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What Would A Techno-Ethics Look Like?

Each year, Platypus invites the recipients of the annual Forsythe Prize to reflect on their award-winning work. This week’s post is from 2017’s winner Sareeta Amrute, for her book Encoding Race, Encoding Class (Duke, 2016). What would a techno-ethics look like? This question persists long after this book, has been written and edited, proofed and published; perhaps it lingers, too, in the minds of its readers as they ponder the pathways and dead-ends digital technologies lay down. Digital technologies build on previous iterations of capital, labor, as well as social and environmental relations, even as they materialize new relations. The part-time visa regimes that most tech companies make use of build on a long history of mobile migrant, free and unfree, labor that has been used to build other kinds of infrastructure, from plantation economies across the British Empire to railroads in the United States and glass-and-steel skyscrapers in Germany. Similarly, the infrastructure of cloud computing relies on previously established military bunkers and railway lines, even as it creates unprecedented demands for energy. An ethical response to these dynamics would produce regimes of care that unite a knowledge of subjects’ evolving relationships with technologies with the goal of reducing spaces of domination created by these technologies. A techno-ethics should provide guidance for those who develop, use, and make polices about technologies. (read more...)

Recent

Journalists Won’t Get the ‘Fake News’ Story Right: They Need Help

Editor’s note: This is a jointly-authored post by Lynn Schofield Clark, Professor and Chair of the Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies at the University of Denver, and Adrienne Russell, Mary Laird Wood Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington.  The Federal Communications Commission vote to end net neutrality generated weeks of stories last month — good stories — and the topic will fuel many more good stories in the months and year to come. Those stories at the intersection where technology, policy, politics and ideology meet are testament in large part to the way savvy activist communities have framed the story of net neutrality and pushed it into the news cycle. Activist-experts have made net neutrality news stories easy to write. They have articulated why internet regulatory policy should matter to the public, how it affects creative and entrepreneurial endeavor, how it has fueled but could also hobble the kind of digital innovation that has shaped daily life for hundreds of millions of Americans. We haven’t enjoyed the same kind of coverage on the rise of “fake news,” a similarly complex story. “Fake news” is a digital-age phenomenon, a rhetorical device, a business story, a political scourge, a foreign policy threat, and more. It is as juicy a story as it is complex, and yet the mainstream media has failed to fully take it up — and, without help, the mainstream media never will fully take it up. (read more...)

Emilia Sanabria on Bodily Plasticity in Brazil

Each year, Platypus invites the recipients of the annual Forsythe Prize to reflect on their award-winning work. This week’s post is from 2017’s honorable mention Emilia Sanabria, for her book Plastic Bodies (Duke, 2016). In early November of last year, Judith Butler was attacked during her visit to Brazil. She was in Brazil as a member of the organizing committee of a conference on “The Ends of Democracy,” held in São Paulo. Her visit drew protests from the Catholic extreme-right who assumed she was in Brazil to speak about gender and undercut catholic family values by questioning the biological “facts” of sex. (read more...)

Can Sucro Futures Answer our Biotechnofix Dreams?

What would plastic containers, cosmetic fragrances, and paint thinners be made of if we stopped using petrochemicals? Some plant biologists and biotech companies are suggesting an answer: sugar. Amid calls for people to change the fossil-fuel consumption habits that drive climate change, replacing petroleum-based fuels with renewable ones frequently takes center-stage. However, we often overlook how petrochemicals—chemicals derived from petroleum, the mixture of hydrocarbons extracted from the ground as crude oil—pervade our everyday lives as an invisible ingredient in a vast array of ordinary materials and items, such as plastics, food preservatives, synthetic clothing, tires, and even toothpaste. (read more...)

Data Science Ethnography with Brittany Fiore-Gartland

In the second episode of the “Down to a Science” podcast, I talk to Brittany Fiore-Gartland about data and its contexts, and what that means for what data science does and could look like. Fiore-Gartland is director of data science ethnography at the eScience Institute and research scientist in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. This episode is intended to be a scaffold to help students and general audiences think about what data is and how science works. (Listen Now...)

Call for 2018 Contributing Editors!

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in learning more about the position, and will be in DC for the anthropology meetings, be sure to come to the CASTAC business meeting! It runs from 10:00 AM – 11:15 AM on Saturday the 2nd. I’ll be talking about the past year at blog, and would be happy to hang around afterwards and answer any questions folks may have about the contributing editor role.  Contributing Editors are responsible for curating 4-5 posts from scholars and researchers in the field each year, and frequently also contribute to the blog themselves. We are especially interested in contributors eager to continue our podcast series, Down to a Science, and assist the editor with compiling biweekly roundups of interesting and relevant content from around the web. This is a great opportunity to get involved in CASTAC, and in the anthropology of science and technology more generally. We are open to a wide range of topical interests at the intersection of anthropology and STS, especially those that complement our existing ones. Work on information technologies, human-animal relations, biosciences and healthcare, disability, gender, and sexuality are of particular interest. CEs must commit to 4-5 post slots at the beginning of the year. Their responsibilities include communication with guest authors, initial editorial supervision, and managing the production process. This is a one-year renewable term. (read more...)

What do Japanese Internet Trolls think of Trump?

It’s hard not to think about Trump in Japan without one eye cast warily on North Korea. After all, it was only about two months ago that North Korea sent a ballistic missile sailing over Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, prompting fears that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un might target the U.S.’s nearby ally. As wary as many Americans are of Trump’s using Twitter to relentlessly bait Kim Jong Un, the matter is perceived with greater reservation by many in Japan. Kim Jong Un’s volatility is by no means news in East Asia, and a common fear holds that the American folly of electing Trump could cost Japan more than it has the U.S. (read more...)

“Becoming Blind” in Virtual Reality

Can technology convey experiences that are not our own, ones we can at the most imagine experiencing from a first person perspective? Furthermore, can technology help us understand the multisensory and deeply emotional qualities of such experiences? Central to this post is the consideration of how the Virtual Reality (VR) documentary Notes on Blindness may enable us to experience a ‘world without images’. I explore these questions through touching upon the problem of individual experience contra the universal. Indeed, if there is no such thing as a “universal” experience of blindness (Cupitt 2017; Hull 1990; Sacks 2005), and if VR experiences are also highly individualized (Aardema et al 2010), is there still value to be found in the personal experience? In an auto-ethnographic description of my experience with Notes on Blindness, I will focus mostly on my bodily sensations, changing emotions and how I went about “looking for my legs” in a VR. (read more...)