HCID Seminar talk

I had the pleas­ure of present­ing as part of our very own HCID Sem­in­ar Series in Novem­ber. I took the oppor­tun­ity of try­ing out some early ideas about tables, a little clum­sily test­ing out ideas of how tables have been used in the record­ing of bod­ies, from the slave trade to the algorithmic modes of bod­ily account­ing so per­vas­ive today.

See the abstract for the talk below.

A return of slaves in the Parish of Jamaica, St Ann”, 28 June 1820. The National Archive.
A return of slaves in the Par­ish of Jamaica, St Ann”, 28 June 1820. The Nation­al Archive.
Convolutional Neural Networks for Sentence Classification. Yoo Kim
Con­vo­lu­tion­al Neur­al Net­works for Sen­tence Clas­si­fic­a­tion. Yoo Kim, arX​iv​.org, 2014.

The act of read­ing across and down, through the coordin­ate grid, to find inform­a­tion is a gen­er­at­ive act. [...]

This is not trivi­al, but essen­tial, to the per­form­at­ive cap­ab­il­it­ies of tables.

Joanna Druck­er

ABSTRACT: Through a num­ber of routes, I’ve found myself think­ing about tables, the kinds of tables with columns and rows. These tables lie behind so much of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of data and com­pu­ta­tion we are wit­ness­ing in con­tem­por­ary life. They are also core to much of the work we do as research­ers and design­ers. Yet too often we neg­lect the lively nature of these order­ing tech­no­lo­gies (Druck­er 2014). In offer­ing a prac­tic­al solu­tion for sort­ing and organ­ising pretty much any­thing (e.g., num­bers, times, dates, names, events, jour­neys, bod­ies, etc,), we over­look how they afford and author­ise very par­tic­u­lar ways of mak­ing mat­ter mat­ter (e.g. Rosenth­al 2018; Wern­i­mont 2018). Take Excel. The tool’s power­ful capa­cit­ies for order­ing items in a seem­ingly infin­ite num­ber of rows and columns — set­ting vari­ous sys­tems of organ­isa­tion against one anoth­er — is in no way inert. The expli­cit or implied hier­arch­ies, the cat­egor­ies and com­par­is­ons, the round­ings up or down, the spa­tial and cal­cu­lat­ive trans­form­a­tions, etc. — alto­geth­er, they are, already, telling a story. They are, if you will, tech­nos­cientif­ic world­ings” (Har­away 2016).

I want to use this talk as a for­cing func­tion to explore this line of thought and the rel­ev­ance it might have to the design of inter­act­ive sys­tems. For now, my view is that much is to be under­stood from the close exam­in­a­tion of tables-in-action’. I believe we might dis­cov­er many of the assump­tions and biases we have in inter­pret­ing data and con­duct­ing research by attend­ing to what we do with our tab­u­lat­ing prac­tices — prac­tices that, at first glance, appear so neut­ral. With this as a start­ing point, my hope will be to ima­gine worlds oth­er­wise. To ima­gine inter­ven­ing in the ways we work with tables so that we might extend and mul­tiply the worlds we make pos­sible.

  • Druck­er, Johanna. Graph­es­is: Visu­al forms of know­ledge pro­duc­tion. Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Press, 2014.
  • Har­away, Donna J. Stay­ing with the trouble: Mak­ing kin in the Chthu­lu­cene. Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, 2016.
  • Rosenth­al, Caitlin. Account­ing for Slavery: Mas­ters and Man­age­ment. Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Press, 2018.
  • Wern­i­mont, Jac­queline. Numbered Lives: Life and Death in Quantum Media. MIT Press, 2018.

Cycling on up

I’ve been con­tinu­ing with my exper­i­ment­a­tions and thoughts on cyc­ling, and in par­tic­u­lar extend­ing my reflec­tions on my first Bor­is Bike’ jour­ney recor­ded in 2014 (see this chapter). There’ll hope­fully be more to come in the com­ing months that tie togeth­er the space-times I tra­versed with oth­er records and dif­fer­ent accounts.

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Seminar talk and discussion with Daniela Rosner

I’m really thrilled to have Daniela Ros­ner vis­it­ing us at the Centre for Human-Computer Inter­ac­tion Design (HCID), and espe­cially excited about her HCID sem­in­ar talk. She’ll be expand­ing on ideas from her book Crit­ic­al Fab­u­la­tions: Rework­ing the Meth­ods and Mar­gins of Design”, and Ann Light will act­ing as dis­cussant. For details see this Event­brite page.

FoI Request: Amount paid per year to repay Slavery Abolition Act loan

In response to a story repor­ted via a num­ber of news sites and explor­ing a thread in my own research, I sub­mit­ted a Free­dom of Inform­a­tion (FoI) request to Her Majesty’s Treas­ury on the 7th April. In brief, I reques­ted fur­ther details on the amount paid per year to repay the Slavery Abol­i­tion Act loan, a loan taken by the UK gov­ern­ment in 1834 to com­pensate’ slave own­ers for their loss of prop­erty’. Shock­ingly, this loan was being repaid up until 2015 by UK tax­pay­ers.

I made my request using the amaz­ing What­DoThey­Know site. I’ve included the text from my request below for con­text.
Screen shot of written response by HM Treasury to FOI request

To Her Majesty’s Treas­ury,

As widely repor­ted, in 1833 – 35 [1] the UK gov­ern­ment bor­rowed £20m, 40% of its nation­al budget, to recom­pense” slave own­ers for los­ing their prop­erty” [2] — under the Slavery Abol­i­tion Act. On 9 Feb­ru­ary 2018, HM Treas­ury announced (via Twit­ter) that this loan had been paid in full. A related FOI request that HM Treas­ury respon­ded to on 9 Feb­ru­ary 2018 sets the date of the loans con­sol­id­a­tion’ to be the 1 Feb­ru­ary 2015: The 4% Con­sol­id­ated Loan was redeemed on 1 Feb­ru­ary 2015” [3].

Under the Free­dom of Inform­a­tion act, I request fur­ther details of this loan. Spe­cific­ally, I request the annu­al amount paid per year since 1833 – 35.

I also request to total sum paid to repay the loan, includ­ing interest.

Yours faith­fully,
Alex Taylor
Lon­don

1. From the doc­u­ment­a­tion avail­able, it’s unclear wheth­er the loan began in 1833 or 1835.

2. This was covered by a num­ber of news organ­isa­tions. Two examples from the Guard­i­an fol­low:
 — https://​www​.the​guard​i​an​.com/​c​o​m​m​e​n​t​i​sfre...
 — https://​www​.the​guard​i​an​.com/​c​o​m​m​e​n​t​i​sfre...

3. https://​www​.gov​.uk/​g​o​v​e​r​n​m​e​n​t​/​p​u​b​l​i​c​atio...

Hav­ing left their writ­ten response to the last day of the 20 work­ing days usu­ally allot­ted, HM Treas­ury replied with a some­what muddled mes­sage offer­ing some details, but not fully answer­ing my request. Some equi­val­ent to HM Treas­ury does not hold information/records” was used four times in a one-page response:

HM Treas­ury does not hold inform­a­tion with­in the scope of your request.”

HM Treas­ury does not hold records dat­ing from this peri­od.”

HM Treas­ury does not hold any detailed inform­a­tion on the struc­ture or amounts of repay­ments...”

HM Treas­ury does not hold inform­a­tion on the total interest paid...”

The let­ter from HM Treas­ury is avail­able via What­DoThey­Know here.

I will be con­tinu­ing this research and share any fur­ther inform­a­tion I’m able to obtain.

Papers presented at CHI 18

Delighted to see the two great papers I con­trib­uted to being presen­ted at CHI 2018 in Montreal.

Ari Schle­sing­er, Kenton O’Hara and Alex Taylor (2018) Lets Talk about Race: Iden­tity, Chat­bots, and AI. In Pro­ceed­ings CHI 18. ACM Press.

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.

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?
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.

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.

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.

Talk at INCITE-ing Transformation in Social Research

Incite-ing

On Sat­urday (12 Oct) I presen­ted a short paper reflect­ing on INCITE’s achieve­ments over the last 10 or so years at INCITE-ing Trans­form­a­tion in Social Research

Pre­amble

Ref­er­en­cing her New Media’s Inter­me­di­ar­ies art­icle, I want to glimpse back to reflect on how Nina Wake­ford posi­tioned INCITE and made sense of it against a back drop of cul­tur­al the­ory, sci­ence and tech­no­logy stud­ies, CSCW and soci­ology

.. And, in doing this, I also want to peer for­ward, to con­sider what troubles there might be ahead, and what pro­duct­ive pos­sib­il­it­ies we might ima­gine for ourselves. (more…)

Announcing Tenison Road launch

Finally pos­ted some fly­ers to announce the launch of the big data pro­ject we’ll run for a year. We hope to work with the res­id­ents and pro­pri­et­ors on Ten­ison Road in Cam­bridge to bet­ter under­stand how big data mat­ters and what people on the street want it to be. This is a pro­ject that is aim­ing to get at the inter­ming­lings of data and loc­al­ity, and to inter­vene in the entan­gle­ments in pro­duct­ive ways. That’s the hope! ... Fin­gers crossed.