Sophia – show robots and deception

Hanson Robotics' "Sophia"

…when first we practice to deceive…

Walter Scott

Prof Noel Sharkey has written a thoughtful, informative and entertaining piece for Forbes (so, for a general audience) that does some unpacking of ‘Sophia’ with reference to the history of ‘show robots’ (such as the Westinghouse show robots of the the mid-C20, like Elektro, and of course Honda’s Asimo). It’s worth reading the piece in full but here’s a couple of choice clips:

Sophia is not the first show robot to attain celebrity status. Yet accusations of hype and deception have proliferated about the misrepresentation of AI to public and policymakers alike. In an AI-hungry world where decisions about the application of the technologies will impact significantly on our lives, Sophia’s creators may have crossed a line. What might the negative consequences be? To get answers, we need to place Sophia in the context of earlier show robots.


The tradition extends back to the automata precursors of robots in antiquity. Moving statues were used in the temples of ancient Egypt and Greece to create the illusion of a manifestation of the gods. Hidden puppeteers pulled ropes and spoke with powerful booming voices emitted from hidden tubes. This is not so different from how show robots like Sophia operate today to create the illusion of a manifestation of AI.

For me, the biggest problem with the hype surrounding Sophia is that we have entered a critical moment in the history of AI where informed decisions need to be made. AI is sweeping through the business world and being delegated decisions that impact significantly on peoples lives from mortgage and loan applications to job interviews, to prison sentences and bail guidance, to transport and delivery services to medicine and care.


It is vitally important that our governments and policymakers are strongly grounded in the reality of AI at this time and are not misled by hype, speculation, and fantasy. It is not clear how much the Hanson Robotics team are aware of the dangers that they are creating by appearing on international platforms with government ministers and policymakers in the audience.

Bernard Stiegler’s Age of Disruption – out soon

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

Out next year with Polity, this is one of the earlier of Stiegler’s ‘Anthropocene’ books (in terms of publication in French, see also The Neganthropocene) explicating quite a bit of the themes that come out in the interviews I’ve had a go at translating in the past three years (see: “The time saved through automation must be given to the people”; “How to survive disruption”; “Stop the Uberisation of society!“; and “Only by planning a genuine future can we fight Daesh“). Of further interest, to some, is that it also contains a dialogue with Nancy (another Derrida alumnus). This book is translated by the excellent Daniel Ross.

Details on the Polity website. Here’s the blurb:

Half a century ago Horkheimer and Adorno argued, with great prescience, that our increasingly rationalised and Westernised world was witnessing the emergence of a new kind of barbarism, thanks in part to the stultifying effects of the culture industries. What they could not foresee was that, with the digital revolution and the pervasive automation associated with it, the developments they had discerned would be greatly accentuated and strengthened, giving rise to the loss of reason and to the loss of the reason for living. Individuals are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of digital information and the speed of digital flows, and profiling and social media satisfy needs before they have even been expressed, all in the service of the data economy. This digital reticulation has led to the disintegration of social relations, replaced by a kind of technological Wild West, in which individuals and groups find themselves increasingly powerless, driven by their lack of agency to the point of madness.
How can we find a way out of this situation? In this book, Bernard Stiegler argues that we must first acknowledge our era as one of fundamental disruption and detachment. We are living in an absence of epokh? in the philosophical sense, by which Stiegler means that we have lost our noetic method, our path of thinking and being. Weaving in powerful accounts from his own life story, including struggles with depression and time spent in prison, Stiegler calls for a new epokh? based on public power. We must forge new circuits of meaning outside of the established algorithmic routes. For only then will forms of thinking and life be able to arise that restore meaning and aspiration to the individual.
Concluding with a substantial dialogue between Stiegler and Jean-Luc Nancy in which they reflect on techniques of selfhood, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars in social and cultural theory, media and cultural studies, philosophy and the humanities generally.

Reblog> CFP: 3rd International Geomedia Conference: “Revisiting the Home”

Promotional image for the Curzon Memories app

This conference looks great and has plenty of thematic resonance with a lot going on in geography and other disciplines at the moment. Worth submitting if you can… via Gillian Rose.

Everything below is copied from here.

The 3rd International Geomedia Conference: “Revisiting the Home”
Karlstad, Sweden, 7-10 May 2019

Welcome to the 3rd International Geomedia Conference! The term geomedia captures the fundamental role of media in organizing and giving meaning to processes and activities in space. Geomedia also alludes to the geographical attributes of media, for example flows of digital signals between particular places and the infrastructures carrying those flows. The rapid expansion of mobile media, location-based services, GIS and increasingly complex patterns of surveillance/interveillance has amplified the need for critical studies and theorizations of geomedia. The 3rd Geomedia Conference welcomes contributions (full sessions/panels as well as individual papers) that analyze and problematize the relations between the any and all communication media and various forms of spatial creativity, performance and production across material, cultural, social and political dimensions. Geomedia 2019 provides a genuinely interdisciplinary arena for research carried out at the crossroads of geography, media and film studies. It also builds bridges to such fields as urban studies, rural studies, regional planning, cultural studies and tourism studies.

The special theme of Geomedia 2019 is “Revisiting the Home”. It responds to the prevailing need to problematize the meaning of home in an “era of globalized homelessness”, in times of extended mobility (migration, tourism, multiple homes, etc.) and digital information flows (notably social media). While such ongoing transitions point to a condition where home-making becomes an increasingly liquid and de-territorialized undertaking, there is also a growing preoccupation with questions of what counts as home and who has the right to claim something as (one’s) home. Home is a construct that actualizes the multilayered tensions between belonging, inclusion and security, on the one hand, and alienation, exclusion and surveillance, on the other. The theme of Geomedia 2019 centers on how media are culturally and materially integrated in and reshaping the home-place (e.g., the “smart home” and the “home-office”) and connecting it to other places and spaces. It also concerns the phenomenological and discursive constructions of home, ranging from the intimate social interaction of domestic spaces to the popular (and sometimes politicized) media nostalgia of imagined communities (nation states, homelands, etc.). Ultimately, “Revisiting the Home” addresses the home as a theoretical concept and its implications for geomedia studies. The theme will be addressed through invited keynote talks, a plenary panel, film screenings and artistic installations. Participants are also encouraged to submit proposals for paper sessions addressing the conference theme.

Keynote speakers:
Melissa Gregg – Intel Corporation, USA
Tristan Thielmann – Universität Siegen, Germany

Plenary panel
“Dreaming of Home: Film and Imaginary Territories of the Real”
Nilgun Bayraktar – California College of the Arts
Christine Molloy – Film director and producer, Desperate Optimists
Les Roberts – University of Liverpool
John Lynch (chair) – Karlstad University

Abstract submissions:
Geomedia 2019 welcomes proposals for individual papers as well as thematic panels in English.

Individual paper proposals: The author submits an abstract of 200-250 words. Accepted papers are grouped by the organizers into sessions of 5 papers according to thematic area.
Thematic panel proposals: The chair of the panel submits a proposal consisting of 4-5 individual paper abstracts (200-250 words) along with a general panel presentation of 200-250 words.

Suggested paper topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Art and event spaces
  • Cinematic geographies
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Everyday communication geographies
  • Epistemologies and methodologies of geomedia
  • Geographies of media and culture industries
  • Geographies of news
  • Geomedia and education
  • Historical perspectives of geomedia
  • Home and belonging
  • Lifestyle and tourism mobilities
  • Locative and spatial media
  • Material geographies of media
  • Media ecologies
  • Mediatization and space
  • Migration and media
  • Mobility and governance
  • Policy mobilities
  • Power geometries and mobility capital
  • Surveillance and spatial control
  • Urban and rural media spaces

Conference timeline
September 24th 2018: Submission system opens
December 10th 2018: Deadline for thematic panel and individual paper proposals
January 25th 2019: Notes of acceptance and registration opens
February 28th 2019: Early Bird pricing ends
March 15th 2019: Last day of registration

Contact: You can reach us at info@geomedia.se

Organizers and venue:
Geomedia 2019 is hosted by the Geomedia Research Group at the Department of Geography, Media and Communication, Karlstad University, Sweden.

Conference director: Lena Grip
Assistant conference director: Stina Bergman
Director of the Geomedia Research Group and chair of scientific committee: André Jansson

Future of labour governance – a podcast with Jennifer Bair

Glitched Rosie the Riveter poster


From the really interesting Futures of Work journal(?)/project/website…

In a world dominated by the emergence of global supply chains, where the state-based system of labour governance has struggled to deal with the expanding influence of transnational corporations, how can workers resist exploitative labour practices and organise a future (or futures) of regulation that would guarantee decent work for all?
Jennifer Bair joins Huw Thomas in the studio to discuss the challenges and opportunities of cross border labour governance and organisation in the contemporary global economy.

Jennifer Bair – Futures of Work

‘Workers fear automation’

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

I’m doing some archival digging… I guess we’re all historical geographers at some level 🙂

For your consideration:

An article from The Guardian website, 6th August 2018.
An article from The Times, 8th March 1955.

Automating inequality – Virginia Eubanks and interlocutors [video]

Still from George Lucas' THX1138

This Data & Society talk by Virginia Eubanks on her book Automating Inequality followed by a discussion with Alondra Nelson and Julia Angwin is excellent. This seems like vital empirical analysis and insights that flesh out what is, perhaps, frequently gestured towards by ‘critical algorithm studies’ folks – ‘auditing algorithms’, analysing what’s in the black box, how systems function and what is their material and socio-economic specificity and what then can we learn about how particular forms of actually existing automation (and not simply abstract ideals) function.

Eubanks talks for the first 20-ish minutes and then there’s a discussion that follows. This is really worth watching if you’re interested in doing algorithm studies type work and in doing ‘digital geographies’ that don’t simply lapse into ontology talk.

CFP – Beyond measure, ephemera journal

Generative Artwork Forkbomb, by Alex McLean, glitched

This looks interesting…

Beyond measure

submission deadline 1 March 2018

PDF icon CfP Beyond measure.pdf

Issue editors: Nick Butler, Helen Delaney, Emilie Hesselbo and Sverre Spoelstra

Measurement is a central task of capitalist organization. From the days of the industrial factory, when labour first came to be measured in hours, through to the time-motion studies under Taylorist regimes, measurement has involved the optimization of surplus value extraction from labour. During the 20th century, these techniques of measurement were complemented by more intrusive forms of quantification such as the use of psychological testing in the human relations school.

The will to quantify continues today with balanced scorecards and activity-based costing (Power, 2004), the discourse of employability (Chertkovskaya, et al., 2013), the monitoring of work in the service economy (Dowling, 2007), and the performativity of economics (Callon, 1998). At the same time, others point to the impossibility of measuring affective work and immaterial labour (Hardt and Negri, 2000). More generally, ‘trust in numbers’ (Porter, 1995) – based on a longstanding infatuation with the ideal of objectivity (Stengers, 2000) – is becoming characteristic of a totally quantified society in which we keep track of our diet, fitness, sleeping habits, and menstrual cycles via digital tracking technologies (Charitsis, 2016).

Quantification also lies at the heart of knowledge production in the business school (Zyphur et al., 2016). Ever since the early influence of Paul Lazarsfeld (1993) in the post-war years, management science has been preoccupied with the measurement of ‘objects’, ranging from things that are straightforwardly measurable (e.g. the height of employees in leadership positions) to things that are difficult, if not impossible, to quantify (e.g. charisma, authenticity, ethics). Despite a half-century of criticism directed at the positivist tradition in the social sciences, management science still holds to the McNamara fallacy: ‘If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist’. The politics of measurement in management theory and practice – and its link to the logic of capitalist exploitation – therefore deserve sustained critical scrutiny.

For this ephemera special issue, we invite papers that explore the stakes of measuring organizations and their members – especially in contested zones of quantification. For instance, what happens when employees are measured not just in terms of productivity but also their health and well-being (Cederström and Spicer, 2015)? What happens when leaders are measured not just in terms of bottom-line performance but also their authenticity or spirituality (Ford and Harding, 2011)? Closer to home, what happens when academics are measured not just in terms of the quality of their scholarship but also their citation rate and H-index (Nkomo, 2009)?

But we are also interested in what is beyond measure – that is, the relation between organizing and the immeasurable. Here, religion and spirituality come into view. One may think of themes such as the call for a ‘higher purpose’ in work, the role of faith and spirituality in business, and the presence of organizational figures who defy measurement (idols, spirits, ghosts, monsters, etc.). Deleuze (1995: 181) famously said that the idea that organizations have a soul is ‘the most terrifying news in the world’. For us, this is no longer news but perhaps all the more terrifying for it.

Efforts to quantify aspects of our organizational lives give rise to new and complex ethical questions around work, identity and politics. We therefore invite submissions that may include, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • Measuring organizations, management and leadership
  • The excessive, the limitless and the infinite
  • Big data and algorithmic management
  • The quantified self and digital measurement technologies
  • The turn to ‘objectivity’ in the social sciences
  • Zero and nothingness
  • The performativity of measures
  • Value theory and the immeasurability of labour
  • The reevaluation of values
  • Faith and spirituality in business
  • Time-motion studies and their contemporary equivalents
  • Death and ‘the great beyond’ in organization
  • The use of psychometric instruments in management theory and practice
  • Commensuration and incommensurability in organizational theory and practice
  • The politics of performance audits
  • Measuring the immeasurable

Deadline and further information

The deadline for submissions is 1st March 2018. All submissions should be sent to one of the special issue editors: Nick Butler (nick.butler@sbs.su.se), Helen Delaney (h.delaney@auckland.ac.nz), Emilie Hesselbo (emilie.hesselbo@fek.lu.se) or Sverre Spoelstra (sverre.spoelstra@fek.lu.se)ephemeraencourages contributions in a variety of formats including articles, notes, interviews, book reviews, photo essays and other experimental modes of representation. The submissions will undergo a double-blind review process. All submissions should follow ephemera’s submission guidelines, which are available at: http://www.ephemerajournal.org/how-submit (see ‘Abc of formatting’ guide). For further information, please contact one of the special issue editors.

‘An Encounter Between Don Ihde and Bernard Stiegler: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads Again’ Nijmegen 11-12 Jan. 2018

Glitched image of a mural of Prometheus giving humans' fire in Freiberg

Via Yuk Hui. Fascinating line-up of speakers:

International Expert Workshop: ‘An Encounter Between Don Ihde and Bernard Stiegler: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads Again’

Nijmegen, 11-12 January 2018Organized by Pieter Lemmens (Radboud University) and Yoni Van Den Eede (Free University of Brussels)

Quo vadis philosophy of technology? The defining moment in contemporary philosophy of technology has undoubtedly been the “empirical turn” of the 1990s and 2000s. Contra older, so-called essentialist approaches that saw technology as an all-encompassing phenomenon or force, the turn inaugurated more “micro-level” analyses of technologies studied in their specific use contexts. However, the empirical turn is now increasingly being called into question, with scholars asking whether the turn has not been pushed too far – certainly given recent technological developments that seem to give technology an all-encompassing or all-penetrating countenance (again): pervasive automation through algorithms and (ro)bots, nanoprobes, biotechnology, neurotechnology, etc. Also, the ecological urgency characterizing our “anthropocenic condition” appears to call for more broad-ranging perspectives than the mere analysis of concrete use contexts. At the same time, nevertheless, the “empirical attitude” keeps demonstrating its usefulness for the philosophical study of technologies on a day-to-day basis… Where do we go from here?

This two-day workshop will be dedicated to these questions by way of an encounter between two leading “streams” in philosophical thinking on technology today. Quite literally we organize an dialogue between two key figures, Don Ihde and Bernard Stiegler, and their respective frameworks: postphenomenology-mediation theory and techno-phenomenology-general organology. Together with these two thinkers and a select group of scholars, we will reflect upon the near-future form that philosophical thinking on technology should take in a world struggling with multiple global crises – the planetary ecological crisis being the gravest one.

Speakers: Prof. dr. Don Ihde (Stony Brook University), Prof. dr. Bernard Stiegler (University of Compiègne), Prof. dr. Mark Coeckelberg (University of Vienna), Dr. Yoni van den Eede (Free University of Brussels), Dr. Yuk Hui (Leuphana University), Dr. Pieter Lemmens (Radboud University), Dr. Helena de Preester (Ghent University), Prof. dr. Robert C. Scharff (University of New Hampshire), Dr. Dominic Smith (University of Dundee), Prof. dr. Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente), Dr. Galit Wellner (Tel Aviv University)

Venue: Villa Oud Heyendael, Rene? Descartesdreef 21, 6525 GL Nijmegen (Campus RU)
Time: 11 and 12 January 2018, 10.00h – 17.30h

More information: http://www.ru.nl/ftr/actueel/agenda/@1134542/expert-seminar-philosophy-technology-at-the/

Made possible by the the Faculty of Science, the Institute for Science in Society, the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, the International Office of Radboud University and the Centre for Ethics and Humanism, Free University of Brussels (VUB)