Category Archives: technology

In Disruption – new book by Bernard Stiegler

Yet another new book by Bernard Stiegler has been published in French recently: Dans la Disruption – Comment ne pas devenir fou?

One might translate this as: “In Disruption – How do we not go mad?”

Here’s the front and back covers, and I offer a quick translation of the back cover blurb…


For the lords of economic war disruption is “a phenomenon of the acceleration of innovation (…) which is going to happen more quickly in societies that allow them to impose programmes that destroy social structures and render public power impotent. This is a kind of strategy of tetanising one’s adversary”.

Facing the disruption thus imposed, social systems always arrive too late to seize technological evolution, now thundering ahead in the digital revolution. Faced with this state of affairs, which requires countless legal and theoretical loopholes establishing a lawlessness which is a kind of techonlogical Wild-West, individuals and groups are totally lost, often to the point of going mad, individually or collectively, and therefore becoming dangerous. The concretisation of what Nietzsche described as a growing desert of nihilism leaves 21st Century humans with no other perspective than facing the next of the limits of the Anthropocene.

What can be done with such madness, in such madness? It is by starting with this question, that Bernard Stiegler rereads Michel Foucault (Madness and civilisation: A history of insanity in the Age of Reason) and Jacques Derrida (Cogito and the History of Madness) while confronting Peter Sloterdijk and Jean-Baptise Fressoz’s analyses of capitalism as above all a process of disinhibition.

The author conducts these readings or re-readings starting from the forms of madness which reflects his own course, opening out the question of a new moral philosophy – in an age without age [l’époque sans époque], which he calls the “Strauss-Kahn generation”, that is a “lack of age” [“absence d’époque”], which imposes a general demoralisation that cannot last.

Reblog> Launch Event: Researching Alternative Worlds: New political orientations in Geography

I’m taking part in the launch event of the Bristol Geography MSc Society & Space blog alongside some excellent and distinguished alumni of the course. It promises to be an interesting event!

The Official Launch of the Society and Space MSc Blog

4.00pm, Hepple Lecture Theatre, School of Geographical Science, University of Bristol

Register here

alternative worlds cover photos-1

On Wednesday 27th April, we will be officially launching the Society and Space MSc blog with a panel discussion event bringing together Society and Space alumni to discuss a common concern to all of their work – the role of academia in creating alternative social worlds. The Society and Space MSc Course is the principle Human Geography research training Master’s programme within the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol. As a Master’s degree that emphasises social and political theory, the programme trains students to think about social and cultural geographies from a critical perspective while also interrogating the political and ethical components inherent to these geographies. The programme has produced a range of alumni who have, in the course of their research, continue to contemplate and develop the issues, theories and debates they first encountered on the Master’s programme.

To officially launch the Society and Space blog, we have invited back Society and Space alumni – including James Ash, Emma Roe, Sam Kinsley, Nathan Eisenstadt, Owain Jones and Julian Brigstocke – to take part in a panel discussion centred upon pressing questions concerning our role as researchers in mapping alternative social worlds. What is the role of academic research in investigating, creating and sustaining alternative social worlds? When is academia useful and effective? What are we doing wrong, and what should we be doing more of?

Although a Master’s programme in Cultural Geography, the Society and Space MSc attracts students from a range of backgrounds and a variety of disciplines, such as journalism, English literature, philosophy, fine art and cultural studies. Due to the wide spectrum of backgrounds and interests of those who enrol in the course, as well as the dynamic nature of Human Geography as a subject, the contents covered in the Society and Space programme stimulate a range of conversations about the nature of sociality, the world we live in, and potential futures that may lie ahead of us. We expect that this diversity and broad outlook will be reflected in the work our speakers will present and the discussions that ensue. In addition to being a highly theoretical course, there is a strong, grounded political and ethical focus to the Master’s programme. Consequently, the issues debated, discussed and encountered throughout the Society and Space course are in direct conversation with ‘real’ issues – today’s hot topics and current political and ethical debates. In a context of austerity and the neoliberalisation of academia, the role of academia in researching and co-creating an alternative future is surely one such topic.

Alternative Worlds Poster-1

For a taste of the themes that the panel discussion will traverse, please have a look at abstracts provided by some of our panellists:

Dr James Ash, University of Newcastle

In this short reflection I offer one way of thinking about how we frame social science research questions. In doing so I want to caution against approaches which, however well meaning, centre on ‘big’ problems, framed in a general sense in relation to the concept of world. While issues such as climate change, poverty, homelessness and debt, amongst myriad others are undoubtedly real, there is an issue when assuming that a set of general problems are experienced within a shared horizon of meaning that is implied in the use of the term world. Rather than framing social problems in terms of big or small, or general or particular, I want to argue that such problems can be more productively framed in terms of what Simondon terms the abstract and the concrete. Drawing upon vignettes from the research design of an ESRC project on debt and digital interfaces, I demonstrate how Simondon’s work can be applied to specific societal problems.

 

Dr Nathan Eisenstadt, University of Bristol 

In this brief intervention I reflect on my doctoral work exploring paradoxes of freedom enacted in contemporary anarchist spaces. I propose that while performed inconsistently and in contradictory ways, the liberatory and egalitarian character of these practices lies in their capacity for an undoing of oneself with the help of compassionate others. Wonderful as this may sound – it has its edges. In closing I call attention to the failure of self-reflection and attempts to make spaces ‘safer’ when collectively established norms are radically transgressed.

 

Dr Sam Kinsley, University of Exeter

Computation is being used, within and without academia, to make ever grander and more detailed claims about our world. Yet, the (many) ‘worlds’ that emerge from what are generically referred to as ‘algorithms’ can be seen to fall foul of well-known fallacies of empiricism, in relation to their supposed lack of theoretical basis and apparent exhaustive reach. So, in light of grand claims made on behalf of ‘big data’ research and a contemporary predilection for the study of ‘algorithms’, I argue for a critical interrogation of the forms of world-ing propounded by such an ‘algorithmic imaginary’. In so doing, I suggest we reflect on what can be called a dialectic of ‘stupidity’ and ‘knowledge’, following Bernard Stiegler (2015), that undergirds our contemplation of such world-ings. My aim here is to tackle the inherent politics of this logic of worlds and how critical social scientists might engage.

 

Professor Owain Jones, Bath Spa University

My short presentation will reflect upon my experience of being in the first (very small) cohort of the MSc and then also devising and teaching the Nature and Society module from 2003-2006. I did not do an academic degree but an arts practice based degree so the MSc really marked my ‘conversion’ to academia and to geography. I can say without any exaggeration that doing the course was a life transforming and enhancing experience (as university (PG) education should be). The very possibility of imagining and enacting alternative worlds was very much part of that. My subsequent academic and professional life stands upon the very strong foundations put in place by the MSc and I think this is the case for many others too. I will offer some reflections upon why the course was so effective in this way. In part this was simply about being in a centre of excellence where there was a powerful intellectual momentum in which the conceptual and imaginative tools for questioning the trajectories of modernity were set out . But it was also about openness, spirit and collegiality with the staff and PG cohorts.

In addition to the panel discussion – which will be followed by time for audience questions – there will be a brief introduction by the Society and Space Blog Editors, before our very own Dr JD Dewsbury will recount his experience as first a student and then a lecturer on the MSc and map out how the course has changed and developed over the years.

The event will take place at 4.00pm, in the Hepple Lecture Theatre, School of Geographical Science, University of Bristol (see map). The discussion will be followed by a drinks reception. If you intend to attend (and we hope you do!), please confirm your attendance here.

We look forward to meeting you on 27th April.

The Editors

Artefacts for generations growing up with robots

I’ve had this open in one of my tabs for ages with the intention of writing something about it here but I’ve sort of run out of time on that, so…

Here’s an interesting student project (I’d be delighted to have students like this!!) It’s a sort of deliberately controversial speculative design/ prototyping exercise to provoke thought and conversation about what it might mean to live with actually existing robots (not sci-fi androids).

The creators are: Stephan Bogner, Phillipp Schmitt and Jonas Voigt.

It’s worth a look…

RAISING ROBOTIC NATIVES

RaisingRoboticNatives-All.jpg

Artefacts for generations growing up with robots

Why do future visions of robotics incite discomfort in our generation? Could robots truly render us obsolete or is it our fear of losing control? And are these fears conditioned or instinctive?

Raising Robotic Natives explores interactions between children and robots that could raise them as the first generation of robotic natives.

Just like digital natives grow up in the digital world, robotic natives are born into an environment that is adapting to robots. As a result of unbiased, childlike enthusiasm, they are socialized with the technology early on. Through constant robotic interactions and formalized education, robotic natives get to think differently about robots than we do. It will be their responsibility to shape the future of robotics, not ours—besides we’re robotic immigrants, after all.

See the full details of the project here.

Stiegler: Stop the uberisation of society!

Posted below is a translation of a piece co-authored by Bernard Stiegler with Ariel Kyrou (journo),  Yann Moulier-Boutang (writer) and Bruno Teboul (Director of innovation at Keyrus) and published in Libération on the 10th April.

I suppose it doesn’t really propose anything especially novel, if you’re familiar with others involved in debates around “postcapitalism”, automation, worklessness and universal income (e.g. Srnicek and Williams, or Mason). What is perhaps novel is an application of the ideas in a distinctly European flavour, with examples in France and in the context of a much more robust unionised response to Uber (and the task/gig economy).

Anyway, it’s an interesting read I think…

The piece is rather conversational in tone and uses idioms I have only been able to infer (not being a fluent and native speaker) so it was quite difficult to translate, and so I’m pretty sure there are errors. As usual clarifications or original French are in [square brackets].

Stop the uberisation of society!

Libération, 10th April

The war by taxi companies against an Uber society cannot be reduced to the storyline of a film depicting an ancient evil battling benevolent forces of modernity. If on the one hand the participatory economy threatens our social structures, it can also, on the other, make possible a society with greater solidarity.

Since the first moves towards the draft Thévenoud law in June 2014[1], the urban transport soap opera has generated multiple variations on the theme of the standard storyline. On one side are the taxi federations, which have been labelled a horde of grumpy medieval malthusians by Uber, who in the opening of the second act of the performance of the trial of the 11th February demanded a whopping €100m in damages from Uber, on the other the ‘white knight’ of the new economic order, the high-tech Robin Hood of its pleb users whose UberPop service enables simple fellows in search of employment the opportunity to offer at cut-price their talents for automotive locomotion, between February 2014 and July 2015. This tale of jokers against modernisers is more attractive than the G7, queen of opaque rentier sorcery, who could not turn themselves with the wave of a magic wand into the cinderella of Parisian Transport.

Except that the movie script of the ancient evil against the benevolent ‘disruptors’ rings as hollow as any Hollywood blockbuster: seen quickly, soon forgotten. It works in the short-term, like the groan of the indefinite vigil for a taxi at 3 o’clock in the morning in the banlieue, but it hardly takes us any distance towards solving the questions about the future of our society and the search for sustainable solutions to the crisis we are experiencing.

Let’s not misunderstand this scenario: the agonism presented by this contemporary drama [série du moment] is neither the ardent need to pit global start-ups against French corporatism [corporatismes franchouillards] nor its exact opposite, namely the obligation to defend the capitalism of tired old barons against the hyper-capitalism of the rulers of the digital future. No, the issue that should be obvious to everyone with a stake in the debate is the urgent need to think about the society we want, and then act in order to build it.

For why should we anoint an ‘uberisation of the economy’ without interrogating its ideology and long-term deleterious effects? Uber, which declares only a fraction of its profits in France thanks to a complex form of tax evasion through the Netherlands, Bermuda and Delaware, is participating in the liquidation of our social structures. It embodies a short circuit that threatens the fragile economic balance between taxation, social law, transport policy, infrastructure investment at the local level and the pensions system. Worse still: its social and economic logic foreshadows the advent of a futuristic no-man’s land in which the a priori ideal of liberty becomes monetised against an a posteriori generalised casualisation throughout society. Indeed, the rictus predatory behaviour of platforms like Uber, Lyft and others such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is founded upon a low intensity of capital, little infrastructure, a minimum of salaried employees with more independent or self-employed workers.

The uberisation process forms the first wave in the tsunami of automation. Its primary consequence will be a net loss of five million jobs in industrialised countries by 2020, according to a report published on the 18th of January by the oracles of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the shameless apostles of the “fourth industrial revolution”. This deeply unappealing assertion has been amplified by several studies in the last three years (by Oxford, MIT, the Breugel Institute and Roland Berger) which predict around 47% fewer people in employment by 2025. This slow but inexorable extinction of of the salaried world effects not only warehouse workers, supermarket cashiers and lorry drivers but also barristers, solicitors, journalists, those working in medicine, and so on. Why should it remain necessary to use human beings for tasks that are reducible to systematic procedures? Which in our data economy robots and algorithms will soon perform much more efficiently. The combination of robotics and ‘big data’, algorithms and network effects, is already transforming us into the involuntary gravediggers for salaried employment. Welcome to a world that is ultimately ‘flexible’, boosted by robotic automation [robotisation] and work on the meter. A world where users and customers constantly account for themselves, where each becomes their own big brother and where most of the activity in every market, like with car insurance, will increasingly play out more in an automated big data-driven fashion than according to laws or to forms of trust that are not based in calculation.

Nevertheless we should beware skewed perspectives: such a world is not inevitable. The digital gives us an opportunity to reconsider work not only in terms of jobs doomed to become ever more precarious, provoking anxiety about self-exploitation, but also as a part of a project for a contributory society in which salaried employment would be one means amongst many, rather than an end in itself. A company like TaskRabbit certainly creates use value through its platform of small on-demand jobs, but it keeps for itself and its shareholders the [accompanying] exchange value in the form of profit. In contrast, Loconomics is a co-operative owned by those who use it to advertise their services. Against the platforms of the so-called sharing economy (which it is in name only) Trebor Scholz endorses a ‘platform cooperativism’ [2] to build a society of commons that operates beyond solely economic and financial dimensions.

This shambles needs to be urgently addressed. Thinking in the long-term, this is political in the principal sense of the word. To buckle down to the future of work equally concerns: expertise in data to use and liberate ourselves from algorithms and a care for people without the need for machines; to classify work in a way that is both protective of our ways of life and much less administrative than today; to examine the establishment of an adequate basic income, structurally justified by massive unemployment due to automation and the coming slow death of employment; to experiment with the extension of the regime of casual work in the context of a true society of contribution, with the acquisition and sharing of knowledge by and between everyone; to study tax reform based upon the principles of a financial transactions tax [la taxe pollen], beginning with the establishment of a European tax on the flows of High Frequency Trading, to finance a universal income.

Rather than the two opposing and yet complimentary nightmares that are the integral uberisation of society and the sovereignist protection of the capitalism of yesteryear we prefer the realisation of a dream: to imagine, to experiment, to build, step by step, a freer society with greater solidarity; preferring disagreement to the brainwashing that has played out, historically, through the carrot and the stick, or, in our high-tech times, through a blind obedience to shiny artificial devices [l’obéissance aveugle à de rutilantes mécaniques artificielles et augmentées].

1. For more information on the Thévenoud law see this article – Sam.

2. See this article on Medium by Scholz.

Reblog> Everyday Code

An interesting post by Mark Purcell on his paper at the AAG:

Everyday Code

Here is the text from my talk at the AAG conference last week. It was for a really great session organized by Joe Shaw and Mark Graham (who are at the Oxford Internet Institute) on “An Informational Right to the City”.

Everyday Code: The Right to Information and Our Struggle for Democracy

Introduction

Henri Lefebvre proposed a right to information, and he thought that right must be associated with a right to the city. I want to urge us to understand both those rights in the context of Lefebvre’s wider political project. That wider project was the struggle for self-management, what Lefebvre often called “autogestion,” and what I prefer to call democracy.

Lefebvre articulates his wider political vision in terms of what he called a “new contract of citizenship between State and citizen.”

Read the full post.

VR… ‘das opium des volkes’? Adam Greenfield on Oculus

Nice blogpost by Adam a short-while ago reflecting on VR as a means of keeping the precariat/proletariat sated with simulation:

As VR’s leading developers straight-up admit in the piece, its function is to camouflage the inequities and insults of an unjust world, by offering the masses high-fidelity simulations of the things their betters get to experience for real. Here’s the money quote, no pun intended: “[S]ome fraction of the desirable experiences of the wealthy can be synthesized and replicated for a much broader range of people.” (That’s John Carmack speaking, for future reference.)

[…]

The idea that all we can do is accede to a world of permanent, vertiginous inequity — inequity so entrenched and so unchallengeable that the best thing we can do with our technology is use it as a palliative and a pacifier

All reminiscent of William Gibson’s rendering of the “Sim/Stim” industry in the Neuromancer trilogy… for example, this passage from the 23rd chapter of Count Zero (the 2nd book):

The interior of the JAL shuttle vanished in a burst of Aegean blue, and she watched the words TALLY ISHAM’S TOP PEOPLE expand across the cloudless sky in elegant sans-serif capitals.

Tally Isham had been a constant in the stim industry for as long as Marly remembered, an ageless Golden Girl who’d
come in on the first wave of the new medium. Now Marly
found herself locked into Tally’s tanned, lithe, tremendously comfortable sensorium. Tally Isham glowed, breathed deeply
and easily, her elegant bones riding in the embrace of a musculature that seemed never to have known tension. Ac- cessing her stim recordings was like falling into a bath of
perfect health, feeling the spring in the star’s high arches and
the jut of her breasts against the silky white Egyptian cotton
of her simple blouse. She was leaning against a pocked white balustrade above the tiny harbor of a Greek island town, a cascade of flowering trees falling away below her down a
hillside built from whitewashed stone and narrow, twisting
stairs A boat sounded in the harbor

“The tourists are hurrying back to their cruise ship now,” Tally said, and smiled; when she smiled, Marly could feel the smoothness of the star’s white teeth, taste the freshness of her mouth, and the stone of the balustrade was pleasantly rough against her bare forearms.

I continue to be surprised by the return to and rehabilitation of the Modernist vision of VR… perhaps I’m not cynical enough?!

Reblog> Programme for Streams of Consciousness, Warwick, 21-22 April

Via Tony Sampson. All the names you’d expect/want to see and a few more… (can’t help finding it amusing that Thrift is opening the event).

It’d be interesting to hear what Rouvroy has to say…

Streams of Consciousness: Data, Cognition and Intelligent Devices

Download here short and full draft pdf versions of the programme

Register for the conference here 

Thursday 21st April


9.00 to 9.45: REGISTRATION AND COFFEE
9.45 to 10.00: OPENING ADDRESS
Nathaniel Tkacz, Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick
10.00 TO 10.45: KEYNOTE SPEAKER 
Professor Nigel Thrift

10.45 to 13.00: PLENARY SESSION
Tony Sampson, University of East London 
Understanding Neurocapitalism or What Happens When Gramsci Does Human Computer Interaction
Nick Srnicek, Independent Researcher
The Eyes of the State
Antoinette Rouvroy, University of Namour (Video Conference)
Title TBC

13.00 to 14.00: LUNCH

14.00 to 16.00: BREAK OUT SESSIONS 
SESSION A: DATIFIED SELF
Sun-Ha Hong, University of Pennsylvania 
Data’s Intimacy: Machinic Sensibility and the Quantified Self
Elpida Prasopoulou, Coventry University 
The Body in the Internet of Things: An Auto-ethnography on Wearables
Aleksandra K. Przegalinska, Kozminski University 
Productivity 3.0: Mindtracking and the New Transparent Labour
Ana Viseu, Universidade Euroepia (TBC) 
Bodies, Data and the Question of Physiological Narcissism
SESSION B: ALGORITHMS, MODELS AND CALCULATIVE DEVICES
 
Nathan Coombs, University of Edinburgh 
Intractable Algorithms: Representational Uncertainty in the German High-Frequency Trading Act
Tyler Reigeluth, Université Libre de Bruxelles 
“Let’s misbehave!”: The politics of Behaving with Algorithm
Jérémy Grosman, University of Namour 
A Prediction, not an Oracle – Neural Network, between Algorithms and Metaphors
Charalampos Fytros, Lancaster University 
Mediating Solvency
SESSION C: EXPERIENCE, AFFECT, ATTENTION, INTERACTION
Miguel Prado, University of West England
Noise and Cognition in the Age of Big Data
Darshana Jayemanne, University of Melbourne
The Body Eclectic: Massively Multiplayer Mimesis
John McManus, Oxford University
Football Fans, Mimesis and the Enchanting Properties of Smartphone Use
Craig Hamilton, Birmingham City University 
Can Algorithms Make You Cry?: Popular Music and Machine-Derived Curation

16.00 to 16.15: COFFEE BREAK

16.15 to 18.30: PLENARY SESSION
Steve Fuller, University of Warwick 
Neuroscience as the Mind Instrumentalised: Telescope vs. Microscope
Michael Wheeler, University of Stirling 
The Knowledge Ecology: Epistemic Credit and the Technologically Extended Mind
Caroline Bassett, University of Sussex 
The Hubris of the ‘Artificial Intelligentsia’: Eliza and the Simulation of Smart

19.30: CONFERENCE DINNER

Friday 22nd April


09.00 to 11.00: PLENARY SESSION
Louise Amoore, Durham University 
Title TBC
David Berry, University of Sussex
Human Reason and Algorithmic Judgement
James Ash, Newcastle University 
The Interface Envelope: Power, Cognition and Gaming

11.15 to 11.30: COFFEE BREAK

11.30 to 13.10: BREAK OUT SESSIONS
SESSION A: PLATFORMS, INTERFACES AND SENSORS
Jacob Johanssen, University of Westminster 
Not Belonging to One’s Self: Affect and Alienation on Facebook’s Site Governance Page
Alex Gekker, Utrecht University
Numbers are Magic: Numerical User Interfaces and Disconnect
Heather Ford – Oxford Internet Institute
Ode to the Infobox
Alison Powell – London School of Economics and Political Science
A Goose in The Stream: Animals, ‘Accidents’ and Sensing Citizenships beyond the Calculative
SESSION B: ROBOTS, DRONES AND AI 
Tero Karppi, Marc Böhlen and Yvette Granata, SUNY Buffalo
Killer Robots and Cultural Techniques
Ramon Bloomberg, Goldsmiths College
Becoming Platform
Beatrice Fazi, University of Sussex
Can a Machine Think Anything New?
Marc Böhlen (Video Conference), Tero Karppi and Yvette Granata – SUNY Buffalo
Robot Control
SESSION C: AESTHETICS AND VISUALISATIONS
Roxana Fabius, Barad College
Business Intelligence and Aesthetic Criticality
Jonathan Gray, University of Amsterdam; Liliana Bounegru, University of Amsterdam, University of Groningen, University of Ghent; Stefania Milan, Amsterdam University; and Paolo Ciuccarelli Density Design, Politecnico di Milano 
Ways of Seeing Data
Lukasz Mirocha, University of Warsaw 
Challenging Technology Obfuscation Through Aesthetics of Real-time Visual Media: An Analysis of Glitches in Post-digital Consumer Mapping and Navigation Systems

13.10 to 14.00: LUNCH

PLENARY SESSION 14.00 to 16.15
Natasha Dow-Schüll, NYU (Video Conference)
From Mood Ring to MuseTM: Digital Sensor Technology and the Mediation of Sentience
Satinder Gill – Cambridge University 
Performing Knowledge: The Mediating Body
Will Davies – Goldsmiths College 
How Are We Now?: Mood as a Real-Time Indicator

16.15 to 16.30: COFFEE BREAK


PLENARY SESSION 16.30 to 17.15
Michael Dieter, University of Warwick
Title TBC
Jennifer Gabrys, Goldsmiths College
Digital Infrastructures of Withness: Constructing a Speculative “Smart” City

18.00 to 18.15: DISCUSSION AND CLOSING REMARKS

Reblog> Postcapitalist Futures: Talk at Bristol

Via Mark Purcell

The University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences will host the 6th annual Bassett lecture on Tuesday 3rd May 2016 at 4pm.This year’s speaker is Nick Srnicek, who will be presenting under the title ‘Postcapitalist Futures’ (details below).

The lecture will take place in the Peel Lecture Theatre, School of Geographical Sciences, University Road, Bristol, BS8 1SS

Abstract:
What does the future of work hold? This talk will examine the current capitalist conjuncture, outlining the changing technological and economic conditions of work. The social democratic era of good jobs, it will be shown, is over – and the left must grapple with this shift. In place of full employment, we should be arguing for full unemployment. This talk will try and show both why this is necessary, and how this is possible.

Biography

Nick Srnicek is the co-author, with Alex Williams, of both Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (Verso, 2015) & “#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics” (2013). He is the co-editor of The Speculative Turn (Re.press, 2011 with Levi Bryant and Graham Harman) and is currently working on a new book entitled Postcapitalist Technologies (Polity, forthcoming).

The Bassett Lecture:

The Bassett Lecture is held every year in honour of Dr. Keith Bassett, a critical geographer and long-time Senior Lecturer in the School of Geographical Sciences. Though formally retired, Dr. Bassett continues to write, teach, and contribute to the intellectual life of the School and University. The lecture series recognizes Dr. Bassett’s work and contributions in the fields of social and geographical theory, critical geographies of political economy, urbanism, social movements and social justice, political ecology, and critical socio-legal studies.

All Welcome!

No booking required, for enquiries contact: tom.keating [at] bristol.ac.uk

Internet of Things, ownership and Ts & Cs

iot-toothpaste
Toothpaste terms of service

Decided to make a spoof image that follows some others’ attempts to satirically reflect on the kinds of business models that seem to be creeping in for ‘Internet of Things’ products and services. My impetus is that I’ve enjoyed some of the recent posts on the @internetofshit satirical twitter stream, which lampoons IoT business ideas. These got me thinking…

Many of the successful posts take to the extreme a model we are already experiencing – which is that we do not necessarily totally control those things we think we own. I am aware that other folk will probably have commented in more depth and with greater nuance, but there we are… this is just a blogpost! (I welcome suggestions for further reading though)

For example – I recently bought a Kindle Paperwhite and to remove the inbuilt advertising I had to pay (in addition to the retail price) a £10 fee to ‘unsubscribe’ from ‘Special Offers‘. So, I had bought the device but to remove the adverts I had to pay more.

This, of course, resonates with the inkjet printer business model – in which the printer manufacturer can almost give away some models because the ink itself is highly lucrative, which led to stories comparing it’s value to that of gold…

In my most recent lecture for my third-year option module (Geographies of Technology) I addressed some of these issues and invited the students to consider the following questions when thinking about an ‘internet of things and places’:

Questions of ownership/responsibility:

  • Whose things?
  • Whose data?
  • Who has access? How? When? Where?

Questions of power:

  • How are decisions made on the basis of the data?
  • How doe these decisions influence our lives?

Questions of value:

  • How can/should we negotiate the value(s) of our data?
  • What are we willing to give(-up) for perceived benefits?
    • When does giving away lots of data become not worth it?

Later the same day, on the train home, I idly tweeted a speculative satirical scenario:

Which led me to create a still image (above). I think there’s a lot of scope of using speculative design techniques in a satirical way to provoke more debate about the kinds of relationship we want to enter into with and through the technologies we bring into our everyday lives. My key inspiration here is Anne Galloway‘s work, especially the beautiful Counting Sheep project.