A few cultural geographies of tech

As it’s/they’re now a sort of trend, here’s a few recently published papers that offer some  cultural geographies of tech…

Being in a mediated world: self-tracking and the mind–body–environment

Sarah PinkVaike Fors

Self-tracking is an increasingly ubiquitous everyday activity and therefore is becoming implicated in the ways that everyday environments are experienced and configured. In this article, we examine theoretically and ethnographically how the digital materiality of these technologies mediates and participates in the constitution of people’s tacit ways of being in the world. We argue that accounting for the presence of such technologies as part of everyday environments in this way offers new insights for non-representational accounts of everyday life as developed in geography and anthropology and advances existing understandings of these technologies as it has emerged in sociology and media studies.

The GoPro gaze

Phillip Vannini, Lindsay M Stewart

During 2014–2015, we produced a short video documentary, titled The Art of Wild, which focused on the audiovisual practices of outdoor adventurers. This short written report reflects on an idea inspired by the video: the GoPro gaze. Enacted by increasingly sophisticated, portable and affordable recording audiovisual technologies such as the GoPro Hero camera, the ‘GoPro gaze’ entails not just the pursuit of pleasures derived from adventure and nature-based travel, but also the production and distribution of professional-quality independent videos for Internet audiences. Based on a series of ‘go-along’ interviews with adventure travelers/athletes/artists, this article and the accompanying video prompt us to reflect on how the affective pleasures and technological affordances of the ‘GoPro gaze’ trouble the established idea of the ‘tourist gaze’.

The lit world: living with everyday urban automation

Sarah Pink & Shanti Sumartojo

In this article, we develop and advance the concept of the lit world by bringing together literatures about everyday lighting, automation in everyday life and human perception, along with our ethnographic research into people’s experience of automated lighting in Melbourne, Australia. In doing so we formulate and argue for an approach to automation that situates it as part of everyday mundane worlds and acknowledges its entanglement with the emergent and experiential qualities of everyday environments as they unfold. We demonstrate this through the example of automated lighting, understood as a situated technology that has contingent effects and participates in the making of particular ways of seeing and feeling the world. We thereby argue for an account of automation that reaches beyond its potential for the management of human (and other) behaviour, to ask how the qualities and affordances of automated technologies might seep out of their intended domains, and create new perceptual and experiential opportunities. In a context where automation is increasingly prevalent in everyday life, such attention to the experience and use of automated technologies which already exist on a large scale is needed. Urban lighting is an example par excellence of automation in the world because it has a long history beyond the recent association of automated technologies with code and digital infrastructures. As scholars debate how automated technologies will become part of our future digital lives, understanding how people live in a lit world offers a starting point for considering how we might live with other anticipated algorithmic forms of automation.

Songs “written by AI” from SonyCSL

Songs written by Sony CSL’s “AI”…

From the Sony CSL “flow machines” website:

Flow Machines is a research project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and coordinated by François Pachet (Sony CSL Paris – UMPC).

The goal of Flow Machines is to research and develop Artificial Intelligence systems able to generate music autonomously or in collaboration with human artists.
We do so by turning music style into a computational object. Musical style can come from individual composers, for example Bach or The Beatles, or a set of different artists, or, of course, the style of the musician who is using the system.

Their “Deep Bach” thing was doing the rounds at the end of last year, so I presume there will be more to come.

A Universe Explodes. A Blockchain book/novel

Thanks to Max Dovey for the tip on this…

This seems interesting as a sort of provocation about what Blockchain says/asks about ownership perhaps, although I’m not overly convinced by the gimmick of changing words such that the readers unravel, or “explode” the book… I wonder whether The Raw Shark Texts  or These Pages Fall Like Ash might be a deeper or maybe I mean more nuanced take on such things… however, I haven’t explored this enough yet and it’s good to see Google doing something like this (I think?!)

Here’s a snip from googler tea uglow’s medium post about this…

It’s a book. On your phone. Well, on the internet. Anyone can read it. It’s 20 pages long. Each page has 128 words, and there are 100 of the ‘books’ that can be ‘owned’ . And no way to see a book that isn’t one of those 100. Each book is unique, with personal dedications, and an accumulation of owners, (not to mention a decreasing number of words) as it is passed on. So it is both a book and an cumulative expression of the erosion of the self and of being rewritten and misunderstood. That is echoed in the narrative: the story is fluid, the transition confusing, the purpose unclear. The book gradually falls apart in more ways than one. It is also kinda geeky.

Reblog> digital geographies event

May be of interest… via Gillian Rose.

The Digital Geographies Working Group of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers is holding its first event. It’s got lots of various kinds of short presentations, opportunities to engage and interact so it should be fun and productive.RevolutionEvolutionImpostion_2903.jpg

The event will be at the Royal Geographical Society in London on 30 June and if you have any kind of interest in studying or doing geography digitally, you’re very welcome to attend. You can book now, here, and the panel sessions will also be livestreamed on the day.

Choose how you feel, you have seven options

A great piece by Ruben Van de Ven stemming from his artwork of the same name, published on the Institute of Network Culture site. Van de Ven, in a similar vein to Will Davies, deconstructs the logic of ‘affective’ computing, sentiment analysis and their application to what has been termed the ‘attention economy’. The article does a really go job of demonstrating how the knowledge claims, and the epistemologies (perhaps ontologies too), that are at work behind these technologies are (of course) deeply political in their application. Very much worth reading! (snippet below).

 ‘Weeks ago I saw an older woman crying outside my office building as I was walking in. She was alone, and I worried she needed help. I was afraid to ask, but I set my fears aside and walked up to her. She appreciated my gesture, but said she would be fine and her husband would be along soon. With emotion enabled (Augmented Reality), I could have had far more details to help me through the situation. It would have helped me know if I should approach her. It would have also let me know how she truly felt about my talking to her.’


This is how Forest Handford, a software developer, outlines his ideal future for a technology that has emerged over the past years. It is known as emotion analysis software, emotion detection, emotion recognition or emotion analytics. One day, Hartford hopes, the software will aid in understanding the other’s genuine, sincere, yet unspoken feelings (‘how she truly felt’). Technology will guide us through a landscape of emotions, like satellite navigation technologies guide us to destinations unknown to us: we blindly trust the route that is plotted out for us. But in a world of digitized emotions, what does it mean to feel 63% surprised and 54% joyful?

Please take the time to read the whole article.

Reblog> Accident tourist – driverless cars and ethics

An interesting and well-written piece over on Cyborgology by Maya from Tactical Tech Collective (amongst many other things!)

I particularly like these bits copied below, but please read the whole post.

Accident Tourist: Driverless car crashes, ethics, machine learning

…I imagine what it may be like to arrive on the scene of  a driverless car crash, and the kinds of maps I’d draw to understand what happened. Scenario planning is one way in which ‘unthinkable futures’ may be planned for.

The ‘scenario’ is a phenomenon that became prominent during the Korean War, and through the following decades of the Cold War, to allow the US army to plan its strategy in the event of nuclear disaster. Peter Galison describes scenarios as a “literature of future war” “located somewhere between a story outline and ever more sophisticated role-playing war games”, “a staple of the new futurism”. Since then scenario-planning has been adopted by a range of organisations, and features in the modelling of risk and to identify errors. Galison cites the Boston Group as having written a scenario – their very first one-  in which feminist epistemologists, historians, and philosophers of science running amok might present a threat to the release of radioactive waste from the Cold War (“A Feminist World, 2091”).

The applications of the Trolley Problem to driverless car crashes are a sort of scenario planning exercise. Now familiar to most readers of mainstream technology reporting, the Trolley problem is presented as a series of hypothetical situations with different outcomes derived from a pitting of consequentialism against deontological ethicsTrolley Problems are constructed as either/or scenarios where a single choice must be made.


What the Trolley Problem scenario and the applications of machine learning in driving suggest is that we’re seeing a shift in how ethics is being constructed: from accounting for crashes after the fact, to pre-empting them (though, the automotive industry has been using computer simulated crash modeling for over twenty years); from ethics that is about values, or reasoning, to ethics as based on datasets of correct responses, and, crucially, of ethics as the outcome of software engineering. Specifically in the context of driverless cars, there is the shift from ethics as a framework of “values for living well and dying well”, as Gregoire Chamayou puts it, to a framework for “killing well”, or ‘necroethics’.

Perhaps the unthinkable scenario to confront is that  ethics is not a machine-learned response, nor an end-point, but as a series of socio-technical, technical, human, and post-human relationships, ontologies, and exchanges. These challenging and intriguing scenarios are yet to be mapped.

Coincidentally, in the latest Machine Ethics podcast (which I participated in a while ago), Joanna Bryson discusses these issues about the bases for deriving ethics in relation to AI, which is quite interesting.

Reblog> Gary Kasparov on fake news

Via John Naughton.

From an interesting interview:

Q: Does the term “fake news” have a Russian equivalent, and if so, what is it, who uses it and, in your experience, why?

Kasparov: My honest reply to this is that the word for “fake news” in Putin’s Russia is simply “news.” There isn’t a syllable uttered or printed in Russia without its author being very much aware of what the regime thinks of it and what would happen to him if he crosses a certain line—except perhaps the weather! Often those lines are explicit, sent out in memos about new topics and how to promote or spin them. But by now, after 17 years of Putin, everyone knows where the lines are. Under those conditions, what can news be except fake? Even if nearly everything that is published is, in and of itself, true, there is an ocean of falsity in what isn’t said, what isn’t asked, and how basic facts are presented. This is the story of the media in a modern dictatorship. It’s not like Pravda, with one official storyline that everyone knows is probably BS. There are hundreds of layers of carefully calibrated propaganda and censorship in Putin’s Russia, creating the illusion of freedom. One outlet says Putin is great 100 percent of the time about everything. Another only 80 percent, about, say, the economy or security. One writer can complain a little about education, while another is allowed to criticize the regime on one or two specific things, etc. It’s like the Matrix, a complex illusion. And since almost all Russians still depend on television news, it’s very effective.

Brave new-old world – gig economy as scientific management

They’re gonna be disrupted, yeah! Because your lives are being disrupted, yeah! This is the money you need to live!

An interesting article in the FT: “When your boss is an algorithm“, in which (if you ignore the sort of anthropomorphism of “the algorithm” and its apparently supreme agency) the author,  , draws out the similarity between the claims of efficiency etc. made for ‘gig economy’ -type work platforms, such as Uber and Deliveroo, are very similar to Taylorism:

Algorithmic management” might sound like the future but it has uncanny echoes from the past. A hundred years ago, a new theory called “scientific management” swept through the factories of America. It was the brainchild of Frederick W Taylor … Taylor wanted to replace this “rule of thumb” approach with “the establishment of many rules, laws and formulae which replace the judgment of the individual workman”. To that end, he sent managers with stopwatches and notebooks on to the shop floor. They observed, timed and recorded every stage of every job, and determined the most efficient way that each one should be done. “Perhaps the most prominent single element in modern scientific management is the task idea,” Taylor wrote in his 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management. “This task specifies not only what is to be done but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it.”

Exemplified by the following excerpt articulating the experience of a Deliveroo driver, Kyaw, which is, in turn, of course similar to the kinds of working conditions of other delivery drivers and Amazon warehouse pickers (as has been covered widely in the press)…

Kyaw whips out his phone. The app expects him to respond to new orders within 30 seconds. The screen shows a map and address for the local Carluccio’s, an Italian restaurant chain. A swipe bar says “Accept delivery”. That is the only option. The algorithm will not tell him the delivery address until he has picked up the food from Carluccio’s. Deliveroo couriers are assigned fairly small geographic areas but Kyaw says sometimes the delivery address is way outside his allocated zone. You can only decline an order by phoning the driver support line. “They say, ‘No, you have to do it, you already collected the food.’ If you want to return the food to the restaurant they mark it as a driver refusal — that’s bad.”

‘Ways of Being in a Digital Age’ scoping

I’ve only just caught on here, but the ESRC’s “Ways of Being in a Digital Age” scoping review, for their new theme of the same name, has been awarded to the Liverpool Institute of Cultural Capital (a collaboration between Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores) in a partnership with 17 other institutions (a core of eight in the UK apparently). They say:

The project will undertake a Delphi review of expert opinion and a systematic literature review and overall synthesis to identify gaps in current research.

The project will also run a programme of events to build and extend networks among the academic community, other stakeholders and potential funding partners.

There’s a website, so you can read more there…