Tag: technology

Negotiating Ethical Technology Use: Trust and Care in End-of-Life Conversations

  The headline on the local news station’s website was sensational: “Bereaved Family Upset Kaiser Used Robot to Tell Father He Would Die”. Evoking some sort of post-modern dystopia, the article explains that the family “was taken by surprise when a robot rolled into the room” to deliver the news that an elder family member’s illness had progressed past the physician’s ability to treat it. While the robot actually was a remote physician using teleconferencing software to communicate with the patient and his family, the monitor projecting an image of the physician’s head and shoulders sat atop a tall, narrow metal unit reminiscent of a body. The “robot doctor” story was picked up by national news outlets, like the New York Times, and medical ethicists weighed in on the ethics of communicating “sensitive” topics remotely. The news stories problematized the impersonal, almost routinized, care as it was perceived by the family. In one, a representative from the American Medical Association commented, “We should all remember the power of touch – simple human contact – can communicate caring better than words.” (read more...)

Choreographies of Magic and Mess: AusSTS in Melbourne and Darwin

As the presenter encouraged the academics in the room to consider what it means for nanotechnology to sell itself as ‘magic’, boots appeared outside the window behind him. The presenter was Dr. Declan Kuch from the University of NSW and the occasion was the AusSTS Graduate Workshop, which was held on the 12th floor of Deakin Downtown in Melbourne. The provocation Dr. Kuch presented: ‘who performs the magic and for whom?’, was illuminated by the real time, situated magical performance unfolding behind him, as four high-rise window washers descended, each swiping and cleaning in hypnotic choreography. They wore orange helmets and gloves to keep warm, blue buckets clipped to their belts and bandanas protecting their faces from the water, or perhaps from us, as we smiled and pointed and ogled at their daring feats. It was an STS moment: the physicality of the window washers; the labour/danger dynamic; talk of magic and nanotechnology—science and humanities colliding in a discomforting dance. (read more...)

Our Governor Resigned via Facebook: #RickyRenuncia, Puerto Rico’s Summer of Protest

Disponible en español aquí. On July 13th, the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (Center for Investigative Journalism) leaked 889 pages of a Telegram App chat between the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló and eleven cabinet members and aides. The 889 pages were full of misogynist, homophobic, and classist comments about political figures, journalists, artists like Ricky Martin, and average citizens. They mocked the victims of hurricane María, which left 4,645 dead, saying “don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows?” Memes citing the most egregious statements quickly began circulating through social media alongside early calls for the governor to resign. But beyond such insulting statements, the chat revealed complex corruption schemes and provided evidence of persecution of the governor’s political opponents. (read more...)

Precarity, Exclusion, and Contract Work in the Tech Industry

At the satellite office of a Fortune 500 company, employees buzz around the main floor of the building. At first glance, they all seem similar. Dressed in business casual – jeans and a dress shirt— people wait in line for coffee at the coffee cart, stop and chat with coworkers, or zip past one another on the way to meetings. However, if you look at their badges, hanging from lanyards on their necks or trousers, a pattern appears. Some have dark green badges, while others have bright red ones. Those with the bright red badges, standing out in the crowd, are the contract workers. A 2018 NPR/Marista Poll reports that in the United States about 1 in 5 workers are employed under contract, and that number will only grow in the next decade. This number is especially high in the tech industry. In 2018, both Fortune and CNBC reported that (read more...)

Dumbwaiters and Smartphones: The Responsibility of Intelligence

“I don’t have to drink alone,” she paused for comedic effect, “now that I have Alexa.” Thus was the punchline of a story told by a widowed octogenarian at a recent wedding. Alexa is a mass-produced personality that can play music, suggest items for purchase, monitor consumption and health habits, or, like any good friend, just listen. While all these tasks could be performed in silence with various algorithmic appliances, Alexa and her cousins from Google and Apple are imbued with a perceived autonomy directly stemming from their capacity for vocalization. Speech, it seems, beckons the liberation of abiotic materials from their machinic programming. (read more...)

Out-of-Body Workspaces: Andy Serkis and Motion Capture Technologies

Over the last two decades, the entertainment industry has experienced a turn to what Lucy Suchman termed virtualization technologies in film and videogame production (Suchman 2016). In addition, production studies scholars have described authorship as linked to control and ownership, sharpening distinctions between “creative” and “technical” work, a divide with significant economic repercussions (Caldwell 2008).  These ideas are useful in understanding film studio workspaces, where visual effects (VFX) workers and actors collaborate in creating believable virtual characters, using three-dimensional (3D) modeling software and motion-capture (mo-cap) systems to capture the attributes and movements of human bodies and transfer them to digital models.  Once captured, digital performances become data, to be manipulated and merged seamlessly with those of live actors and environments in the final film. The introduction of virtualization technologies and computer graphics tools have surfaced tensions over creative control, authorship, and labor. British actor Andy Serkis has been a high-profile apologist for the human actor’s central role in bringing virtual characters to life for film.  Serkis, who Rolling Stone called “the king of post-human acting,” is known for using motion capture (mo-cap) to breathe life into digitally-created, non-human characters. His notable performances include the creature Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), the ape Cesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), as well as  Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and work on several characters in the 2018 Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, which he also directed. While Serkis’ performances have made him highly visible to audiences, digital labor historians have begun documenting the often-invisible film workers creating 3D models and VFX (Curtin and Sanson, 2017). The tensions between mo-cap performers and VFX workers reveal the contours of an emerging hybrid workspace that combines actors’ physical bodies and movements with VFX workers’ manipulations of digital geometry and data. (read more...)

Writing disability

When writing inequalities, the language we use and our writings betray the power dynamics and the unequal relations that stem from the world we as researchers come from. This post explores how these inequalities play out in the worlds we embed ourselves in as outsider researchers and are apparent in what we write through a reflection on my own research with dDeaf  television producers and actors in Sweden. (read more...)

‘Inclusive WASH’ – Contested assumptions about bodies and personhood in a Ugandan refugee settlement

As I skimmed through the first pages of the shiny brochure of the ‘Inclusive WASH’ project, I suddenly recognized some of the people that the leaflet depicted in its photograph-filled spread: Odongo, a Sudanese man with paralyzed legs who pumped water from a borehole; Claire, a Congolese woman with one arm and one leg who poured water into a basin with the help of an iron scaffold that held a jerry can, a plastic container for storing and transporting water; and Vitali, an elderly Burundian man with legs withered by polio, who was shown receiving instructions on how to use the iron scaffold with the jerry can. The ‘Inclusive WASH’ project was implemented by an international aid organization with the aim to enhance access to water, and to improve sanitation and hygiene for people with disabilities through inclusive technology design. As the project officially came to an end only shortly (read more...)