Dancing on the Picket Line

For those of us in UK aca­demia, it’s been impossible to miss the strikes over the last four weeks, with aca­dem­ics from across the coun­try stand­ing their ground for a fair and equit­able pen­sion. There are many incred­ibly detail­ing the devel­op­ments and explain­ing how this is about for a walk of life that just doesn’t have to be sub­ject to the warped val­ues of the Neo-liberal pro­ject.

Per­son­ally, what I’ve found inspir­a­tion­al is the cov­er­age from the pick­et line and the industry of oth­ers. Nat­ur­ally, there have been the marches, the ban­ners, and the teach-ins. But, with such gen­er­at­ive care and warmth, what has brought spe­cial cheer to me have been the many out­stand­ing examples of cre­at­ive impulse: of craft (like that recor­ded by Jac­ob Phelps below), of design (from Katja May, Kat Jung­nick­el, etc. at Gold­smiths), and of poetry (no less from the fab­ulous Michael Rosen).

Giv­en it would be hard to add to all the amaz­ing com­ment­ary on the pen­sion strikes, what I want to pay spe­cial homage to here is the dance (and a little song) from the pick­et line. Brows­ing the not-so-distant twit­ter archive, I’ve tried to dig out a few out the high­lights from the last few weeks that can’t help bring a smile to my face when I rewatch them. It must be said, that among all the won­der­ful examples, Lan­caster goes gold hands down for the PEF (Pick­et Excel­lence Frame­work), and Imo­gen Tyler deserves a spe­cial award of excel­lence for her unwaver­ing com­mit­ment to impact dis­sem­in­a­tion, Twitter-wide.

For example, from Jason Hick­el, Dav­id Kerno­han, via Medi­um, etc. Kar­en Gregory has put togeth­er a list of UCU Strike Read­ings. Lucy Robinson’s strike scrap­book also deserves a spe­cial men­tion.
See by Six points on the eve of the UCU strike Jam­ie Wood­cock

PhD studentships at City

Just try­ing to pro­mote as widely as pos­sible:

My School has just announced ten PhD stu­dent­ships. I’d love to have strong applic­a­tions from pro­spect­ive stu­dents want­ing to join the Centre for Human-Centered Design (HCID).

There’s a list of research top­ics here. The dead­line is 25th April 2018. For the full advert, see here.

Per­son­ally, I’m very open to sug­ges­tions on top­ic. It would be thrill­ing to see pro­pos­als for crit­ic­al and per­haps mater­i­al­ist ori­ent­a­tions to tech­nos­cience. Oh, and fem­in­ist, inter­sec­tion­al think­ing would be high on my wish list.

Whatever the per­sua­sion, if you have friends, stu­dents, col­leagues, etc. inter­ested in doing some­thing excit­ing, please put them in touch.

CHI 2018 papers.

Anja Thieme, Cyn­thia L. Ben­nett, Cecily Mor­ris­on, Edward Cutrell and Alex Taylor (2018) I can do everything but see!” – How People with Vis­ion Impair­ments Nego­ti­ate their Abil­it­ies in Social Con­texts. In Pro­ceed­ings CHI 18. ACM Press.

Ari Schle­sing­er, Kenton O’Hara and Alex Taylor (2018) Lets Talk about Race: Iden­tity, Chat­bots, and AI. In Pro­ceed­ings CHI 18. ACM Press.

Very happy to have con­trib­uted to two papers being presen­ted at the upcom­ing CHI con­fer­ence this year. One reports on work with the blind and vis­ion impaired a few of us have been involved in dif­fer­ent ways (see here). Broadly, we’ve used the piece to reflect on the rela­tions between vis­ion impair­ment and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, and set out dir­ec­tions for a pos­sible design space.

The second paper picks up on a new theme for me, but one closely related to past reflec­tions and design work around machine intel­li­gence. With the fant­ast­ic Ari Schle­sing­er (GA Tech) lead­ing the research, we exam­ine the chal­lenges faced in hand­ling race talk (and racism) in human-bot inter­ac­tions. Tak­ing both Tai AI and the black­list as start­ing points, we take ser­i­ously the com­pu­ta­tion­al under­pin­nings of chat bots and con­ver­sa­tion­al agents, to under­score the role they have in sus­tain­ing troub­ling racial cat­egor­ies and the con­di­tions they make pos­sible for more just and equit­able ways for­ward.

Abstract — This research takes an ori­ent­a­tion to visu­al impair­ment (VI) that does not regard it as fixed or determ­ined alone in or through the body. Instead, we con­sider (dis)ability as pro­duced through inter­ac­tions with the envir­on­ment and con­figured by the people and tech­no­logy with­in it. Spe­cific­ally, we explore how abil­it­ies become nego­ti­ated through video eth­no­graphy with six VI ath­letes and spec­tat­ors dur­ing the Rio 2016 Para­lympics. We use gen­er­ated in-depth examples to identi­fy how tech­no­logy can be a mean­ing­ful part of abil­ity nego­ti­ations, emphas­iz­ing how these embed into the social inter­ac­tions and lives of people with VI. In con­trast to treat­ing tech­no­logy as a solu­tion to a sens­ory defi­cit’, we under­stand it to sup­port the tri­an­gu­la­tion pro­cess of sense-making through pro­vi­sion of appro­pri­ate addi­tion­al inform­a­tion. Fur­ther, we sug­gest that tech­no­logy should not try and replace human assist­ance, but instead enable people with VI to bet­ter identi­fy and inter­act with oth­er people in-situ.
Abstract — Why is it so hard for chat­bots to talk about race? This work explores how the biased con­tents of data­bases, the syn­tact­ic focus of nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cessing, and the opaque nature of deep learn­ing algorithms cause chat­bots dif­fi­culty in hand­ling race-talk. In each of these areas, the ten­sions between race and chat­bots cre­ate new oppor­tun­it­ies for people and machines. By mak­ing the abstract and dis­par­ate qual­it­ies of this prob­lem space tan­gible, we can devel­op chat­bots that are more cap­able of hand­ling race-talk in its many forms. Our goal is to provide the HCI com­munity with ways to begin address­ing the ques­tion, how can chat­bots handle race-talk in new and improved ways?

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:

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.


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.

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.