Published> A very public cull – the anatomy of an online issue public

Twitter

I am pleased to share that an article I co-authored with Rebecca Sandover (1st author) and Steve Hinchliffe has finally been published in Geoforum. I would like to congratulate my co-author Rebecca Sandover for this achievement – the article went through a lengthy review process but is now available as an open access article. You can read the whole article, for free, on the Geoforum website. To get a sense of the argument, here is the abstract:

Geographers and other social scientists have for some time been interested in how scientific and environmental controversies emerge and become public or collective issues. Social media are now key platforms through which these issues are publicly raised and through which groups or publics can organise themselves. As media that generate data and traces of networking activity, these platforms also provide an opportunity for scholars to study the character and constitution of those groupings. In this paper we lay out a method for studying these ‘issue publics’: emergent groupings involved in publicising an issue. We focus on the controversy surrounding the state-sanctioned cull of wild badgers in England as a contested means of disease management in cattle. We analyse two overlapping groupings to demonstrate how online issue publics function in a variety of ways – from the ‘echo chambers’ of online sharing of information, to the marshalling of agreements on strategies for action, to more dialogic patterns of debate. We demonstrate the ways in which digital media platforms are themselves performative in the formation of issue publics and that, while this creates issues, we should not retreat into debates around the ‘proper object’ of research but rather engage with the productive complications of mapping social media data into knowledge (Whatmore, 2009). In turn, we argue that online issue publics are not homogeneous and that the lines of heterogeneity are neither simple or to be expected and merit study as a means to understand the suite of processes and novel contexts involved in the emergence of a public.

Talk – Plymouth, 17 Oct: ‘New geographies of automation?’

Rachael in the film Blade Runner

I am looking forward to visiting Plymouth (tomorrow) the 17th October to give a Geography department research seminar. It’s been nearly twenty years (argh!) since I began my first degree, in digital art, at Plymouth so I’m looking forward to returning. I’ll be talking about a couple of aspects of ‘The Automative Imagination’ under a slightly different title – ‘New geographies of automation?’ The talk will take in archival BBC and newspaper automation anxieties, management consultant magical thinking (and the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’), gendered imaginings of domesticity (with the Jetsons amongst others) and some slightly under-cooked (at the moment) thoughts about how ‘agency’ (what kinds of ‘beings’ or ‘things’ can do what kinds of action).

Do come along if you’re free and happen to be in the glorious gateway to the South West that is Plymouth.

(More) Gendered imaginings of automata

My Cayla Doll

A few more bits on how automation gets gendered in particular kinds of contexts and settings. In particular, the identification of ‘home’ or certain sorts of intimacy with certain kinds of domestic or caring work that then gets gendered is something that has been increasingly discussed.

Two PhD researchers I am lucky enough to be working with, Paula Crutchlow (Exeter) and Kate Byron (Bristol), have approached some of these issues from different directions. Paula has had to wrangle with this in a number of ways in relation to the Museum of Contemporary Commodities but it was most visible in the shape of Mikayla, the hacked ‘My Friend Cayla Doll’. Kate is doing some deep dives on the sorts of assumptions that are embedded into the doing of AI/machine learning through the practices of designing, programming and so on. They are not, of course, alone. Excellent work by folks like Kate Crawford, Kate Devlin and Gina Neff (below) inform all of our conversations and work.

Here’s a collection of things that may provoke thought… I welcome any further suggestions or comments 🙂

Alexa, does AI have gender?


Alexa is female. Why? As children and adults enthusiastically shout instructions, questions and demands at Alexa, what messages are being reinforced? Professor Neff wonders if this is how we would secretly like to treat women: ‘We are inadvertently reproducing stereotypical behaviour that we wouldn’t want to see,’ she says.

Prof Gina Neff in conversation with Ruth Abrahams, OII.

Predatory Data: Gender Bias in Artificial Intelligence

it has been reported that female-sounding assistive chatbots regularly receive sexually charged messages. It was recently cited that five percent of all interactions with Robin Labs, whose bot platform helps commercial drivers with routes and logistics, is sexually explicit. The fact that the earliest female chatbots were designed to respond to these suggestions
deferentially or with sass was problematic as it normalised sexual harassment.

Vidisha Mishra and Madhulika Srikumar – Predatory Data: Gender Bias in Artificial Intelligence

The Gender of Artificial Intelligence

Chart showing that the gender of artificial intelligence (AI) is not neutral
The gendering, or not, of chatbots, digital assistants and AI movie characters – Tyler Schnoebelen

Consistently representing digital assistants as femalehard-codes a connection between a woman’s voice and subservience.

Stop Giving Digital Assistants Female Voices – Jessica Nordell, The New Republic

“The good robot”

Anki Vector personal robot

A fascinating and very evocative example of the ‘automative imagination’ in action in the form of an advertisement for the “Vector” robot from a company called Anki.

How to narrate or analyse such a robot? Well, there are lots of the almost-archetypical figures of ‘robot’ or automation. The cutesy and non-threatening pseudo-pet that the Vector invites us to assume it is, marks the first. This owes a lot to Wall-E (also, the robots in Batteries Not Included and countless other examples) and the doe-eyed characterisation of the faithful assistant/companion/servant. The second is the all-seeing surveillant machine uploading all your data to “the cloud”. The third is the two examples of quasi-military monsters with shades of “The Terminator”, with a little bit of helpless baby jeopardy for good measure. Finally, the brief nod to HAL 9000, and the flip of the master/slave that it represents, completes a whistle-stop tour of pop culture understandings of ‘robots’, stitched together in order to sell you something.

I assume that the Vector actually still does the kinds of surveillance it is sending up in the advert, but I have no evidence – there is no publicly accessible copy of the terms & conditions for the operation of the robot in your home. However, in a advertorial on ‘Robotics Business Review‘, there is a quote that sort of pushes one to suspect that Vector is yet another device that on the face of it is an ‘assistant’ but is also likely to be hoovering up everything it can about you and your family’s habits in order to sell that data on:

“We don’t want a person to ever turn this robot off,” Palatucci said. “So if the lights go off and it’s on your nightstand and he starts snoring, it’s not going to work. He really needs to use his sensors, his vision system, and his microphone to understand the context of what’s going on, so he knows when you want to interact, and more importantly, when you don’t.”

If we were to be cynical we might ask – why else would it need to be able to do all of this? –>

Anki Vector “Alive and aware”

Regardless, the advert is a useful example of how the bleed from fictional representations of ‘robots’ into contemporary commercial products we can take home – and perhaps even what we might think of as camouflage for the increasingly prevalent ‘extractive‘ business model of in-home surveillance.

HKW Speaking to Racial Conditions Today [video]

racist facial recognition

This video of a panel session at HKW entitled “Speaking to Racial Conditions Today” is well-worth watching.

Follow this link (the video is not available for embedding here).

Inputs, discussions, Mar 15, 2018. With Zimitri Erasmus, Maya Indira Ganesh, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, David Theo Goldberg, Serhat Karakayali, Shahram Khosravi, Françoise Vergès
English original version

“Decolonizing Technologies, Reprogramming Education” HASTAC 2019 call

Louise Bourgeois work of art

This looks interesting. Read the full call here.

Call for Proposals

On 16-18 May 2019, the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC), in partnership with the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Department of English at the University of Victoria (UVic), will be guests on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the h?n?q??min??m?-speaking Musqueam (x?m??k??y??m) people, facilitating a conference about decolonizing technologies and reprogramming education.

Deadline for proposals is Monday 15 October 2018.

Submit a proposal. Please note: This link will take you to a new website (HASTAC’s installation of ConfTool), where you will create a new user account to submit your proposal. Proposals may be submitted in EnglishFrench, or Spanish.


Conference Theme

The conference will hold up and support Indigenous scholars and knowledges, centering work by Indigenous women and women of colour. It will engage how technologies are, can be, and have been decolonized. How, for instance, are extraction technologies repurposed for resurgence? Or, echoing Ellen Cushman, how do we decolonize digital archives? Equally important, how do decolonial and anti-colonial practices shape technologies and education? How, following Kimberlé Crenshaw, are such practices intersectional? How do they correspond with what Grace Dillon calls Indigenous Futurisms? And how do they foster what Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang describe as an ethic of incommensurability, unsettling not only assumptions of innocence but also discourses of reconciliation?

With these investments, HASTAC 2019: “Decolonizing Technologies, Reprogramming Education” invites submissions addressing topics such as:

  • Indigenous new media and infrastructures,
  • Self-determination and data sovereignty, accountability, and consent,
  • Racist data and biased algorithms,
  • Land-based pedagogy and practices,
  • Art, history, and theory as decolonial or anti-colonial practices,
  • Decolonizing the classroom or university,
  • Decolonial or anti-colonial approaches involving intersectional feminist, trans-feminist, critical race, and queer research methods,
  • The roles of technologies and education in the reclamation of language, land, and water,
  • Decolonial or anti-colonial approaches to technologies and education around the world,
  • Everyday and radical resistance to dispossession, extraction, and appropriation,
  • Decolonial or anti-colonial design, engineering, and computing,
  • Alternatives to settler heteropatriarchy and institutionalized ableism in education,
  • Unsettling or defying settler geopolitics and frontiers,
  • Trans-Indigenous activism, networks, and knowledges, and
  • Indigenous resurgence through technologies and education.

New journal article> A very public cull: the anatomy of an online issue public

Twitter

I am pleased to share that a paper that Rebecca Sandover, Steve Hinchliffe and I have had under review for some time has been accepted for publication. The paper comes from our project “Contagion”, which amongst other things examined the ways issue publics form and spread around public controversies – in this case the English badger cull of 2013/14. The research this article presents comes from mixed methods social media research, focused on Twitter. The methods and conversation have, of course, moved on a little in the last two years but I think the paper makes a contribution to how geographers in particular might think about doing social media-based research. I guess this, as a result, also fits into the recent (re)growth of ‘digital geographies’ too.

The article is titled “A very public cull: the anatomy of an online issue public” and will be published in Geoforum in the not-too-distant future. Feel free to get in touch for a pre-print version.

Abstract:

Geographers and other social scientists have for some time been interested in how scientific and environmental controversies emerge and become public or collective issues. Social media are now key platforms through which these issues are publicly raised and through which groups or publics can organise themselves. As media that generate data and traces of networking activity, these platforms also provide an opportunity for scholars to study the character and constitution of those groupings. In this paper we lay out a method for studying these ‘issue publics’: emergent groupings involved in publicising an issue. We focus on the controversy surrounding the state-sanctioned cull of wild badgers in England as a contested means of disease management in cattle. We analyse two overlapping groupings to demonstrate how online issue publics function in a variety of ways – from the ‘echo chambers’ of online sharing of information, to the marshalling of agreements on strategies for action, to more dialogic patterns of debate. We demonstrate the ways in which digital media platforms are themselves performative in the formation of issue publics and that, while this creates issues, we should not retreat into debates around the ‘proper object’ of research but rather engage with the productive complications of mapping social media data into knowledge (Whatmore 2009). In turn, we argue that online issue publics are not homogeneous and that the lines of heterogeneity are neither simple, or to be expected, and merit study as a means to understand the suite of processes and novel contexts involved in the emergence of a public. 

Inter-Nation – European Art Research Network conference, 19 Oct 2018

A fence in Mexico City delineating a poor area from a wealthy area

This event looks interesting:

Inter-Nation

European Art Research Network | 2018 Conference

Key-Note speakers include:

Dawn Weleski, Conflict Kitchen, Pittsburgh
Bernard Stiegler, Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation, Paris
Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation

Other participants include: Louise Adkins, Alistair Alexander / Tactical Tech, Lonnie Van Brummelen, David Capener, Katarzyna Depta-Garapich, Ram Krishna Ranjam, Rafal Morusiewicz, Stephanie Misa, Vukasin Nedeljkovic / Asylum Archive, Fiona Woods, Connell Vaughan & Mick O’Hara, Tommie Soro.

Contributory economies are those exchange networks and peer 2 peer (P2P) communities that seek to challenge the dominant value system inherent to the nation-state. This two-day conference addresses these economies through artistic research.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, alternative economies have been increasingly explored through digital platforms, and artistic and activist practices that transgress traditional links between nation and economy.

Digital networks have the potential to challenge traditional concepts of sovereignty and geo-politics. Central to these networks and platforms is a broad understanding of ‘technology’ beyond technical devices to include praxis-oriented processes and applied knowledges, inherent to artistic forms of research. Due to the aesthetic function of the nation, artistic researchers are critically placed to engage with the multiple registers at play within this conference. The guiding concept of the conference ‘Inter-Nation’ comes from the work of anthropologist Marcel Mauss (‘A Different Approach to Nationhood’, 1920), proposed an original understanding of both concepts that opposes traditional definitions of State and Nationalism. More recently, Michel Bauwens argues for inquiry into the idea of the commons in this context. While, Bernard Stiegler has revisited this definition of the ‘Inter-Nation’ as a broader concept in support of contributory economies emerging in digital culture.

Developed at a crucial time on the island of Ireland, when Brexit is set to redefine relations. The conference engages key thematics emerging out of this situation, such as: digital aesthetics and exchange, network cultures and peer communities, the geo-politics of centre and margin.

The conference will be hosted across three locations within the city centre; Wood Quay Venue for main key-note and PhD researcher presentations; Studio 6 at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios for an evening performance event, and Smithfield Market where a screeing event is hosted at Lighthouse Cinema.