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.

From 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. 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.

Here’s to all the dancers (and musi­cians) on the pick­et line


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.

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?

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”

“… 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