OK, this is extremely exciting: the University Museum is making an exhibition about research in our Machine Vision in Everyday Life project! They’ve been working on it for months, and COVID has made everything look very iffy, but now it really looks as though it is nearly ready, and we hope to be able to open it on March 18. Fingers crossed there isn’t a new lockdown before then…
You’ll enter the exhibition through this tunnel, which will be lit up and “scan” you – then a mechanic guide (a talking head video) will greet you and instruct you to draw a card that gives you a specific role. You’ll view the exhibition from the point of view of your role – a wonderful touch that our larp development team came up with. (The actual larp is planned for November.)
The exhibition is beautifully thought out. Our whole project team contributed ideas, with Andreas Zingerle, Linda Kronman and Gabriele de Seta leading, and the curator team came up with excellent ideas for how to actually make the exhibition exciting to visit. The focus is on the research, but as we research art and games and narratives there are also a lot of artworks in the exhibition – I am thrilled we were able to include this, because there is a lot of evocative art that directly engages with or critiques machine vision technologies.
There are a lot of details involved with organising an exhibition. Thankfully the Museum are extremely professional, and Andreas was immensely helpful in coordinating with artists and so on (if any of the artists are reading this, your contracts are on the way, we had a few bureaucratic hurdles that are figured out now).
I also loved learning how the museum curators work when designing an exhibition like this. This is the floor plan they developed after many conversations with the research team.
Sadly the University Museum isn’t able to accept school classes now due to COVID, which is a real shame, as this is an exhibition that would have been so well suited to school visits – and that is usually a major part of what the Museum does. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to have visiting school classes later this spring.
I’ll share more as the exhibition is closer to being ready to show!
I’m going to try to start blogging again, as a way to make myself more accountable to myself. I used to use my blog as a research journal, writing little bits and pieces and saving links and stray thoughts, and often I would use bits of blog posts when writing papers and books. People don’t really use blogs like that any more. Most blog posts are more like polished essays than thinking-while-you-write, or Thinking With My Fingers as Torill titled her blog years ago. Some people used their blogs to document their research process, but I used mine to do my research. And to think about how to organise my days and my time, or how to deal with new responsibilities and tasks. Now I’m nearly 50 and nobody accuses me of looking like a student anymore as they did in 2005 (ha) and that outsider peeking into the ivory tower stance certainly doesn’t work anymore. I’ll have to find a new voice, perhaps, if I start blogging again.
I started today by writing my notes about a novel I just read as a blog post instead of just for myself.
One step at a time.
Maybe trying to write a short blog post every day is a way to get myself back into research, get myself back, after this pandemic slump of a year.
I’m fascinated by fleshy, emotional ideas about AI and robots. A lot of recent science fiction I’ve been reading explores this: what would a sentient, emotional AI be like? How would they experience the world? What would their material form mean? Would they love? So much of being human is about our bodily emotions and gut feelings and our physical responses to our experiences.
I just finished reading The Mother Code by Carole Stiver. I found the book quite annoying in many ways, but towards the end there are some really interesting descriptions of the relationship between “the Mothers” and the children they have incubated, birthed and brought up. The Mothers are repurposed military bots, designed to nurture human babies after an out-of-control bioweapon kills all humans.Continue Reading →
Forskning på nedkjølingseffekten og personvern (Lit. review of research on the chilling effect and privacy)
I’m a member of Personvernskommisjonen, a committee appointed by the Norwegian government to write a report that assesses the state of current privacy regulations and practices and gives recommendations on policies to meet current challenges to privacy (here is our mandate). I was asked to have a look at research on the “chilling effect” and privacy, and to be honest, I got a bit carried away, because I really love exploring new research areas and seeing all the new connections, and constructing new searches and seeing how everything interconnects. This is the informal summary I wrote for the commission, with an annotated bibliography at the end. It’s in Norwegian, but if you don’t read Norwegian, Google will translate it reasonably well, and the bibliography mostly references English language research so you can scroll down to that as well.
Please let me know if you have suggestions or more to add! We have almost a year more to finish the report so will definitely be looking for more material.
Nedkjølingseffekten (“the chilling effect”) oppstår “i situasjoner hvor utøvelse av legitime handlinger innskrenkes eller motvirkes gjennom trusselen om mulige sanksjoner” (NOU 2016:19: Samhandling for sikkerhet).Continue Reading →
Now that I have a VR headset at home I’m both enjoying VR experiences and I’m exploring social interaction in VR spaces. I’ll write more about the pros and cons of VR meetings vs Zoom later, but right now I want to share this recording of a conference panel we organised in VR about VR narratives, for ELO2020 last week.Continue Reading →
I gave a talk at the Moral Machines symposium in Helsinki last year, and just heard that a revised version of the talk will be published in an anthology tentatively titled The Ethos of Digital Environments: Technology, Literary Theory and Philosophy. The anthology is edited by Hanna-Riikka Roine and Susanna Lindberg and will be published by Routledge, presumably in 2021 or 2022. Here is an excerpt from my draft of the chapter, where I explore the idea that there might not be that much difference between a neural network that can predict when a human would cry and that involuntary tightness we humans sometimes feel in our chests when we watch a sad movie.
Emotions are often conceived as the determining difference between humans and machines, and indeed, between groups of humans and whatever or whoever they wish to define as non-human. “They don’t have the same feelings we do,” the narrator imagines the wives thinking of the handmaids in Margaret Atwood’s novel (1986, 215); “they don’t seem to feel anything, no pleasure, no pain”, the Terrans remark of the indigenous people they rape and beat in Ursula le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest (1972, 18).Continue Reading →
My latest paper, “Situated data analysis: a new method for analysing encoded power relationships in social media“, started out as an analysis of the data visualisations in Strava, but ended up as something more ambitious: a method that I think can be used to analyse all kinds of digital platform using personal data in different contexts. Here is a video teaser explaining the key points of situated data analysis:
This paper has been a long time in the works, and started off as part of the INDVIL project on data visualisations, where I was tasked with thinking about the epistemology of data visualisations. Working through revision after revision of my analyses of data visualisations in Strava I found that what really interested me about Strava was the many different ways that the personal data it collects from runners and cyclists are presented—or, more precisely, how the data are situated. Once I’d analysed the different ways the Strava data was situated, I realised that the same method could be applied to any social media platform, app or digital infrastructure that uses personal data. So I decided to change the focus of the paper so it was about the method, not just about Strava.
Donna Haraway coined the term situated knowledges in 1988 to demonstrate that knowledge can never be objective, that it is impossible to see the world (or anything) from a neutral, external standpoint. Haraway calls this fiction of objectivity “the god trick,” a fantasy that omniscience is possible.
With Facebook and Google Earth and smart homes and smartphones vastly more data is collected about us and our behaviour than when Haraway wrote about situated knowledge. The god trick as it occurs when big data are involved has been given many names by researchers of digital media: Anthony McCosker and Rowan Wilken write about the fantasy of “total knowledge” in data visualisations, José van Dijck warns against an uncritical, almost religious “dataism“: a belief that human behaviour can be quantified, and Lisa Gitelman points out that “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron in her anthology on the digital humanities. There is also an extensive body of work on algorithmic bias analysing how machine learning using immense datasets is not objective but reinforces biases in the data sets and inherent in the code itself (there are heaps of references to this in the paper itself if you’re curious!).
Situated data analysis provides us with a method for analysing how data is always situated, always partial and biased. In my paper I use Strava as an example, but let’s look at a different kind of data: how about selfies?Continue Reading →
Look, this is the oldest known mirror, reflecting the face of a woman holding it. It is 8000 years old and made from polished obsidian.
I’m working on a book on machine vision, and I want to edit it all enough before summer that I can send it off for feedback. It is so hard to keep just editing though when I keep discovering these new fascinating facts! I had no idea that mirrors have been around for 8000 years. Or that crystal rock was used 4500 years ago to create lenses for eyes for Egyptian statues that are remarkably anatomically correct, at least given possible knowledge of anatomy at the time.Continue Reading →
For my book on machine vision I’m writing a little about Vertov’s wonderful 1924 manifesto written half in the voice of the camera – “I am kino-eye … I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it.”
I started wondering how involved the other Kinoks were in writing. It’s hard to tell, but Elisaveta Svilova, shown here, was definitely very involved in Vertov’s movies, as the editor who actually made all those fast transitions possible and as co-director later on. Here is an amazing meta-moment near the end of a documentary Kino-Pravda reel where she is shown selecting negatives for the very newsreel she is editing.
The camera shows her, then the negatives, back and forwards, showing the negatives in negative and finishing with an negative image of her face. Lilya Kaganovsky describes this as “a fusion of object and subject” and writes that Svilova looks directly at us. And yet it seems to me that in that last image it is the film itself somehow that is looking at Svilova?Continue Reading →
I have a fabulous research environment right now, and while obviously some of that is due to having had funding to employ brilliant researchers (thank you ERC) we’ve been doing a lot of other things that are working out really well, some formal (weekly research group meetings and a Digital Humanities Network with lunch meetings a few times a semester) and some informal. I’ve realized that developing a research environment that is good for us and makes researchers happy is one of my top priorities, and so I want to think more systematically about how to do it. I’m sure some researchers are quite happy alone in their dens, and that’s certainly been the model in the humanities, but a lot of us like collaboration and actually talking about our research with each other. So I asked people on Twitter what works for them, and here is the list I have compiled, from my own experience and from Twitter. We are doing some of this here at Digital Culture, but can certainly keep working at trying more of these tips!Continue Reading →