HCID Seminar talk

I had the plea­sure of pre­sent­ing as part of our very own HCID Sem­i­nar Series in Novem­ber. I took the oppor­tu­ni­ty of try­ing out some ear­ly ideas about tables, a lit­tle clum­si­ly test­ing out ideas of how tables have been used in the record­ing of bod­ies, from the slave trade to the algo­rith­mic modes of bod­i­ly account­ing so per­va­sive today. 

See the abstract for the talk below. 

A return of slaves in the Parish of Jamaica, St Ann”, 28 June 1820. The National Archive.
“A return of slaves in the Parish of Jamaica, St Ann”, 28 June 1820. The Nation­al Archive.
Convolutional Neural Networks for Sentence Classification. Yoo Kim
Con­vo­lu­tion­al Neur­al Net­works for Sen­tence Clas­si­fi­ca­tion. Yoo Kim, arXiv.org, 2014.

The act of read­ing across and down, through the coor­di­nate grid, to find infor­ma­tion is a gen­er­a­tive act. […] 

This is not triv­ial, but essen­tial, to the per­for­ma­tive capa­bil­i­ties of tables. 

Joan­na Drucker 

ABSTRACT: Through a num­ber of routes, I’ve found myself think­ing about tables, the kinds of tables with columns and rows. These tables lie behind so much of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of data and com­pu­ta­tion we are wit­ness­ing in con­tem­po­rary life. They are also core to much of the work we do as researchers and design­ers. Yet too often we neglect the live­ly nature of these order­ing tech­nolo­gies (Druck­er 2014). In offer­ing a prac­ti­cal solu­tion for sort­ing and organ­is­ing pret­ty much any­thing (e.g., num­bers, times, dates, names, events, jour­neys, bod­ies, etc,), we over­look how they afford and autho­rise very par­tic­u­lar ways of mak­ing mat­ter mat­ter (e.g. Rosen­thal 2018; Wern­i­mont 2018). Take Excel. The tool’s pow­er­ful capac­i­ties for order­ing items in a seem­ing­ly infi­nite num­ber of rows and columns—setting var­i­ous sys­tems of organ­i­sa­tion against one another—is in no way inert. The explic­it or implied hier­ar­chies, the cat­e­gories and com­par­isons, the round­ings up or down, the spa­tial and cal­cu­la­tive trans­for­ma­tions, etc.—altogether, they are, already, telling a sto­ry. They are, if you will, techno­sci­en­tif­ic “world­ings” (Har­away 2016). 

I want to use this talk as a forc­ing func­tion to explore this line of thought and the rel­e­vance it might have to the design of inter­ac­tive sys­tems. For now, my view is that much is to be under­stood from the close exam­i­na­tion of ‘tables-in-action’. I believe we might dis­cov­er many of the assump­tions and bias­es we have in inter­pret­ing data and con­duct­ing research by attend­ing to what we do with our tab­u­lat­ing practices—practices that, at first glance, appear so neu­tral. With this as a start­ing point, my hope will be to imag­ine worlds oth­er­wise. To imag­ine inter­ven­ing in the ways we work with tables so that we might extend and mul­ti­ply the worlds we make possible. 

  • Druck­er, Johan­na. Graph­e­sis: Visu­al forms of knowl­edge pro­duc­tion. Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2014. 
  • Har­away, Don­na J. Stay­ing with the trou­ble: Mak­ing kin in the Chthu­lucene. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016. 
  • Rosen­thal, Caitlin. Account­ing for Slav­ery: Mas­ters and Man­age­ment. Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2018. 
  • Wern­i­mont, Jacque­line. Num­bered Lives: Life and Death in Quan­tum Media. MIT Press, 2018. 

Cycling on up

I’ve been con­tin­u­ing with my exper­i­men­ta­tions and thoughts on cycling, and in par­tic­u­lar extend­ing my reflec­tions on my first ‘Boris Bike’ jour­ney record­ed in 2014 (see this chap­ter). There’ll hope­ful­ly be more to come in the com­ing months that tie togeth­er the space-times I tra­versed with oth­er records and dif­fer­ent accounts.

A video cap­tured using the now defunct Auto­g­ra­ph­er. It cap­tures me pur­pose­ly cycling beyond the usu­al routes mapped by the rental bikes. from the Aber­feldy Street dock­ing sta­tion out through Newham to Green Street, along The Greenway/Northern Out­fall Sew­er, and then back to Bow.


Seminar talk and discussion with Daniela Rosner

I’m real­ly thrilled to have Daniela Ros­ner vis­it­ing us at the Cen­tre for Human-Com­put­er Inter­ac­tion Design (HCID), and espe­cial­ly excit­ed about her HCID sem­i­nar talk. She’ll be expand­ing on ideas from her book “Crit­i­cal Fab­u­la­tions: Rework­ing the Meth­ods and Mar­gins of Design”, and Ann Light will act­ing as dis­cus­sant. For details see this Eventbrite page

FoI Request: Amount paid per year to repay Slavery Abolition Act loan

In response to a sto­ry report­ed via a num­ber of news sites and explor­ing a thread in my own research, I sub­mit­ted a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion (FoI) request to Her Majesty’s Trea­sury on the 7th April. In brief, I request­ed fur­ther details on the amount paid per year to repay the Slav­ery Abo­li­tion Act loan, a loan tak­en by the UK gov­ern­ment in 1834 to ‘com­pen­sate’ slave own­ers for their loss of ‘prop­er­ty’. Shock­ing­ly, this loan was being repaid up until 2015 by UK taxpayers.

I made my request using the amaz­ing What­DoThey­Know site. I’ve includ­ed the text from my request below for context.
Screen shot of written response by HM Treasury to FOI request

To Her Majesty’s Treasury,
As wide­ly report­ed, in 1833–35 [1] the UK gov­ern­ment bor­rowed £20m, 40% of its nation­al bud­get, to “rec­om­pense” slave own­ers for los­ing their “prop­er­ty” [2] — under the Slav­ery Abo­li­tion Act. On 9 Feb­ru­ary 2018, HM Trea­sury announced (via Twit­ter) that this loan had been paid in full. A relat­ed FOI request that HM Trea­sury respond­ed to on 9 Feb­ru­ary 2018 sets the date of the loans ‘con­sol­i­da­tion’ to be the 1 Feb­ru­ary 2015: “The 4% Con­sol­i­dat­ed Loan was redeemed on 1 Feb­ru­ary 2015” [3].
Under the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion act, I request fur­ther details of this loan. Specif­i­cal­ly, I request the annu­al amount paid per year since 1833–35.
I also request to total sum paid to repay the loan, includ­ing interest.
Yours faithfully,
Alex Taylor
1. From the doc­u­men­ta­tion avail­able, it’s unclear whether the loan began in 1833 or 1835.
2. This was cov­ered by a num­ber of news organ­i­sa­tions. Two exam­ples from the Guardian follow:
3. https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio…

Hav­ing left their writ­ten response to the last day of the 20 work­ing days usu­al­ly allot­ted, HM Trea­sury replied with a some­what mud­dled mes­sage offer­ing some details, but not ful­ly answer­ing my request. Some equiv­a­lent to “HM Trea­sury does not hold information/records” was used four times in a one-page response:

“HM Trea­sury does not hold infor­ma­tion with­in the scope of your request.”
“HM Trea­sury does not hold records dat­ing from this period.”
“HM Trea­sury does not hold any detailed infor­ma­tion on the struc­ture or amounts of repayments…”
“HM Trea­sury does not hold infor­ma­tion on the total inter­est paid…”

The let­ter from HM Trea­sury is avail­able via What­DoThey­Know here.
I will be con­tin­u­ing this research and share any fur­ther infor­ma­tion I’m able to obtain.

Papers presented at CHI ’18

Delight­ed to see the two great papers I con­tributed to being pre­sent­ed at CHI 2018 in Montreal.

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

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. 

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?
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.

Two fully-funded PhDs

We’re excit­ed to be offer­ing two ful­ly fund­ed PhD Stu­dentships in the HCID Cen­tre at City. See:
Beneath the archive
Under­stand­ing users’ men­tal mod­els of dig­i­tal archives
to inform user-cen­tred design for human­i­ties research
Appli­ca­tion dead­line 20 May 2018.
Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence for Teams
The Future of Col­lab­o­ra­tive Work in Organ­i­sa­tion­al Life
Appli­ca­tion dead­line 27 May 2018.

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.

Talk at INCITE-ing Transformation in Social Research

On Sat­ur­day (12 Oct) I pre­sent­ed a short paper reflect­ing on INCITE’s achieve­ments over the last 10 or so years at “INCITE-ing Trans­for­ma­tion in Social Research
Ref­er­enc­ing her New Media’s Inter­me­di­aries arti­cle, I want to glimpse back to reflect on how Nina Wake­ford posi­tioned INCITE and made sense of it against a back drop of cul­tur­al the­o­ry, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy stud­ies, CSCW and sociology
.. And, in doing this, I also want to peer for­ward, to con­sid­er what trou­bles there might be ahead, and what pro­duc­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties we might imag­ine for our­selves. (more…)

Announcing Tenison Road launch

Final­ly post­ed some fly­ers to announce the launch of the big data project we’ll run for a year. We hope to work with the res­i­dents and pro­pri­etors on Teni­son Road in Cam­bridge to bet­ter under­stand how big data mat­ters and what peo­ple on the street want it to be. This is a project that is aim­ing to get at the inter­min­glings of data and local­i­ty, and to inter­vene in the entan­gle­ments in pro­duc­tive ways. That’s the hope! … Fin­gers crossed.