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.

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

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. 

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

Reblog> session on feminist digital geographies at AAG conference April 2019

Women Who Code

Via Gillian Rose. If you’re going to the AAG – this session is sure to be a good one.

Session on feminist digital geographies at AAG conference April 2019

This is a call for papers for a session at the next conference of the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Washington DC 3-7 April next year on feminist digital geographies, organised by Agnieszka Leszczynski (Western University) and me. It’s sponsored by both the Digital Geographies and the Geographic Perspectives on Women Speciality Groups of the AAG.

In the context of a flurry of activities coalescing around digital geographies, we invite papers that consider the “enduring contours and new directions” of feminist theory, politics, and praxis for geographies concerned with the digital (Elwood and Leszczynski, 2018). We broadly welcome interventions that proceed from, utilize, and advance feminist epistemologies, methodologies, theory, critical practice, and activism.

We are open to submissions offering empirical, theoretical, critical, and methodological contributions across a range of topics, including but not limited to:

  • big data
  • digitally-mediated cities
  • artificial intelligence and algorithms
  • social media
  • feminist/digital/spatial theory
  • progressive alternatives and activism
  • feminist histories and genealogies

Please submit abstracts of no more than 200 words by October 15thto aleszczy@uwo.ca and gillian.rose@ouce.ox.ac.uk. Please include a title, your name, affiliation and email address in the abstract. We will respond to authors with confirmation by November 1st.

Reference:

Elwood S and Leszczynski A (2018) Feminist digital geographies. Gender, Place & Culture25(5): 629-644.

Pitching the ‘automative imagination’

Still from the video for All is Love by Bjork

I’ve got a draft book proposal. I think I know where it’s going. I’ve also had a go at securing funding (yes, I’m not holding my breath) to support writing the book and hopefully produce an associated podcast – more on that another time.

It’s perhaps foolhardy or overly optimistic but I want to share the gist of the pitch here. I’d really welcome feedback or suggestions and can share a fuller version of the proposal if you happen to be interested – please get in touch via email.

The Automative Imagination

Automation is both a contemporary and enduring concern. The ‘automative imagination’ is a way to articulating different habits of considering and discussing automation.  I am not using the neologism ‘automative’ to assert any kind of authority but rather as a pragmatic tool. Other words do not fit – to speak of an ‘automated’ or ‘automatic’ imagination does not describe the characteristics of automation but suggests the imagining is itself automated, which is not the argument I am seeking to make. This book explores how automation is imagined as much as it is planned and enacted. 

The ways in which automation is bound up with how everyday life is understood is under-examined. Expectations are fostered, with examples drawing upon popular culture and mythology, without the bases for these expectations being sufficiently scrutinised. This book examines precisely the foundations of the visions of automation we are invited to believe. Through the original conceptual lens of the ‘automative imagination’ I interrogate and thematically categorise the forms of imagination that underpin contemporary discussion and envisioning of automation. The contribution of this book is the identification and analysis of the double-bind between the widespread envisioning of an automated future, always-to-come, and the power of such visions, and those who propose them, over the ongoing projects to automate various aspects of contemporary life.

The book is organised around the theoretical framework, emerging from initial research, consisting of five figures: ‘progress’, the ‘machine’, the ‘master’/‘slave’, the ‘idiot’ and the ‘monster’. Each of these figures forms the spine of the four substantive chapters of the monograph. ‘Progress’ is popularly figured as an economic and socio-cultural force of ‘ages’, ‘revolutions’ and ‘waves’ often tied to particular technologies and plays out in cities, at work and at home. The apparatus of the ‘machine’ is often figured as the driver of change – the near-autonomous mechanisms of factories, governments and institutions are seen as both the engines and regulators of change. Members of society are figured, therefore, as either ‘master’ of or ‘enslaved’ by autonomous technology – both at work and at home. The apparent autonomy of these technologies is said to divorce citizens from knowledge of how to work and live, rendering them ‘idiots’, whilst at the same time the errors of these autonomous systems repeatedly feature in the news as somehow ‘idiotic’. Finally, and perhaps most enduringly, the abstract figure of technology as a ‘monstrous’ other to ‘the human’ occupies a significant place in the collective imagination.

The Automative Imagination demonstrates that automation, and how it functions, is imagined to focus in five interlinked geographical contexts: the city (or region), the home, the factory (or workplace), the institution and ‘in transit’. These interlinked geographies are not chapters themselves but rather form the fundamental context of the five thematic chapters of the monograph and features as central threads that weave together the conceptual narrative of the book. The contemporary ‘automative imagination’ seen through theoretical lens of the five figures and their interlinked geographical contexts is a paradox of fantasy and uniformity. The book concludes by arguing for developing more pluralised and situated imaginings of automation and offering resources for doing so.

The central methodological framework for the completion of this project is a critical reading across genres of key contemporary and archival texts. The Automative Imagination develops novel theoretical perspectives for investigating the formation of the ‘automative imagination’. These novel perspectives, organised through the five figures outlined above, are developed in the intersections of deconstruction as a method of critical thinking, feminist technology studies’ examinations of the social shaping of technology and pragmatist interrogations of the ‘everyday’ and ‘ordinary’.

This synthesis attends to the normative and situated nature of the ‘automative imagination’, through analyses of particular texts. The texts that form the basis of the analysis span three categories: academic, archival and film. Through preparatory research, a range of discourses of automation have already been identified within economics and the social sciences that provide some of the rationale for contemporary visions of automation. These are critically read together with archival newspaper and trade journal articles, novels and fiction & non-fiction films. The ground work for this analysis is already completed – identifying key sources and gathering archival materials and an initial systematic literature review of consultancy, non-governmental organisation and think tank reports.

The Automative Imagination speaks to a range of contemporary academic and policy agendas, in the UK, the EU and globally, not least the UK government’s and World Economics Forum’s ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ agendas. The contribution of the book is novel in the formulation of theoretical resources for understanding how automation is imagined and what work those imaginings is doing in the world.

Automative Imagination – slides

Automated taxi figure in the 1990 film Total Recall

Last week I was fortunate to convene and chair a fantastic double session at the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) in Cardiff.

The session was ‘New Geographies of Automation?‘ and featured some great papers, which I hope to reflect on in a subsequent post.

For now, I wanted to share my own slides from the paper I gave – “The Automative Imagination”. The paper was in part an attempt to set the scene of subsequent papers and also, in part, a pitch for my book project of the same title.

The presentation is more or less in two parts. First, I pitch the book topic and the way I plan on structuring it – in terms of some key ‘figures’ and some key, overlapping, geographical contexts. Second, I offer an example of one way in which the figure of ‘progress’ appears in discussions about automation in relation to widely quoted risks of redundancy and joblessness due to automation. I chart how particular forms of evidence travel through the sorts of documents often used as the basis of such claims – reports by think tanks and consultants – who in turn draw upon academic and NGO work. The aim here is to show how evidence, which becomes ‘fact’, travels, and how this is contributes to particular ways of imagining future contexts of work and living.

For more on the ‘Automative Imagination‘ project please visit the project page.

‘New geographies of automation?’ at the RGS-IBG conference

Industrial factory robot arms

All of a sudden the summer is nearly over, apparently, and the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers is fast approaching, this year in Cardiff.

I am convening a double session on the theme of ‘New geographies of automation?’, with two sessions of papers by some fantastic colleagues that promise to be really interesting. I am really pleased to have this opportunity to invite colleagues to collectively bring their work into conversation around a theme that is not only a contemporary topic in academic work but also, significantly, a renewed topic of interest in the wider public.

There are two halves of the session, broadly themed around ‘autonomy’ and ‘spacings’. Please find below the abstracts for the session.

Details: Sessions 92 & 123 (in slots 3 & 4 – 14:40-16:20 & 16:50-18:30) | Bates Building, Lecture Theatre 1.4

This information is also accessible, with all of the details of venue etc., on the RGS-IBG conference website: session 1 ‘autonomy’ and session 2 ‘spacings’.

New Geographies of Automation? (1): Autonomy

1.1 An Automative Imagination

Samuel Kinsley, University of Exeter

This paper sets out to review some of the key ways in which automation gets imagined – the sorts of cultural, economic and social forms of imagination that are drawn upon and generated when discussing how automation works and the kinds of future that may come as a result. The aim here is not to validate/invalidate particular narratives of automation – but instead to think about how they are produced and what they tell us about how we tell stories about what it means to be ‘human’, who/what has agency and what this may mean for how we think politically and spatially. To do this the concept of an ‘automative imagination’ is proposed as a means of articulating these different, sometimes competing – sometimes complementary, orientations towards automation.

 

1.2 The Future of Work: Feminist Geographical Engagements

Julie MacLeavy (Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol)

This paper considers the particular pertinence of feminist geographical scholarship to debates on the ‘future of work’. Drawing inspiration from Linda McDowell’s arguments that economic theories of epochal change rest on the problematic premise that economic and labour market changes are gender-neutral, it highlights the questions that are emerging from feminist economic geography research and commentary on the reorganisation of work, workers’ lives and labour markets. From this, the paper explores how feminist and anti-racist politics connect with the imagination of a ‘post-work’ world in which technological advancement is used to enable more equitable ways of practice (rather than more negative effects such as the intensification of work lifestyles). Political responses to the critical challenges that confront workers in the present moment of transformation are then examined, including calls for Universal Basic Income, which has the potential to reshape the landscape of labour-capital relations.

 

1.3 Narrating the relationship between automation and the changing geography of digital work

Daniel Cockayne, Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo

Popular narratives about the relationship between automation and work often make a straightforward causal link between technological change and deskilling, job loss, or increased demand for jobs. Technological change – today, most commonly, automation and AI – is often scripted as threatening the integrity of labor, unionization, and traditional working practices or as creating more demand for jobs, in which the assumption is the more jobs the better. These narratives elide a close examination of the politics of work that include considerations of domestic and international racialized and gendered divisions of labor. Whether positive or negative, the supposed inevitability of technological transition positions labor as a passive victim of these changes, while diverting attention away from the workings of international financialized capital. Yet when juxtaposed against empirical data, straightforward cause and effect narratives become more complex. The unemployment rate in North America has been the lowest in 40 years (4.1% in the USA and 5.7% in Canada), which troubles the relationship between automation and job loss. Yet, though often touted by publications like The Economist as a marker of national economic well-being, unemployment rates ignore the kinds of work people are doing, effacing the qualitative changes in work practices over time. I examine these tropes and their relationship to qualitative changes in work practices, to argue that the link between technological change and the increasing precaratization of work is more primary than the diversionary relationship between technological change and job loss and gain or deskilling. 

 

1.4 Sensing automation

David Bissell, University of Melbourne

Processes of industrial automation are intensifying in many sectors of the economy through the development of AI and robotics. Conventional accounts of industrial automation stress the economic imperatives to increase economic profitability and safety. Yet such coherent snapped-to-grid understandings risk short-circuiting the complexity and richness of the very processes and events that compose automation. ­­­This paper draws from and reflects through a series of encounters with workers engaged in the increasingly automated mining sector in Australia. Rather than thinking these encounters solely through their representational dimensions with an aim to building a coherent image of what automation is, this paper is an attempt at writing how automation becomes differently disclosed through the aesthetic dimensions of encounters. It acknowledges how automation is always caught up in multiple affective and symbolic ecologies which create new depths of association. Developing post-phenomenological thought in cultural geography, this paper articulates some of the political and ethical stakes for admitting ambiguity, incoherence and confusion as qualities of our relations with technological change.

 

1.5 Technological Sovereignty, Post-Human Subjectivity, and the Production of the Digital-Urban Commons

Casey Lynch (School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona)

 As cities become increasingly monitored, planned, and controlled by the proliferation of digital technologies, urban geographers have sought to understand the role of software, big data, and connected infrastructures in producing urban space (French and Thrift 2002; Dodge, Kitchin, and Zook, 2009). Reflections on the “automatic production of space” have raised questions about the role and limitations of “human” agency in urban space (Rose 2017) and the possibilities for urban democracy. Yet, this literature largely considers the proliferation of digital infrastructures within the dominant capitalist, smart-city model, with few discussions of the possibilities for more radically democratic techno-urban projects. Engaging these debates, this paper considers alternative models of the techno-social production of urban space based around the collective production and management of a common digital-urban infrastructure. The paper reflects on the notion of “technological sovereignty” and the case of Guifinet, the world’s largest “community wireless network” covering much of Catalonia.  The paper highlights the way its decentralized, DIY mode of producing and maintaining digital urban infrastructure points to the possibilities for more radically democratic models of co-production in which urban space, technological infrastructures, and subjectivities are continually reshaped in relation. Through this, the paper seeks to contribute to broader discussions about the digitalization of urban space and the possibilities for a radical techno-politics.  

New Geographies of Automation? (2): Spacings

2.1 The urbanisation of robotics and automated systems – a research agenda
Andy Lockhart* (a.m.lockhart@sheffield.ac.uk), Aidan While* (a.h.while@sheffield.ac.uk), Simon Marvin (s.marvin@sheffield.ac.uk), Mateja Kovacic (m.kovacic@sheffield.ac.uk), Desiree Fields (d.fields@sheffield.ac.uk) and Rachel Macrorie (r.m.macrorie@sheffield.ac.uk) (Urban Institute, University of Sheffield)
*Attending authors
Pronouncements of a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ or ‘second machine age’ have stimulated significant public and academic interest in the implications of accelerating automation. The potential consequences for work and employment have dominated many debates, yet advances in robotics and automated systems (RAS) will have profound and geographically uneven ramifications far beyond the realm of labour. We argue that the urban is already being configured as a key site of application and experimentation with RAS technologies. This is unfolding across a range of domains, from the development of autonomous vehicles and robotic delivery systems, to the growing use of drone surveillance and predictive policing, to the rollout of novel assistive healthcare technologies and infrastructures. These processes and the logics underpinning them will significantly shape urban restructuring and new geographies of automation in the coming years. However, while there is growing research interest in particular domains, there remains little work to date which takes a more systemic view. In this paper we do three things, which look to address this gap and constitute the contours of a new urban research agenda. First, we sketch a synoptic view of the urbanisation of RAS, identifying what is new, what is being enabled as a result and what should concern critical scholars, policymakers and the wider public in debates about automation. Second, we map out the multiple and sometimes conflicting rationalities at play in the urbanisation of RAS, which have the potential to generate radically different urban futures, and may address or exacerbate existing socio-spatial inequalities and injustices. Third, and relatedly, we pose a series of questions for urban scholars and geographers, which constitute the basis for an urgent new programme of research and intervention.

 

2.2 Translating the signals: Utopia as a method for interrogating developments in autonomous mobility

Thomas Klinger1, 2
Brendan Doody2
Debbie Hopkins2
Tim Schwanen2
1. Institute of Human Geography, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main
2. School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are often presented as technological ‘solutions’ to problems of road safety, congestion, fuel economy and the cost of transporting people, goods and services. In these dominant techno-economic narratives ‘non-technical’ factors such as public acceptance, legal and regulatory frameworks, cost and investment in testing, research and supporting infrastructure are the main ‘barriers’ to the otherwise steady roll-out of CAVs. Drawing on an empirical case study of traffic signalling, we trace the implications that advances in vehicle autonomy may have for such mundane and taken-for-granted infrastructure. We employ the three modes of analysis associated with Levitas’ (2013) ‘utopia as a method’. Starting with the architectural mode we identify the components, actors and visions underpinning ‘autonomobility’. The archaeological mode is then used to unpack the assumptions, contradictions and possible unintended effects that CAVs may have for societies. In the ontological mode we speculate upon the types of human and non-human subjectivities and agencies implied by alleged futures of autonomous mobility. Through this process we demonstrate that techno-economic accounts overemphasise the likely scale, benefits and impacts these advances may have for societies. In particular, they overlook how existing automobile-dependent mobility systems are the outcome of complex assemblages of social and technical elements (e.g., cars, car-drivers, roads, petroleum supplies, novel technologies and symbolic meanings) which have become interlinked in systemic and path-dependent ways over time. We conclude that utopia as method may provide one approach by which geographers can interrogate and opening up alarmist/boosterish visions of autonomobility and automation.

 

2.3 Automating the laboratory? Folding securities of malware
Andrew Dwyer, University of Oxford
andrew.dwyer@cybersecurity.ox.ac.uk

Folding, weaving, and stitching is crucial to contemporary analyses of malicious software; generated and maintained through the spaces of the malware analysis laboratory. Technologies entangle (past) human analysis, action, and decision into ‘static’ and ‘contextual’ detections that we depend on today. A large growth in suspect software to draw decisions on maliciousness have driven a movement into (seemingly omnipresent) machine learning. Yet this is not the first intermingling of human and technology in malware analysis. It draws on a history of automation, enabling interactions to ‘read’ code in stasis; build knowledges in more-than-human collectives; allow ‘play’ through a monitoring of behaviours in ‘sandboxed’ environments; and draw on big data to develop senses of heuristic reputation scoring.

Though we can draw on past automation to explore how security is folded, made known, rendered as something knowable: contemporary machine learning performs something different. Drawing on Louise Amoore’s recent work on the ethics of the algorithm, this paper queries how points of decision are now more-than-human. Automation has always extended the human, led to loops, and driven alternative ways of living. Yet the contours, the multiple dimensions of the neural net, produce the malware ‘unknown’ that have become the narrative of the endpoint industry. This paper offers a history of the automation of malware analysis from static and contextual detection, to ask how automation is changing how cyberspace becomes secured and made governable; and how automation is not something to be feared, but tempered with the opportunities and challenges of our current epoch.

 

2.4 Robots and resistance: more-than-human geographies of automation on UK dairy farms

Chris Bear (Cardiff University; bearck@cardiff.ac.uk)
Lewis Holloway (University of Hull; l.holloway@hull.ac.uk)

This paper examines the automation of milking on UK dairy farms to explore how resistance develops in emerging human-animal-technology relations. Agricultural mechanisation has long been celebrated for its potential to increase the efficiency of production. Automation is often characterised as continuing this trajectory; proponents point to the potential for greater accuracy, the removal of less appealing work, the reduction of risks posed by unreliable labour, and the removal of labour costs. However, agricultural mechanisation has never been received wholly uncritically; studies refer to practices of resistance that have developed due to fears around (for instance) impacts on rural employment, landscapes, ecologies and traditional knowledge practices. Drawing on interviews with farmers, observational work on farms and analysis of promotional material, this paper examines resistant relations that emerge around the introduction of Automated Milking Systems (AMS) on UK dairy farms. While much previous work on resistance to agricultural technologies has pitted humans against machines, we follow Foucault in arguing that resistance can be heterogeneous and directionally ambiguous, emerging through ‘the capillary processes of counter-conduct’ (Holloway and Morris 2012). These capillary processes can have complex geographies and emerge through more-than-human relations. Where similar conceptualisations have been developed previously, technologies continue to appear rather inert – they are often the tools by which humans attempt to exert influence, rather than things which can themselves ‘object’ (Latour 2000), or which are co-produced by other nonhumans rather than simply imposed or applied by humans. We begin, therefore, to develop a more holistic approach to the geographies of more-than-human resistance in the context of automation.

 

2.5 Fly-by-Wire: The Ironies of Automation and the Space-Times of Decision-Making

Sam Hind (University of Siegen; hind@locatingmedia.uni-siegen.de)

This paper presents a ‘prehistory’ (Hu 2015) of automobile automation, by focusing on ‘fly-by-wire’ control systems in aircraft. Fly-by-wire systems, commonly referred to as ‘autopilots’ work by translating human control gestures into component movements, via digital soft/hardware. These differ historically from mechanical systems in which pilots have direct steering control through a ‘yoke’ to the physical components of an aircraft (ailerons etc.), via metal rods or wires. Since the launch of the first commercial aircraft with fly-by-wire in 1988, questions regarding the ‘ironies’ or ‘paradoxes’ of automation (Bainbridge 1983) have continued to be posed. I look at the occurrence of ‘mode confusion’ in cockpits to tease out one of these paradoxes; using automation in the aviation industry as a heuristic lens to analyze automation of the automobile. I then proceed by detailing a scoping study undertaken at the Geneva Motor Show in March this year, in which Nissan showcased an autonomous vehicle system. Unlike other manufacturers, Nissan is pitching the need for remote human support when vehicles encounter unexpected situations; further complicating and re-distributing navigational labour in, and throughout, the driving-machine. I will argue that whilst such developments plan to radically alter the ‘space-times of decision-making’ (McCormack and Schwanen 2011) in the future autonomous vehicle, they also exhibit clear ironies or paradoxes found similarly, and still fiercely discussed, in the aviation industry and with regards to fly-by-wire systems. It is wise, therefore, to consider how these debates have played out – and with what consequences.

SuperTag ‘scanner will end checkout woes’ – 1994

Still image taken from the Microsoft Future Vision of Retail, circa 2010

In this front page article from 6th January 1994, The Guardian Technology Editor reports that the “SuperTag” scanner, from “newly privatised British Technology Group” will “read the entire contents of a supermarket trolley at a glance” … “The day cannot be too far off when the weekly shop ordered from home will be collected later already in the trolley”.

Except of course we just get the supermarket to deliver to our door instead… anyway, a nice piece of the ‘automative imagination‘ in play… (also, good to compare to this).