Vienna art, design, and architecture biennale

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.

Platypus blog post

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…)

Paper at 4S 2017

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
more (cap-)able

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.

4S is the Soci­ety for the Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence. The annu­al meet­ing details are here.

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.

Talk at RCA, Design Products

I had a very gen­er­ous slot for pre­sent­ing to some in Design Prod­ucts at the RCA this week.

Slides from RCA Design Products talk Feb 2017

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.


Surfacing Small Worlds through Data-In-Place

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.

Paper presented at 4S/EASST meeting

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…)

… work­ing from Newcastle’s Open Lab

Interview with Nora Young on CBC Radio Spark Show

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.

Artificial Intelligence: asking the right questions

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…)

Re-making places

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.