Talk at “Austerity Futures?”

Abstract for upcom­ing talk at Aus­ter­ity Futures? sem­in­ar 4.

houses long B&W

[Big] data futures, from the street.

Stor­ies about big data are every­where. We’re being told how sig­ni­fic­ant the impact of big data will be on our lives by all kinds of people in the know. And yet I’ve been grap­pling with what (big) data might really mean to people who aren’t fully signed up mem­bers of the diger­ati, those shapers, makers and mod­ers of tech­no­lo­gic­al futures. I’ve pondered, in short, on two sim­ple ques­tions: how does data mat­ter to ‘people on the street’, and how might they want it to mat­ter. In this talk, I’ll reflect on a pro­ject we’ve been build­ing up at Microsoft Research to begin work­ing through these ques­tions. I want to dis­cuss our efforts to ground a tech­no­lo­gic­al ima­gin­ary in ordin­ary life or, to put it another way, to enable a pro­duct­ive re-imagining of ‘big data futures’—to coin a phrase—from ‘the street’. I’ll describe how we’ve taken this chal­lenge quite lit­er­ally. Just over three weeks ago we began work­ing with one street in Cam­bridge, Ten­ison Road. For at least a year, we plan to think through what data means for the Ten­ison Road com­munity and in some cases to enable ways for the com­munity to inter­ve­ne in the future ima­gin­ar­ies. Although this won’t be a talk or for that mat­ter a pro­ject about aus­ter­ity, I cer­tainly think it is one in which aus­ter­ity and its reper­cus­sions will come to mat­ter. My aim, then, will be to reflect on how this is a pro­ject con­cerned with futures, futures that are heav­ily con­cen­trated in the minds of the tech­no­lo­gic­al elite, but also some that are more ped­es­tri­an that might just offer altern­at­ive pos­sib­il­it­ies for what (big) data could mean and what we might do with it.

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