: Anna Tsing’s The Mush­room at the End of the World and Sarah Ahmed’s Liv­ing a Fem­in­ist Life.

Below is the long-winded ver­sion before tidy­ing and edit­ing.
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Tsing, A. L. (2015). The Mush­room at the End of the World: On the Pos­sib­il­ity of Life in Cap­it­al­ist Ruins. Prin­ceton Uni­ver­sity Press.
Ahmed, S. (2017). Liv­ing a Fem­in­ist Life. Duke Uni­ver­sity Press.

HCID seminar talk

Six weeks into the new job and I’ve been giv­en a sem­in­ar slot.

Here’s the abstract:

Think we must *

Excerpt, quoting "think we must" from Virginia Woolf's Six Guineas

Vir­gin­ia Woolf (1938) Three Guineas. Hog­ar­th Press.

It’s been a thrill to join HCID and City and to be wel­comed so warmly by many of you. In this talk, I’d like to intro­duce myself in a more delib­er­ate way, spin­ning a thread through my career path that cap­tures what’s import­ant to me and what has helped me find my way.

Start­ing way back with work at Xer­ox, and then my twists and turns into aca­demia and then industry again, at Microsoft, I’ll talk through punc­tu­ated moments in my research — about teen­agers and their mobile phones; fam­il­ies liv­ing amongst their clut­ter; and neigh­bour­hoods cop­ing with com­mun­al life and data aggreg­ates. What I’ll try to con­vey is how it’s been a think­ing that has anim­ated me through­out this work, a think­ing not always with clar­ity and cer­tainly a think­ing with many knots and frayed ends, but nev­er­the­less a think­ing. A point I want to reflect on, then, is how ideas thread into our work, weav­ing togeth­er a lively tapestry. I like the way Carla Hus­tak and Nata­sha Myers use, invol­u­tions here as a “‘rolling, curl­ing, turn­ing inwards’ that brings dis­tinct spe­cies togeth­er to invent new ways of life” (2013: 96).

Through my own invol­u­tions, I’ll try to use this talk to work my way to a think­ing that has a gen­er­at­ive mode — a mode with both an open­ness and an ongo­ing­ness to it that invites more, always more. For me, this is a mode of think­ing that affects one­self and that demands a care, because it is not just about study­ing the worlds we inhab­it, it is about mak­ing those worlds and the con­di­tions of pos­sib­il­ity that come with them. I sup­pose, above all else, this is a talk invit­ing a think­ing of this kind that we might do togeth­er — it is to pose an open ques­tion about our think­ing and about what worlds we might make pos­sible.

* My title is inspired by Isa­belle Stengers and Vin­ciane Despret who bor­row the phrase Think we must” from Vir­gin­ia Woolf, and use it to pon­der gen­er­at­ively on their lives in the academy.

Hus­tak, C & Myers N. 2013. Invol­u­tion­ary Momentum: Affect­ive Eco­lo­gies and the Sci­ences of Plant/Insect Encoun­ters.” dif­fer­ences 23(3):74 – 118.
Stengers, I., & Despret, V (2015). Women Who Make a Fuss: The Unfaith­ful Daugh­ters of Vir­gin­ia Woolf. Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota Press.

Keeping open”

My Microsoft Smart Card
“... to keep unpack­ing, reveal­ing, open­ing and uncon­ceal­ing, we need also to think dif­fer­ently. Along­side unpack­ing and con­nect­ing we need to argue for dif­fer­ent worlds to those which dom­in­ate us.”

I’m delighted to be start­ing a new job this Septem­ber at City, Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don. I’ll be join­ing the lively Centre for HCI Design (HCID). Both Steph and Simone, the centre’s co-directors, have been amaz­ingly gen­er­ous in pre­par­ing me for my new role and dis­cuss­ing the dir­ec­tions we might take things in. I’ve also begun to rough out new lines of research with my soon to be col­leagues and I eagerly anti­cip­ate set­ting things in motion. Nat­ur­ally my chal­lenge will be to keep a lid on my enthu­si­asm, leav­ing the energy to improve my teach­ing and engage a stu­dent cohort in caring about the entan­gle­ments between tech­no­logy and social life — and the thrills and spills that come with such a care. (more…)

From Joanna Latimer and Bever­ley Skeggs art­icle, The polit­ics of ima­gin­a­tion: keep­ing open and crit­ic­al.

William Kentridge — A drawing lesson”

“... can we be bet­ter than who we are, can we be oth­er than who we are?”
I’ve been try­ing to think about cap­ab­il­ity for a little while and try­ing to make sense of how we become able. What I’ve wanted to get away from is an idea of abil­ity that we feel defined or lim­ited by — the pre­sumed lim­its of abil­ity dic­tated, sup­posedly, by our bod­ily and men­tal capa­cit­ies.

Today I came across this lovely video of and by the artist Wil­li­am Kentridge. He expresses so much of what has engaged me in this sub­ject mat­ter, but with such elo­quence and so vividly.

Article in Design Issues

Design Issues, Sum­mer 2017, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 25 – 36

Cover art for Design Issues, 33 (3) 2017

ABSTRACT — In his 2015 Research Through Design pro­voca­tion, Tim Ingold invites his audi­ence to think with string, lines, and mesh­works. In this art­icle I use Ingold’s con­cepts to explore an ori­ent­a­tion to design — one that threads through both Ingold’s ideas and Vin­ciane Despret’s vivid and mov­ing accounts of human-animal rela­tions. This is a think­ing and doing” through design that seeks to be expans­ive to the capa­cit­ies of humans and non-humans in rela­tion to one anoth­er.
I’m so pleased to finally have this art­icle pub­lished in Design Issues, and very grate­ful to Abi­gail Dur­rant, John Vines, Jayne Wal­lace, and Joyce Yee for all their help with edit­ing my text and the Spe­cial Issue: Research Through Design: Twenty-First Cen­tury Makers and Mater­i­al­it­ies.

In my con­tri­bu­tion, I’ve reflec­ted on Tim Ingold’s pro­voca­tion at the Bien­ni­al Research Through Design con­fer­ence, and tried to play around with open­ing up a more gen­er­at­ive kind of design. My exper­i­ment has been to put Ingold’s ideas of lines and mesh­works in con­ver­sa­tion with Vin­ciane Despret’s uplift­ing stor­ies of anim­als and becom­ings. A strange mix, but one that for me at least raises plenty of inter­est­ing ques­tions — and isn’t it more ques­tions we need?!

For an early draft of the art­icle see: What lines, rats and sheep can tell us, Design Issues 2017

Vienna art, design, and architecture biennale

Anab Jain very kindly asked me to con­trib­ute a short piece to the pro­gramme for the Vienna art, design, and archi­tec­ture bien­nale.

With the motto:
Robots. Work. Our Future”

... the Bien­nale sets the devel­op­ments in robot­ics and AI against the future of work and labour. I’ve used this as an invit­a­tion to con­sider two modes’ of cap­ab­il­ity:

When it comes to judging the capa­cit­ies of humans and non­hu­mans, we are drawn to two modes of exist­ence. In one mode, we are com­pelled to see cap­ab­il­ity as resid­ing with­in an act­or, as an intrins­ic qual­ity of their being. A favour­ite determ­in­ant is the brain-weight to body-weight ratio; anoth­er is genet­ic pre­dis­pos­i­tion. We have devised all man­ner of tests to isol­ate human and non­hu­man capa­cit­ies: IQ tests, rats mazes and Tur­ing tests among them. Nat­ur­ally, humans come out on top using most counts.

In the second mode, we observe act­ors excel in their achieve­ments. We allow ourselves to be sur­prised and delighted by exhib­i­tions of capa­city that exceed our expect­a­tions (and that con­tra­vene the first mode in so many ways). To find evid­ence of this mode, one need only turn to that vast repos­it­ory of record and obser­va­tion, You­Tube, and wit­ness the view­ing num­bers for titles like spe­cies [x] and spe­cies [y] play­ing togeth­er”, spe­cies [x] and spe­cies [y] unlikely friends”, and so on. As these titles sug­gest, cap­ab­il­ity is often recog­nised here as accom­plished with oth­ers — with oth­er objects, oth­er act­ors, oth­er crit­ters.

Spec­u­lat­ing on human capa­cit­ies — on what humans might be cap­able of and how they might work in the future — I find myself ask­ing, as the anim­al stud­ies schol­ar Vin­ciane Despret does, which of these modes is more inter­est­ing’ and which makes more inter­est­ing’. Which of these modes invites us to spec­u­late on new fab­u­la­tions of act­ors of all kinds, of act­ors becoming-with each oth­er, of becom­ing other-than-humanly-capable, of becom­ing more cap­able?

I am taken by the mode that views cap­ab­il­ity as col­lect­ively achieved and that invites those con­di­tions that enlarge capa­cit­ies through on-going inter­ming­lings. The future of work, through this mode, will be dic­tated not by the lim­its of being human, but by how we might best attune ourselves with oth­ers, how we might become more cap­able togeth­er.

Platypus blog post

The Com­mit­tee for the Anthro­po­logy of Sci­ence, Tech­no­logy & Com­put­ing (CASTAC) and Rebekah Cul­pit kindly gave me the oppor­tun­ity to write a piece for Platy­pus (the CASTAC blog).

Titled Becom­ing More Cap­able”, the blog post sketches out some of the early ideas I’ve been think­ing with in con­nec­tion to dis/ability. Spe­cific­ally, it takes up a gen­er­at­ive (fem­in­ist inspired) pos­i­tion, that under­stands cap­ab­il­ity as col­lect­ively achieved, as a becoming-with’. The Platy­pus post is here, or see a longer un-edited ver­sion below.

We need to exer­cise the ima­gin­a­tion in order to elbow away at the con­di­tions of im/possibility.

Ingunn Moser & John Law (1999: 174)

What is it to be cap­able? How might we elbow away the con­di­tions that lim­it abil­ity, to become more cap­able? (more…)