Presenting “Data in place”

We’re pre­sent­ing a paper at CHI this year on Teni­son Road.
Alex S. Tay­lor, Siân Lind­ley, Tim Regan, David Sweeney, Vasilis Vla­chokyr­i­akos, Lil­lie Grainger, Jes­sa Lin­gel (2015), Data-in-Place: Think­ing through the Rela­tions Between Data and Com­mu­ni­ty, CHI 2015.
Here’s the abstract:

We present find­ings from a year-long engage­ment with a street and its com­mu­ni­ty. The work explores how the pro­duc­tion and use of data is bound up with place, both in terms of phys­i­cal and social geog­ra­phy. We detail three strands of the project. First, we con­sid­er how res­i­dents have sought to curate exist­ing data about the street in the form of an archive with phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal com­po­nents. Sec­ond, we report endeav­ours to cap­ture data about the street’s envi­ron­ment, espe­cial­ly of vehi­cle traf­fic. Third, we draw on the pos­si­bil­i­ties afford­ed by tech­nolo­gies for polling opin­ion. We reflect on how these engage­ments have: mate­ri­alised dis­tinc­tive rela­tions between the com­mu­ni­ty and their data; sur­faced flows and con­tours of data, and spa­tial, tem­po­ral and social bound­aries; and enact­ed a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of ‘small worlds’. We con­sid­er how such a con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion of data-in-place is rel­e­vant to the design of technology.

Published Modelling Biology – working through (in-)stabilities and frictions

Just had our paper on Com­pu­ta­tion­al Biol­o­gy pub­lished in the online jour­nal Com­pu­ta­tion­al Cul­ture.
Alex S. Tay­lor, Jas­min Fish­er, Byron Cook, Samin Ish­ti­aq and Nir Piter­man (2014) Mod­el­ling Biol­o­gy – work­ing through (in-)stabilities and fric­tions. Com­pu­ta­tion­al Cul­ture, 1 (4).
Abstract: Com­pu­ta­tion­al biol­o­gy is a nascent field reliant on soft­ware cod­ing and mod­el­ling to pro­duce insights into bio­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­na. Extreme claims cast it as a field set to replace con­ven­tion­al forms of exper­i­men­tal biol­o­gy, see­ing soft­ware mod­el­ling as a (more con­ve­nient) proxy for bench-work in the wet-lab. In this arti­cle, we deep­en and com­pli­cate the rela­tions between com­pu­ta­tion and sci­en­tif­ic ways of know­ing by dis­cussing a com­pu­ta­tion­al biol­o­gy tool, BMA, that mod­els gene reg­u­la­to­ry net­works. We detail the insta­bil­i­ties and fric­tions that sur­face when com­pu­ta­tion is incor­po­rat­ed into sci­en­tif­ic prac­tice, fram­ing the ten­sions as part of knowing-in-progress—the prac­ti­cal back and forth in work­ing things out. The work exem­pli­fies how soft­ware studies—and care­ful atten­tion to the mate­ri­al­i­ties of computation—can shed light on the emerg­ing sci­ences that rely on cod­ing and com­pu­ta­tion. Fur­ther, it puts to work a stand­point that sees com­pu­ta­tion as tight­ly entan­gled with forms of sci­en­tif­ic know­ing and doing, rather than a whole­sale replace­ment of them.

Reading “Not just neoliberalism…”

Berman, E. P. (2014). Not Just Neolib­er­al­ism: Econ­o­miza­tion in US Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Pol­i­cy. Sci­ence, Tech­nol­o­gy & Human Val­ues, 39(3), 397–431.

The title of this paper says it all real­ly. It’s good though to have a cogent argu­ment about the rela­tions between ide­ol­o­gy, pol­i­cy and the changes in how sci­ence is being done. I for one very eas­i­ly slip into an accusato­ry refrain when talk­ing about and usu­al­ly crit­i­cis­ing what I’ve seen to be the neolib­er­al (non)interventionist and pol­i­cy direc­tion in edu­ca­tion and sci­ence. Eliz­a­beth Berman presents a much more mea­sured posi­tion and con­vinces me that it’s bet­ter under­stood as an econ­o­miza­tion, as she calls it, where the broad­er shift is towards pri­ori­tis­ing sci­en­tif­ic research and inno­va­tion vis-a-vis the econ­o­my and specif­i­cal­ly see­ing them as eco­nom­ic inputs. This recog­nis­es the ten­sions and com­pli­ca­tions and the com­pet­ing inter­ests that have run through the chang­ing sta­tus of the sci­ences (in the US, but sim­i­lar­ly, I think, in the UK).
Some­thing I think Berman leaves open is the rela­tion­ship between sci­ence and inno­va­tion. She makes it clear that sci­ence and inno­va­tion become inex­orably linked when sci­ence is seen in eco­nom­ic terms. I want, though, to bet­ter under­stand the nexus. Indeed, but con­flat­ing sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy (“S&T” as Berman refers to it), I think there are fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions here that need unrav­el­ing, ones point­ing to the entan­gle­ments of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, and where progress or inno­va­tion sits between (or around) them. Can we talk of tech­nol­o­gy with­out inno­va­tion? If S&T are two-parts of a unit, how can we dis­en­tan­gle innovation?

Published Data and life on the street

We’ve pub­lished a short com­men­tary on the Teni­son Road project in the new Big Data & Soci­ety jour­nal. Down­load it here (open access).
Tay­lor, A. S., Lind­ley, S., Regan, T., & Sweeney, D. (2014). Data and life on the street. Big Data & Soci­ety, 1(2).

Abstract: What does the abun­dance of data and pro­lif­er­a­tion of data-mak­ing meth­ods mean for the ordi­nary per­son, the per­son on the street? And, what could they come to mean? In this paper, we present an overview of a year-long project to exam­ine just such ques­tions and com­pli­cate, in some ways, what it is to ask them. The project is a col­lec­tive exer­cise in which we – a mix­ture of social sci­en­tists, design­ers and mak­ers – and those liv­ing and work­ing on one street in Cam­bridge (UK), Teni­son Road, are work­ing to think through how data might be mate­ri­alised and come to mat­ter. The project aims to bet­ter under­stand the speci­fici­ties and con­tin­gen­cies that arise when data is pro­duced and used in place. Mid-way through the project, we use this com­men­tary to give some back­ground to the work and detail one or two of the trou­bles we have encoun­tered in putting local­ly rel­e­vant data to work. We also touch on a method­olog­i­cal stand­point we are work­ing our way into and through, one that we hope com­pli­cates the sep­a­ra­tions between sub­ject and object in data-mak­ing and opens up pos­si­bil­i­ties for a gen­er­a­tive refig­ur­ing of the man­i­fold relations.

on “Leakiness and creepiness in app space”

I recent­ly had an email exchange with Iri­na Shklovs­ki in which she kind­ly sent me the paper she pre­sent­ed at the CHI con­fer­ence this year. It’s a great paper, with some care­ful­ly thought through insights into the data we pro­duce and (often inad­ver­tent­ly) share when using smart phones. 

Iri­na Shklovs­ki, Scott D. Main­war­ing, Hal­la Hrund Skúladót­tir, and Höskul­dur Borgth­ors­son. 2014. Leak­i­ness and creepi­ness in app space: per­cep­tions of pri­va­cy and mobile app use. In Pro­ceed­ings of the 32nd annu­al ACM con­fer­ence on Human fac­tors in com­put­ing sys­tems (CHI ’14). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2347–2356. 

The paper got me think­ing about some broad­er (and long-stand­ing) issues I’ve been work­ing through myself relat­ed to the researcher’s agen­tial (and often inad­ver­tent) role in empir­i­cal research. What fol­lows are some slight­ly amend­ed com­ments I’ve shared with Iri­na. (more…)

Reading The “sentient” city and what it may portend

A ram­bling piece in Big Data & Soci­ety by Nigel Thrift: The ‘sen­tient’ city and what it may por­tend.
Was­n’t expect­ing the digres­sion into spir­its and per­for­mance art, but I do like Thrift’s con­tin­u­al efforts to write about expan­sive human/agent capac­i­ties and extend­ing the .

…the claim is being made that, as com­pu­ta­tion­al objects have devel­oped, cities are able to take on new forms of vital­i­ty (Stern, 2010), forms of vital­i­ty which can devel­op over time. Per­haps one way in which we might con­sid­er this ques- tion is pre­cise­ly through look­ing at how vital­i­ty dev­el- ops when com­pu­ta­tion­al things are explic­it­ly includ­ed in the con­tours of expe­ri­ence. Then it becomes clear that it has only grad­u­al­ly arisen, line by line, algo­rithm by algo­rithm, pro­gram by program.

Thirft, N. (2014). The “sen­tient” city and what it may por­tend. Big Data & Soci­ety, 1(1).

Reading Data matter(s)

Wil­son, M. W. (2011). Data matter(s): legit­i­ma­cy, cod­ing, and qual­i­fi­ca­tions-of-life. Envi­ron­ment and Plan­ning D: Soci­ety and Space, 29(5), 857–872.
Real­ly help­ful paper from Matthew Wil­son on the inter­min­glings of data and geog­ra­phy. Although more con­cen­trat­ed on a par­tic­u­lar aspect of com­mu­ni­ty life (name­ly report­ing prob­lems or dam­age to local facil­i­ties etc.), the paper has some strong rel­e­vances for the Teni­son Road project. Espe­cial­ly use­ful are Wilson’s thoughts on mat­ter­ing in rela­tion to fem­i­nist techno­science and of course 

Wil­son cites:
Har­away D J, 1991 Simi­ans, Cyborgs, and Women: The Rein­ven­tion of Nature (Rout­ledge, New York)

Har­away D J, 1997 [email protected]_Millennium. FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™: Fem­i­nism and Techno­science (Rout­ledge, New York)

Har­away D J, 1999, “Knowl­edges and the ques­tion of alliances”, in Knowl­edges and the Ques­tion of Alliances: A Con­ver­sa­tion with Nan­cy Hart­sock, Don­na Har­away, and David Har­vey (Kane Hall, Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, Seat­tle, WA)


After a tremen­dous about of work with Lara Hous­ton, I’m delight­ed to have final­ly gone live with our data pol­i­cy site: It attempts to detail, in var­i­ous for­mats and cuts, the dis­cus­sions at the day of dia­logues on data, pol­i­cy and civic life, held at Microsoft Research Cam­bridge. More than this though, we want the site to pro­mote fur­ther dis­cus­sion and expand the ways we might think of the rela­tions between data, social/civic life, and pol­i­cy. For me, the inspi­ra­tion here has been the work a few of us have been doing with Teni­son Road in cam­bridge and a com­mu­ni­ty’s efforts to make sense of and use its data. I’d like to think some­thing small and local could make a dif­fer­ence in these big discussions

Dialogues on data, policy and civic life

Next Tues­day a few of us at Microsoft Research are host­ing a day-long dia­logue to dis­cuss the inter­min­glings of data and social/civic life. We’re bring­ing togeth­er a mix of social the­o­rists, com­men­ta­tors and pol­i­cy advis­ers with the hope of draw­ing out pos­si­bil­i­ties for doing pol­i­cy mak­ing (as well as tech­nol­o­gy design) dif­fer­ent­ly. Our pre­am­ble for the event fol­lows (a print­able PDF can be down­loaded here): (more…)