Tag: big data

‘Dynamic Totalities’: Data Surveillance as a Paradigm

In the zeitgeist of academia, surveillance has clearly an ominous connotation. However, is surveillance not fundamentally a way of looking? More formally, a way of looking at totalities. Whatever is studied, observed, or measured is part of a definitive totality. A virus is part of a sample. Families are part of a community. Workers are part of the factory. A scientist is part of a laboratory. One reason we are cautious about speaking of totalities is because we are scared of being reductive. But what if we could dynamically measure parameters defining the totalities which concern us. What if we could define our totalities at will and observe phenomena within its boundaries, track phenomena flowing out of it, or ingressing it? If this sounds like an uncanny  ‘intelligent’ camera or rather a poetic job re-description of the individual in the CCTV room, then it is meant to be so. Data surveillance can offer perhaps a fresh paradigm for observation and analysis irrespective of the actual use of computers that enable it. (read more...)

Innocent images? The ethics of sharing your children’s photos online

There are collections of embarrassing childhood photos stashed in most parents’ homes. Everyone remembers an instance when those photos unexpectedly appeared in ways that were awkward or humiliating, such as in a graduation slideshow or the stereotyped first-date-meets-the-parents scenario. For previous generations, those images were hard-copy, faded, dog-eared, and easy to hide under your bed. They also came in limited supply, due to the costs of cameras, film, and film processing. For today’s children (and parents), things are different. We create more images thanks to the cameras on mobile phones, share them more widely through the internet, and have no idea how to destroy them. In this evolving sociotechnical reality, what should parents do? Should we succumb to the social pressure to share online photos of our children’s most adorable and incriminating moments, thereby “sharenting”? (And even make money from it, as social media influencers?) Or should we respect our children’s right to privacy and control over images of themselves? (read more...)

Critiquing Big Data in China and Beyond

“I do think that the Internet truly makes us feel the world can become a smaller place,” an interlocutor, whom I will call Bo, told me in his parents’ home in Shijiazhuang, a city in China’s Hebei Province. It was late 2014, and he was studying to become a filmmaker in Beijing. During our conversation, he told me about discovering Google Earth when he was younger, recalling how, suddenly, he could “see any place in the world” from the comfort of his home. He could zoom in to explore a mountain village in Iceland, a house, and even a village dog, feeling that, without Google Earth, he would never have been able to visit such faraway places. The experience might have been virtual (xuni), he mused, but it had also been real (zhenshi). His account expressed a kind of enthusiasm for the digital that I often encountered during my ethnographic fieldwork on digital opportunity in China. However, his story was made especially compelling by the oppressive smog plaguing the city outside. While neighboring buildings disappeared in a toxic fog, he expressed his excitement about “seeing” a digitally mediated “Google Earth.” (read more...)

Killer Robots: Algorithmic Warfare and Techno-Ethics

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth post in our Law in Computation series. War is an experiment in catastrophe; yet, policymakers today believe chance can be tamed and ‘ethical war’ waged by simply increasing battlefield technology, systematically removing human error/bias. How does an increasingly artificially intelligent battlefield reshape our capacity to think ethically in warfare (Schwartz, 2016)? Traditional ethics of war bases the justness of how one fights in war on the two principles of jus in bello (justice in fighting war) ethics: discrimination and proportionality, weighted against military necessity. Although how these categories apply in various wars has always been contested, the core assumption is that these categories are designed to be an ethics of practical judgment (see Brown, 2010) for decision-makers to weigh potentially grave consequences of civilian casualties against overall war aims. However, the algorithmic construction of terrorists has radically shifted the idea of who qualifies as a combatant in warfare. What then are the ethical implications for researchers and practitioners for a computational ethics of war? (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...)

The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction: A Conversation with Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Walter Benjamin’s well-known piece the “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” has long been a canonical essay on the role art plays in the age of automation. Benjamin saw art both as fueled and altered by mechanization. In a conversation with artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, a partial transcript of which follows below, the role of art in the age of digital reproduction, to paraphrase Benjamin, emerged as a critical theme. Heather’s work, which spans over a decade, is a complex meditation on the contemporary experience of widening digitization. Her work Stranger Visions is perhaps the best known: a project where she reconstructs faces from DNA left on refuse she’s found on the street – a chewed up piece of gum, a stray piece of hair, a lip stain on a glass – into voluptuous, three dimensional portraits. During our conversation, we talked about the creative and the intellectual (read more...)

Data for Discrimination

In early November 2016, ProPublica broke the story that Facebook’s advertising system could be used to exclude segments of its users from seeing specific ads. Advertisers could “microtarget” ad audiences based on almost 50,000 different labels that Facebook places on site users. These categories include labels connected to “Ethnic Affinities” as well as user interests and backgrounds. Facebook’s categorization of its users is based on the significant (to say the least) amount of data it collects and then allows marketers and advertisers to use. The capability of the ad system evoked a question about possible discriminatory advertising practices. Of particular concern in ProPublica’s investigation was the ability of advertisers to exclude potential ad viewers by race, gender, or other identifier, as directly prohibited by US federal anti-discrimination laws like the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. States also have laws prohibiting specific kinds of discrimination based on the audience for advertisements. (read more...)

Is Data Singular or Plural?

“Is Data Singular or Plural?” I googled as I sat down to write this post. In my dissertation on the Quantified Self movement and the types of subjects produced by the collection of personal data, I had all but taken for granted that the word ‘data’ has become a singular noun. “Data is” announce countless articles and industry conference sessions putting forth definitions of personal data as a shadow or footprint, digital double or virtual copy. My advisor patiently suggested that I check my grammar. Turns out my mistake, at least, was not singular. Derived from the Latin dare, meaning “the givens,” grammar and history instruct us that ‘data’ is the plural form of the singular ‘datum.’ Alexander Galloway has helpfully noted that the word’s original plural sense can still be read in the French translation of data as “les données.” In recent years, however, the proper usage of the word has become a topic of some debate as data has been increasingly employed as a singular noun. What can this shift towards the singularity of data tell us of the operation of personal data in popular thought? (read more...)