Panel talk: Prototyping AI ethics futures—Rights, access and refusal

Pan­el talk at 1:00pm–2:30pm, 23 June 2021 (BST), in asso­ci­a­tion with Ada Lovelace Insti­tute, The British Acad­e­my and The Arts and Human­i­ties Research coun­cil.

Talk: The Capacities of Interaction

Halfway to the Future

Speak­ing at the Mixed Real­i­ty Lab’s Halfway to the Future, in Not­ting­ham. Very spoilt to have talked along­side a remote but still thor­ough­ly present and inspir­ing Lucy Such­man.

Data Bodies, Social Objects: S1 Art Space Sheffield

Short clip - Ilona Sagar's film Deep Structure
So grate­ful to Ilona Sagar for invit­ing me to join her at Park Hill’s S1 Art­space, in Sheffield. Lau­ra Vaugh­an and I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to respond to her thought pro­vok­ing film Deep Struc­ture, in a con­ver­sa­tion title “Data Bod­ies, Social Objects”.

Lau­ra Vaugh­an’s blog post sets the scene for our conversation.

Seminar talk at Edinburgh Design Informatics

Real­ly delight­ed to have pre­sent­ed at Design infor­mat­ics this week.

HCID Open Day 2019

Great to be part of this year’s live­ly HCID Open Day, and present a short paper: 

Liv­ing a larg­er life together. 

ABSTRACT: I want to use this talk to think in broad­er terms about design­ing for good — to ask the ques­tion: “are we think­ing and doing well with design?” 

Step­ping through a num­ber of exam­ples, I’ll invite us to reflect on some of the core tenets in UX design and HCI, ideas like human cen­tred­ness, medi­a­tion and aug­men­ta­tion. Though valu­able in mov­ing us on from a prob­lem-dri­ven and high­ly instru­men­tal ver­sion of design to some­thing much more invest­ed in people’s rich expe­ri­ences, I’m going to pro­pose such ten­ants are now lim­it­ing our imag­i­na­tions. They have us nar­row­ing our atten­tion, plac­ing the empha­sis on the human’s capac­i­ties to act in and on the world. In oth­er words they cre­ate the con­di­tions for a util­i­tar­i­an indi­vid­u­al­ism, and leave lit­tle space for a design open to the always entan­gled inter­play between a full-range of human and non­hu­man actors. 

I’ll argue that there is an alter­na­tive, much more gen­er­a­tive way of think­ing about and mak­ing with design, one that is com­mit­ted to a rela­tion­al becom­ing. This is an idea of rela­tions that does­n’t reduce design to a prac­tice that is good for the cen­tred human, the human sur­round­ed by tools that medi­ate or aug­ment inter­ac­tion. Instead, it is to recog­nise the cor­re­spon­dences, inter­de­pen­den­cies, con­tin­u­al attune­ments and co-mak­ings between diverse enti­ties. It is to ask: what it might be to cre­ate the con­di­tions for more to hap­pen, what a design would look like that holds open the space for rela­tions to pro­lif­er­ate and much more var­ied forms of life to come into being. This I want to pro­pose is a design for good, a design that is full with the hope of liv­ing a larg­er life together. 

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,, 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. 

EASST 2018 Presentation

Abi­gail Dur­rant and I gave our paper “Mod­el­ling Cells in/with risky comak­ings and devi­ous worlds” at EASST last week, in the fab­u­lous Fem­i­nist Fig­ures panel.

Mod­el­ling cells in/with risky comak­ings and devi­ous worlds

We use String Fig­ures and Invo­lu­tion­ary Momen­tum to “read against the grain” of a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous biol­o­gy char­ac­terised by reduc­tion. Work­ing through the design of a tool that mod­els cel­lu­lar sta­bil­i­ty, we spin a yarn of “affec­tive­ly charged” rela­tions between researchers, cells and technologies.
Draw­ing from her foun­da­tion­al stud­ies of biol­o­gy, Eve­lyn Fox Keller (2009:301) writes of a com­plex­i­ty and con­nect­ed­ness that might just char­ac­terise our “devi­ous” world(s). She has traced threads through biol­o­gy for over 40 years, draw­ing atten­tion to—amongst oth­er things—how it has often resist­ed the explana­to­ry pow­ers con­ferred upon its coun­ter­parts in oth­er nat­ur­al sci­ences. A prag­mat­ic approach has dom­i­nat­ed, she extols, in which unknowns have been a part of biology’s messy reality.
Look­ing ahead, to the deep­en­ing entan­gle­ments between biol­o­gy and com­pu­ta­tion, we find con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous imag­i­nar­ies sur­round­ing cel­lu­lar life to be test­ing this lin­eage. Certainly—as Keller her­self has reflected—computation makes pos­si­ble very par­tic­u­lar modes of under­stand­ing, ones con­form­ing to the “reduc­tive, mech­a­nis­tic, and adap­ta­tion­ist log­ics” that char­ac­terise a pre­vail­ing neo-Dar­win­ism (Hus­tak & Myers 2013:77).
In this paper, we wish to cut across what on the face it appears to be biology’s nar­row­ing move. By ‘look­ing askew’, we hope to ask more about biol­o­gy and whether or not it is being ren­dered com­pu­ta­tion­al. Exam­in­ing a project invest­ed in the com­pu­ta­tion­al chal­lenges of mod­el­ling cel­lu­lar sta­bil­i­ty, and rely­ing on the “risky comak­ings” (Har­away 2016:14) between actors, algo­rithms and com­pu­ta­tion­al tools, we stay com­mit­ted to the trou­bles enlivened by knot­ted rela­tions. We use two fem­i­nist fig­ures, Haraway’s String Fig­ure, and Hus­tak and Myer’s Invo­lu­tion­ary Momen­tum, to (re-)tell a sto­ry of unfold­ing rela­tion­ships between researchers, cells and tech­nolo­gies, spin­ning a yarn of “affec­tive­ly charged” (Hus­tak & Myers 2013) relays and knot­tings that resist sin­gu­lar figurings.
Har­away, D.J., 2016. Stay­ing with the trou­ble: Mak­ing kin in the Chthu­lucene. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press.
Hus­tak, C. and Myers, N., 2012. Invo­lu­tion­ary momen­tum: Affec­tive ecolo­gies and the sci­ences of plant/insect encoun­ters. dif­fer­ences, 23(3), pp.74–118.
Keller, E.F., 2009. Mak­ing sense of life: Explain­ing bio­log­i­cal devel­op­ment with mod­els, metaphors, and machines. Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press. 

Audrey, Anyone?

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.

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. 

Do data publics work?

I pre­sent­ed at the Data Publics con­fer­ence last week­end, at Lan­cast­er Uni­ver­si­ty. Got lots of help­ful feed­back to some ear­ly thoughts on publics (think­ing with some of my old favourites, Despret, Har­away, Mar­res, Stengers, etc.).
Pro­voked by Vin­ciane Despret’s “W for Work”, in “What would ani­mals say if we asked the right ques­tions?”, my start­ing point was the question:

Are we think­ing well
with data publics?


Vin­ciane Despret (2016). W is for Work. In “What Would Ani­mals Say If We Asked the Right Ques­tions”. Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press: 177–184.