Chrome bias, out in the wild!

About two weeks ago I read this fairly old article (published in 2018) about the trending bias towards Chrome optimised web experiences in the design/development ecosystem.

Kind of fascinating that today, whilst looking up the latest alternatives to Hotjar for my non-profit clients, up pops little alert when signing in to Userzoom:

A screenshot of a login page for UzerZoom GO. The key part of the screenshot is that overlain on top of the log in fields (but offset towards the left so the fields for email and password can be clearly seen) is an error notice that reads: 'An error has been detected. We only support Google Chrome browsers. If you experience problems in your browser, please use Chrome.'

“It is also useful to remember that there will always be casualties, and mysteries, and to remember the dying cry of the lost Jekyll (for in the end, he was both) to have mercy—and to know that breaking through a door does not necessarily mean that a mystery is solved.”

One of the most affecting displays in the BRAINS exhibition (at what was formerly called MoSI) was a dissected brain of an asylum inmate showing the cerebral malformation caused by advanced stages of syphilis. It’s the sad and disturbing thought of the internal suffering being evidenced only after death, and receiving mostly judgement during of life, I guess.

Then there’s the gendered/othered aspect – the sex workers condemned for surviving a depraved society riddled with violent prejudices and bigotries; the respectable wives condemned for believing the falsehood of Victorian chivalry… all easy enough to lock away in asylums.

Anyway.

‘Extraordinarily arduous and fraught with danger’: syphilis, Salvarsan, and general paresis of the insane is a fascinating (and very short) article on the development of diagnosis and treatment of syphilis which does make me think about how even medical cures can become as effective disguises for the social malady as the prison.

Quotes from Introduction: #TravelingWhileTrans, Design Justice, and Escape from the Matrix of Domination by Sasha Costanza-Chock

Some notes Introduction: #TravelingWhileTrans, Design Justice, and Escape from the Matrix of Domination.

As Browne discusses, and as Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, technically demonstrates, gender itself is racialized: humans have trained our machines to categorize faces and bodies as male and female through lenses tinted by the optics of white supremacy.

I misread this the first couple of times which led me to think aloud that the idea that types of ‘seeing’ create an analogous identity in the the thing doing the seeing is soooo necessary in order to get away from notions of ‘objective’ analysis/algorithms/information receptors etc.

  1. We use design to sustain, heal, and empower our communities, as well as to seek liberation from exploitative and oppressive systems.
  2. We center the voices of those who are directly impacted by the outcomes of the design process.
  3. We prioritize design’s impact on the community over the intentions of the designer.
  4. We view change as emergent from an accountable, accessible, and collaborative process, rather than as a point at the end of a process.
  5. We see the role of the designer as a facilitator rather than an expert.
  6. We believe that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience, and that we all have unique and brilliant contributions to bring to a design process.
  7. We share design knowledge and tools with our communities.
  8. We work towards sustainable, community-led and controlled outcomes.
  9. We work towards non-exploitative solutions that reconnect us to the earth and to each other.
  10. Before seeking new design solutions, we look for what is already working at the community level. We honor and uplift traditional, indigenous, and local knowledge and practices.

 

Our work is guided by two core beliefs: first, that those who are directly affected by the issues a project aims to address must be at the center of the design process, and second, that absolutely anyone can participate meaningfully in design.”

According to design scholars Robert Hoffman, Axel Roesler, and Brian Moon, the designer as a specific kind of person, or as a profession, emerged with the Industrial Revolution. Until then, knowledge about how to create, use, and maintain specialized tools was transmitted via craft guilds. However, the craft guild model could not support larger-scale designs that required the distribution of skills among many specialists. Accordingly, “this new task—designing for a class of people with whom the designer did not interact—helped mark the origin of industrial design.”50 At this time, they also note, designers took on a new role: “to reshape formerly hand-crafted processes into ones that machines could do. Mass and assembly-line-based production stimulated, or necessitated, the creation of many designs for artifacts aimed at a broad mass of consumers and for machines designed to help in manufacturing other machines.”

Design is also a way of thinking, learning, and engaging with the world. Reasoning through design is a mode of knowledge production that is neither primarily deductive nor inductive, but rather abductive and speculative. Where deduction reasons from the general to the specific and induction reasons from the specific to the general, abduction suggests the best prediction given incomplete observations.

In his recent book Designs for the Pluriverse (2018), anthropologist Arturo Escobar sees design as an “ethical praxis of world-making.”55 He urges us to consider the ways that design practices today too often reproduce the totalizing epistemology of modernity and in the process erase indigenous worldviews, forms of knowledge, and ways of being. Escobar calls for an approach to design that is focused on the creation of a world “where many worlds fit.”

Crenshaw notes the role of statistical analysis in each of these cases: sometimes, the courts required Black women plaintiffs to include broader statistics for all women that countered their discrimination claims; in other cases, the courts limited the admissible data to that which dealt solely with Black women, as opposed to all Black workers. In those cases, the low total number of Black women employees typically made statistically valid discrimination claims impossible, whereas strong claims could have been made if the plaintiffs were allowed to include data for all women, for all Black people, or both. Later, in her 1991 Stanford Law Review article “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,”65 Crenshaw powerfully articulates the ways that women of color often experience male violence as a product of intersecting racism and sexism, but are then marginalized from both feminist and antiracist discourse and practice and denied access to specific legal remedies.

To bear in mind for future writings on dealing with statistical methods in understanding users.

Collins also emphasizes that every individual simultaneously receives both benefits and harms based on their location within the matrix of domination. As Collins notes, “Each individual derives varying amounts of penalty and privilege from the multiple systems of oppression which frame everyone’s lives.”70 An intersectional Black feminist analysis thus helps us each understand that we are simultaneously members of multiple dominant groups and multiple subordinate groups. Design justice urges us to (1) consider how design (affordances and disaffordances, objects and environments, services, systems, and processes) distributes both penalty and privileges to individuals based on their location within the matrix of domination and (2) attend to the ways that this operates at various scales.

Design justice is a framework for analysis of how design distributes benefits and burdens between various groups of people. Design justice focuses explicitly on the ways that design reproduces and/or challenges the matrix of domination (white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, settler colonialism, and other forms of structural inequality). Design justice is also a growing community of practice that aims to ensure a more equitable distribution of design’s benefits and burdens; meaningful participation in design decisions; and recognition of community-based, Indigenous, and diasporic design traditions, knowledge, and practices.

Reference

https://design-justice.pubpub.org/pub/ap8rgw5e/release/1

Ethics as requirements: justifying the interrogation into methodology

Every now and then I re-read Moor’s 2006 paper ‘Why we need better ethics for emerging technologies‘. It’s become one of those permanent tab items and has been saved in pretty much every cloud platform and external hard drive I own.

Generally, I find it a stark reminder of the stakes when it comes to discussions about ethics of technology, particularly in discussions about inclusive design and the entanglements with capitalist modes of production. My first ‘proper’* paper on critical approaches to design of technology was at the 2018 Techno-Resistance and Black Futures conference, over a decade after Moor’s paper was published, and even then I remember saying that, as we’re sitting in lecture theatres mutually assuring or dismaying each other in turn with our findings, in many ways we’re too late – this stuff is already out there in production, being maintained, gathering data, justifying metrics and changing user’s paradigms; it’s not just in the lab or an interesting thought experiment. One can’t reset complex systems to t=0, so if we’re serious about stopping algorithmic bias etc., then we might need to start acting like it.

Even now, in a time when the amazing Algorithmic Justice League is much more familiar to people of tech, we still get news stories like this wherein a Microsoft AI was (in the process of being tested on an unsuspecting public) revealed to be incapable of differentiating between two famous women of colour.

But whilst Moor’s paper is generally a healthy reminder that we still have a very long way to go, different things will stick out depending on my mood.

Continue reading “Ethics as requirements: justifying the interrogation into methodology”

Quotes from ‘Why we need better ethics for emerging technologies’ by James Moor

‘‘Technology’’ is ambiguous. When speaking of a particular kind of technology, such as airplane technology, we sometimes refer to its paradigm and sometimes to its devices and sometimes to both. A technological paradigm is a set of concepts, theories and methods that characterize a kind of technology. The technological paradigm for airplanes includes the concept of a machine that flies, the theory of aerodynamics, and the method of using surfaces to achieve and control flight. A technological device is a specific piece of technology. The Wright brothers’ airplane and commercial jetliners are examples of technological devices. Technological devices are instances or implementations of the technological paradigm. Technological development occurs when either the technological paradigm is elaborated in terms of improved concepts, theories, and methods or the instances of the paradigm are improved in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, safety, etc. Of course, technological development has occurred in numerous technologies over thousands of years.

But in some cases technological development has an enormous social impact. When that happens, a technological revolution occurs. Technological revolutions do not arrive fully mature. They take time and their futures, like the futures of small children, are difficult to predict. We do have an idea of how children typically develop and likewise I believe we have an idea of how revolutions typically develop. I will try to articulate that conception in terms of a plausible model of what happens during a typical technological revolution.

 

This is a model of open technological revolutions in the sense that the revolution occurs in an open society and the technology is accessible directly or indirectly by the general public as a good or service over time. I have been assuming a liberal democratic state in which market forces, even if regulated, play an important role. These are the conditions under which technological revolutions can flourish. The automobile revolution and electrification revolution are examples of reasonably open technological revolutions. In closed revolutions the access to the technology remains severely restricted by social, political, or economic forces. For example, a ruling elite or a military may maintain control by limiting access and use of particular technologies. The development of nuclear weapons would be an example of a closed technological revolution. Closed technological revolutions by definition will control the dispersal of the technology so that they are unlikely to proceed through all of the aspects of the permeation and power stages in this model.

 

To identify a technological revolution one must consider the technological paradigm, the technological devices that instantiate the paradigm, and the social impact of these devices.

 

The social impact of the devices instantiating the paradigm is most indicative of the stage of development. Without a significant social impact from the overall set of these devices, the revolution has not yet occurred.

 

The point is that sometimes a conceptual muddle is resolved first, through analogies or other reasoning, which in turn will influence the selection of a policy. And sometimes the policy is selected first based on analysis of consequences or other justificatory methods and the conceptual muddle is thereby resolved in reference to the new policy.

 

Because of the limitations of human cognitive systems, our ethical understanding of developing technology will never be complete

Note: I’m saving this quote because it’s a good example of how – in even such a throwaway line which to some it seem I’m overanalysing – linear assumptions about the kind of system we live in, and thus the kind of systems we can manage, influence how we model our practical understanding of the systems and our responses. So I would argue our ethical understanding will never be complete, not because of limitation of human cognition, but due to limitation of living in a complex system in which there is never complete understanding, no matter how much computational power you throw at it.

Ethicists need to be informed about the nature of the technology and to press for an empirical basis for what is and what is not a likely consequence of its development and use. Scientists and technologists need to confront considerations raised by ethicists and social scientists, considerations that may affect aspects of the next grant application or risky technological development.

Source: ‘Why we need better ethics for emerging technologies’ 

Thoughts, notes and references for ‘Space Cannot be the Place’ poster at SSiC 2020

I’ve been working on my poster for the Space Science in Context conference. This is the first time I’ve ever presented a poster, and done so at a virtual conference so I’m doubly intrigued how this will go down.

As it’s been a while since I’ve had close proximity with research in either Physics or hardware/software, I thought I might as well stick to what I know and critically discuss programs such as the 100 year Starship, which I chose almost as a retrospective; it had been a topic of a talk given by Erik Steinskog at the 2017 AfroFutures_UK conference where it was analysed as an embodiment of the AfroFuturist paradigm being a multi-disciplinary enterprise, dedicated to taking humanity to the stars, all while being headed by a Black woman, Mae Jemison (a legit hero of mine) no less.

However, in the time since then, in some ways it has been as any and all of these great sounding exercises are. The why was beyond the scope of my poster but I thought I could do some credit to a material analysis of why these exercises of liberal reparations can be problematic.

Continue reading “Thoughts, notes and references for ‘Space Cannot be the Place’ poster at SSiC 2020”

STIR magazine launch: Of countermemories and recursive futurities

I was invited to speak at the launch of STIR magazine’s new edition on the 14th. It was great getting to chat interesting stuff with folk doing some fantastic stuff in the area of speculative design, history of tech and critical approaches.

Below is the transcript of my talk.

Continue reading “STIR magazine launch: Of countermemories and recursive futurities”

Mozfest 2018: The co-designed city; building smart cities with embedded social justice

A sign telling people when the workshop would start (it started at 11am)

For Mozfest 2018, I decided to go a little deeper on the topic of smart cities. The first workshop I ever facilitated there had been on the topic of pervasive computing which has many intersections with smart cities but now I wanted to explore some of the outcomes a bit further.

I am still a bit obsessed with this whole question of approaches to designing complex systems and design jams allow me to explore that. Plus it means I get to better understand the issues that come up with collaborative approaches instead of… just lecturing people.

 

Description

The session will be structured as a design jam where participants go through the user centred creation process to prototype features for (or even an entire) smart city which puts intersectionality at the heart of its digital and physical architecture.

Combining methods inspired by critical design and community centred practice and traditional Igbo masquerade (mmanwu) performance, we will start by ideating based on not only issues but also existing solutions we see in our own contexts, then perform light ethnography amongst fellow Mozfest attendees and the local community before getting down to prototyping our solutions through cardboard, code and post-its!

Following an iterative design and test process, we will end up with prototypes of a human+environment centred smart city.

 

Continue reading “Mozfest 2018: The co-designed city; building smart cities with embedded social justice”