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. 

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

Why WIRED’s future never arrives – David Karpf

Promotional image for the 1995 film Hackers

Quite a good piece on the Wired website reflecting upon 25 years of predictions about the future in the pages of that magazine (though I’m not sure the exonerating final paragraph rings true). Worth a read…

Looking back at WIRED’s early visions of the digital future, the mistake that seems most glaring is the magazine’s confidence that technology and the economics of abundance would erase social and economic inequality. Both Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 imagined a future that upended traditional economics. We were all going to be millionaires, all going to be creators, all going to be collaborators. But the bright future of abundance has, time and again, been waylaid by the present realities of earnings reports, venture investments, and shareholder capitalism. On its way to the many, the new wealth has consistently been diverted up to the few.

By now, the digital revolution isn’t just the future; it has a history. Digital technology runs our economy. It organizes our daily lives. It mediates how we learn information, tell each other stories, and connect with our neighbors. It’s how we control and harass and encourage one another. It’s a tool of both surveillance and resistance. You can almost never be entirely offline anymore. The internet is setting the agenda for the world around us.

The digital revolution’s track record suggests that its arc doesn’t always bend toward abundance—or in a straight line at all. It flits about, responding to the gravitational forces of hype bubbles and monopoly power, warped by the resilience of old institutions and the fragility of new ones. Today’s WIRED seems to have learned these lessons.

25 years of wired predictions: why the future never arrives – David Karpf

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.