Richard Grusin, Professor of English and Director of the Center for 21st Century Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
The Myth of Autonomy: Datamediation and Citizenfour
I have coined the term “datamediation” to denote how data is mediated through digital technologies and functions itself as a form of mediation. My concern with datamediation, which builds upon a quarter century of work on remediation, premediation, and radical mediation, represents an attempt to think through how the entity called “data” operates in almost every aspect of human and nonhuman life (and nonlife) in the 21st century. In thinking about datamediation I want to try to shift the focus of critical discussion away from data as an autonomous object or entity preexisting in the world, which can be surveilled, commodified, tracked, or mined, and towards questions of how “data” serves to name and hold together a complex sociotechnical assemblage of formal and informal state and corporate agents and practices. My lecture will begin by sketching out some implications of the concept of “datamediation,” which has a much broader scope than I will be able to address in this talk. I then take up Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning 2014 documentary Citizenfour, to consider the film’s critique of networked autonomy through its cinematic mediation of the affectivity of data surveillance and exposure. Poitras filmed much of the documentary during the process of Edward Snowden’s contact with her and Glenn Greenwald, in Snowden’s room in the Hong Kong Mira Hotel, during their facilitation of the release of Snowden’s NSA leaks to the media public. Among the questions that Citizenfour asks is one I will focus on in this talk: “What does it feel like to know that your data is under surveillance?”
Danielle Drozdzewski, PhD, Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University
Examining a Politics of Polish Memory through Digital Lenses?
While memory research necessitates us to think of, with, and to the past, the digital has forced a step change. Thinking through and with the digital, this paper examines the historical and contemporary geopolitics of Polish memory and its refraction through the digital world with reference to Dzień Niepodległości, November 11. On this date, Polish cultural memory is operationalized, with political purpose. Integral to its mobilization are multiple digital resources. On that date in 2018, I examined the use of screens, sounds, images, voices, and participants of Dzień Niepodległości; the digital record(s) of “us” being there, now have an inestimable legacy. I discuss the intertwining of memory’s material and digital presence, considers relationships, possible tensions and challenges of digital memorialization, and their influence on a politics of memory.
Jonas Stier, Professor of Sociology, Mälardalen University and Professor of Intercultural Studies, Dalarna University
New Technologies: Old Blind Spots and Future Consequences
It is commonly assumed that digital technology will have profound and long-term effects on human interaction. However, discussions on such effects often disregard inherent social and cultural biases on domains such as the design of technology and discourse on digitalization, innovation and technology development. Similarly, technology is often depicted as “objective” and void of cultural contents and underpinnings. This said this presentation sheds light upon a number of cultural and social blind spots in these domains: e.g., normativism, heterocentrism, deeply embedded values, ethnocentrism, and technocentrism. These blind spots are discussed with a particular emphasis on micro level effects on social interaction in general, and on intercultural interaction in particular. Examples used stem from preschools, schools, higher education, impact driven research, and innovation-oriented quadruple helix collaboration. The presentation also identifies a set of possible considerations to be made in the discussion and design of new technology.
Natasha Webster, PhD, Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University
Delivering Integration from the Kitchen? Digital Working Life and the Growing Nordic Gig Economy
Digital technology has rapidly given way to the emergence of the gig economy as a major global phenomenon. As new services flourish in cities, the intersection between digital platforms and work and leisure is embedded into everyday life. This study looks into new strategies used by immigrants, particularly women, seeking quick and flexible solutions for their livelihood needs. Through ethnographic fieldwork, this empirical study examines new female immigrants’ daily working experiences with an award-winning food app in Sweden linking home-based chefs to public consumers through online ordering systems. The study highlights the ways in which digital working life both mirror and amplify structural inequalities. The findings interrogate the particular conundrums of integrating gig workers into the labor market in a Nordic welfare context while drawing attention to the centrality of social interactions behind digital platforms.
Peter-Paul Verbeek, Professor of Philosophy of Technology, University of Twente
Mediated Autonomy: Freedom, Equality, and Solidarity in a Digital Society
Digital technologies are changing society in such profound ways that some speak of a “Fourth Revolution.” After mechanization, mass production, and automation, we are now entering an age of digitalization, in which information technology becomes material and gets interwoven with virtually all aspects of our daily lives. This profound new influence of digital technology raises concerns about human autonomy. The current explosion of ethical codes regarding artificial intelligence testifies to this. Virtually all of these codes focus on issues like explainability, transparency, and accountability, which are all necessary conditions for human autonomy. At the same time, these codes typically embody the ambition to make possible a European, ethical form of AI, as a “third way” between the capitalistic model of the USA and the centralistic model of China. In my lecture, I will explore the relations between technology and autonomy. I will develop a notion of mediated autonomy, in which technologies help to shape the conditions for and the meaning of autonomy. From the perspective of technological mediation, the new powers of digital technology should not be seen in opposition to the human being, but rather as mediators of the ways in which we live our lives and understand the world, including the value frameworks from which we do ethics. This will also shed a new light on the ambition to develop digital technologies on the basis of European values.
Stanley Greenstein, PhD, Department of Law, Stockholm University
Humanity in the Digital Age: A Legal Perspective
Modern digital technologies are exposing our humanity. As the digital environment evolves it is increasingly becoming the sphere of choice for human interaction. However, the technical nature of this environment is such that it allows for the covert surveillance of individuals as they go about their business. Based on applied statistics, mathematics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, the technology uses algorithms to analyze big data and identify patterns invisible to humans. This knowledge, together with insights from multiple academic disciplines, is then incorporated into computer models, and used not only to identify and predict human activity, but also manipulate human behavior. The technology is a powerful tool used by companies and public authorities to identify risks and opportunities. But its use can result in harms to the individual, especially in relation to personal autonomy. For all the advantages associated with this technology, there are risks and it is one of the functions of the law to minimize risk. Is there a way to empower humanity in the face of this powerful technology?
Mona Blåsjö, Professor of Swedish Language and Multilingualism, Stockholm University
Where did my Privacy and my Documents go? Autonomy and Agency of Social Practices in the Digital Workplace
Most people spend a great deal of their time at work, often using different digital tools. In a three-year ethnographic research project, Professional Communication and Digital Media, we have conducted empirical analyses of actual practices of professionals using and speaking about digital media in everyday work life. The results show that the privacy of the professionals is threatened, e.g., by shared digital calendars, and that digital tools both afford and constrain the opportunity to share and access textual information. The presentation will include empirical examples of how professionals handle these circumstances, in analyses focusing on the concept of agency.
Jonas Andersson Schwarz, Associate Professor of Media and Communication Studies, Södertörn University
Blended Systems: Heteromation, Platforms, and a “Phenomenology of Infrastructure”
Interactive digital environments can make it appear as if designed artefacts are either more human (e.g., bots) or more automatic (e.g., trends, algorithmic decisions) than what they actually are. Science and technology studies teach us that in sociotechnical systems, translation and analysis are always needed, and that context is paramount. AI systems are never fully autonomous; they are always embedded in sociomaterial structures, and are often considerably more narrow applications of human ingenuity than what science fiction (e.g., HAL) would have us believe. Hence, this paper will explore what Lisa Parks calls a “phenomenology of infrastructure,” as applied to machine learning-assisted systems, and the digital platform arrangements that these systems are often part of. Most importantly, I will stress the administrative and governing nature of such systems, as has been argued by a range of scholars (Robyn Caplan, danah boyd, Hamid Ekbia, Bonnie Nardi, Jon Agar, David Runciman, James C. Scott, Evgeny Morozov, Andrew Feenberg). Historically, AI systems have been produced through organizational decision making and state power; systems that process large quantities of information using a hierarchy of pre-set but adaptable rules. We thus have to consider also this formalizing, standardizing – in short, patterning – aspect of digital platforms. Media scholar Erich Hörl has recently called it a pre-emption of choice opportunities; perhaps it is not as much that datafication creates patterned indexes of the world, or that patterns can be inferred out of ”big data,” but primarily how digital infrastructures pattern their users.