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.
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…)
I’m thrilled to have our paper submission accepted to the . Cynthia Bennett and I will be busily preparing our paper for the always amazing event, this year in August/September in Boston.
A care for being
Cynthia Bennett and Alex Taylor
In this paper, we begin with Ingunn Moser’s and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa’s generative notions of care and use them to expand how we understand capability. Drawing on fieldwork with blind and vision impaired people, we turn our attention to a materially enacted, unfolding ‘sense-ability’. This is a sensing that puts (cap)ability and care together, that understands ‘seeing-in-the-world’ as a practical affair that is, at once, knowing, effecting and affecting with others (humans or otherwise). Thus, we show not only that care can contest an ‘instrumentalism’ in forms of knowing and doing—by ‘re-affecting objectified worlds’ (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2011: 98)—but also give a greater clarity to how care can be, in practice, entangled in practice. This sense-ability seeks to be active, enlivening how we become capable; it is figured to be worked with, not finite and dictated by assumed bodily limits, but open to becoming-with and becoming-more. Borrowing from Vinciane Despret, this sense-ability is “to gain a body that does more things, that feels other events, and that is more and more able…” (2004: 120).
Despret, V. (2004). The Body We Care For: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis. Body & Society, 10(2–3), 111–134.
Moser, I. (2011). Dementia and the Limits to Life. ST&HV, 36(5), 704–722.
Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2011). Matters of Care in Technoscience. Social Studies of Science, 41(1), 85–106.
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?
Last Wednesday, tried again to capture my thoughts on capability and capacity, this time at the UCL Knowledge Lab (Institute of Education). The recording of the talk is available here.
I had a very generous slot for presenting to some in Design Products at the RCA this week.
In this talk, I want to suggest we have spent too much time working with the limits of capability—the limits of the perceptual apparatus, the limits of cognitive capacities, and the limits of how critters (whether human or nonhuman) interact and relate to one another. Drawing on a feminist technoscience and using examples from recent fieldwork, I’ll aim to show that, together, we make ourselves capable. That capability isn’t limited to some pre-given, individual state, but comes into being through (inter)action, through entangled relations between actors of all kinds. This, I’ll claim, gives us a very different way of thinking about our relations with technology and especially the promise of AI and machine learning. Rather than machines aiming to replicate human capability, I want to propose an expansive project that allows us the chance to imagine something ‘other-than’ finite capabilities, that sees capability as a ‘becoming-with’, and lays open the possibilities for much much more.
I’m hoping to fine-tune and do a little tidying of these ideas for this talk
at the Knowledge Lab
(Institute of Education) later this month.
Very happy to have another publication from the monumental Tenison Road project, this time in the Journal of Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW).
Lindley, S.E., Thieme, A., Taylor, A.S. et al. (2017). Surfacing Small Worlds through Data-In-Place. Computer Supported Cooperative Work.
We present findings from a five-week deployment of voting technologies in a city neighbourhood. Drawing on Marres’ (2012) work on material participation and Massey’s (2005) conceptualisation of space as dynamic, we designed the deployment such that the technologies (which were situated in residents’ homes, on the street, and available online) would work in concert, cutting across the neighbourhood to make visible, juxtapose and draw together the different ‘small worlds’ within it. We demonstrate how the material infrastructure of the voting devices set in motion particular processes and interpretations of participation, putting data in place in a way that had ramifications for the recognition of heterogeneity. We conclude that redistributing participation means not only opening up access, so that everyone can participate, or even providing a multitude of voting channels, so that people can participate in different ways. Rather, it means making visible multiplicity, challenging notions of similarity, and showing how difference may be productive.
See more on the CSCW site here. See an early draft here.
At the combined 4S/EASST meeting this year, Sarah Kember and I presented a paper titled:
Writerly (ac)counts of finite flourishings and possibly better ways of being together
As Sarah’s introduction to the paper outlined, our co-writings were an attempt to think with the emerging strategies of feminist counting, accounting and re-counting.
Below, I present my part to the co-authered piece. It’s long, so I put it here more for the record than any expectation it will be read. I must add that the ideas I present draw on work done by . Without her energy and always thoughtful investment in the field site, this reflection would not have been possible: (more…)
I was interviewed just over a week ago by Nora Young, for the great Spark programme, aired on CBC Radio One.
In short, I try to give Nora a sense of how AI could open up some radically different possibilities if we were able to approach intelligence differently. I try to capture how we might see intelligence not in restrictive human terms (as stable cognitive capacities in the head/mind), but as something always emergent, always enacted and tied to the many unfolding relations we find ourselves entangled in. I see this to be a generative orientation to AI, building on ideas from Donna Haraway, Isabelle Stengers, Vinciane Despret, Sarah Whatmore and many others grappling with the possibilities of us extending our capabilities, of being somehow more-than-human.
If you’re in Canada, the programme is broadcast this coming Sunday afternoon at 1:05 PM local time (in most parts of Canada) and again on Wednesday at 2:05 PM. Alternatively, my segment of the show is available here, titled:
I want to give a special thanks to Marcus Carter and the University of Melbourne’s Social NUI Centre for allowing me to share their amazing work with Orangutans.
Nesta kindly invited me to one of their ‘hot topics’ events a couple of weeks ago to present a provocation on AI and human-computer interaction. They also asked for me to write a few words that they’ve now published on the “TheLong+Short” blog here. I append the original text to my provocation below.
I came across this photo on my computer today (sorry, I’ve looked to see if I can attribute it to someone, but so far failed). It’s a lovely image in it’s own right, playing with a vintage quality to the future, but in this context I think it does invite the question ‘is this the limit of our imaginations?’ I’d like to suggest AI might open us up to so much more. (more…)
A preview of our “Counting by other means” 4S/EASST conference track has been posted on the Society of Social Studies of Science Backchannels blog. I’m running the track with Sarah Kember and we’re excited to have these papers included: (more…)
At the CHI conference this year, Clara Crivellaro presented this paper on our amazing work at a regeneration site on the outskirts of London. The work touches on many issues that are important to me, from grassroots participation and housing to inventive methods and technoscience’s productive possibilities.
HCI, ‘Community Building’ and Change
Clara Crivellaro, Alex Taylor, Vasilis Vlachokyriakos, Rob Comber, Bettina Nissen, Peter Wright
We present insights from an extended engagement and design intervention at an urban regeneration site in SE London. We describe the process of designing a walking trail and system for recording and playing back place-specific stories for those living and working on the housing estate, and show how this is set within a wider context of urban renewal, social/affordable housing and “community building”. Like prior work, the research reveals the frictions that arise in participatory engagements with heterogeneous actors. Here we illustrate how material interventions can rearrange existing spatial configurations, making productive the plurality of accounts intrinsic in community life. Through this, we provide an orientation to HCI and design interventions that are concerned with civic engagement and participation in processes of making places.