Tuesday, October 16, 2018

First pre-launch book talk in Finland

I delivered my first pre-launch book talk on 'The global poor need less innovation: A critique of Silicon Valley’s human laboratories.' This is drawn from one of my chapters on innovation from below from the upcoming book with Harvard University Press 'The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West.' This was at the Faculty of Communication Sciences at the University of Tampere.

Here is the gist of the talk
The twenty-first century is the age of innovation. Technology pundits are working hard to make innovation serve the common good. Ryan Allis—the current chairperson of Connect and Hive in San Francisco and an angel investor in twenty-five companies, provides a startup guide to ease us into this new era. All we need to do is reimagine “everything,” says Allis. With just “a laptop, a smartphone, and the cloud,” we can access any service anytime—including, of course, education. In the last decade, much has been written on the long-awaited disruption of that archaic institution—the school. The educational system in low-income communities in developing countries is regarded as a market “failure.” Fortunately, the market “success” of new technology will step in and take its place. Smart technology will replace not-so-smart teachers. Educational technology entrepreneurs are busy making all-inclusive, self-contained schooling apps for the global poor. Self-help is the foundation of the innovation age. Centralized schooling should be discarded for personalized play-driven learning. Playlists take precedence over playgrounds. This gospel seeks to do away with the school, the teacher, the community. This talk will delve deeper into the contemporary ideologies and initiatives that drive technology innovation for the social good and brings to question whether what constitutes as innovation today serves the global poor.

The next day, I got to serve as an Opponent for a Phd Defense where an external scholar interrogates a Phd student in public for hours before nominating the dissertation for approval. Landed up being a fascinating process and dialogue between the candidate and myself. It is interesting how different these rituals are across contexts - I have so far participated in the Dutch, American, and Belgian context so this made for a whole new level of experience of Finnish defenses.

Overall great experience as usual in Finland. Always nice to go back there!


Friday, October 5, 2018

Speaking on panels at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference

Amsterdam Privacy conference kicks off this weekend. Am doing a number of presentations at this conference which makes this quite a hectic few days to come. To start with, I am presenting with my co-author René König on "Imagining the “diversity algorithm: Alternatives in ideological governance and their challenges." Basically, we bring together two discourses and fields of study that have rarely intersected – sociology of diversity and computing studies to arrive at new understandings of the challenges that we face in the embedding of ‘diversity’ as a value in the design of net-based technologies. Our paper maps tensions among different diversity-driven cultures alongside the challenges that come with operationalizing them through technological design. This demands a re-examining of what constitutes as exclusion and inclusion, what is boundary-making for fair representation, is visibility empowering, and other such critical questions.  The fact is that diversity is a rising concern, with the demand for re-examining boundaries of representation, perspectives and voices that shape society. Silicon Valley, for instance, is under fire for their homogenous programming teams inscribing their biases into the algorithms that influence our behaviour (Crawford 2016). Universities, boardrooms, and political parties are working at restructuring their organizational cultures and systems given their abysmal record on diversity (Ferreira 2015; Abbott, Green, and Keohane 2016). While this is a growing momentum, it is worth asking how this diversity movement will influence our digital infrastructures. Will the diversity-driven models lead to strengthening democracy? How do we situate meritocracy within these proposed digital configurations? As we play these specific imaginaries out, we present possible outcomes, begging the question of the kind of digital future that awaits with each of these ideological turns.

I also organized a panel on Data and the Global South alongside Linnet Taylor and her data justice team. Today, we see how a select number of Western-based technology companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have achieved the monopolization of entire publics. Under the banner of ‘connecting the unconnected’, corporate social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp justify their growing expansion in the Global South. While harvesting our attention for profit is the global template, technology companies’ control over Global South nations has a far more powerful impact as they rule these lands with few laws and regulations impeding them. At times, they collude with the state by adhering to and even strengthening their surveillance practices, possibly fostering an even more fragile civic liberty. This process is complicated with the rise of privacy and data protection laws in many countries in the Global South. This panel brings together scholars working on the rising datafication within diverse regions such as Asia, Africa and Latin America. We will jointly investigate how contemporary global configurations of digital technology impact social inequalities and possibly create new forms of discrimination as well as opportunities for data justice. We will touch upon privacy rights in the Global South, surveillance of data subjects, global digital economies of exploitation, extraction and extension, decolonial computing and colonization of internets, algorithms and discrimination and data justice and resistance.

Lastly, will be on a group privacy panel to explore how to take this discourse forward. My paper argues that popular contemporary approaches to the digital privacy culture of the global poor is at risk of falling along a long reproduced socio-political continuum. Specifically, three dominant templates make the round concerning privacy values of the global poor: privacy is a luxury for this disadvantaged group, they dont care about their privacy and that privacy to them is utility driven.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Delivered a keynote on Automating Culture


A few days ago, I delivered a keynote on ‘Automating culture: How Digital Platforms are Shaping the Art World’ for an international conference organized by Prof. Filip Vermeylen. For about a decade now, we both have been working on the democratization possibilities of the art world through the rise of social media and globalization through the new cultural commons project.

The talk was about how the art world has entered the platform economy. The art industry is being subjected to similar fears and possible opportunities of automation as other cultural industries such as the music, film and the publishing business. Hence, it asks some key questions: Can the traditional art intermediaries still compete in the platform economy as data mining companies enter the fray? Has the divide between the high and the popular culture collapsed as user behavior, platform design and engineering staff circulate between these worlds? Do customers no longer care about the aura of the art piece before buying it online? In other words,

...do algorithms rule today and are they making the art world more democratic?

With the rise of automation and platformization, the International Art Market Studies Association (TIAMSA) second international conference organized itself around the theme and key question of, “Art for the People? Questioning the Democratization of the Art Market.”

The call reflects some of the contemporary issues and debates taking place in the art world nowadays. The art world and the market have traditionally been the domain of the elites and have thrived on exclusivity. However, the art world has arguably become much more democratic in recent years thanks to the digital revolution, the inclusion of emerging economies in the world art market system, and the vastly improved access to art and information. The price histories of works of art can nowadays easily be reconstructed using online databases; the threshold for art buying is significantly lowered by online sales platforms; and new buyers in emerging economies are making the art market much less Western-oriented. Moreover, an ever broader range of artworks in different price categories has put (fine) art within reach of the middle classes across the globe. At the same time, art institutions such as museums are under tremendous pressure to be less exclusive. Some of these democratizing tendencies are of course not new. For instance, publishing houses in Europe started disseminating prints on a massive scale already in the sixteenth century, thereby enabling larger segments of the population to acquire images. Whether or not the internet and globalization are genuine game changers in the contemporary art world, we can assume that new platforms through which art is mediated – both offline and online – are reconstituting the manner in which art is being viewed, valorized, acquired and enjoyed. These developments could have far reaching implications.

TIAMSA’s second annual conference explored to what extent the art market was affected by comparable developments in the past, how it is embracing today’s democratic potential, and at what cost. Are digital innovations, from search engines and big data analytics to virtual auctions, transforming the long-existing modus operandi of the art world and the traditional structure of the art market? And if the art market is indeed living up to its democratic promise, is it also becoming less opaque and therefore more transparent?

This event was held in Vienna from Thursday 27 Sept –  Saturday 29 Sept 2018. It was the result of a joint collaboration of the Belvedere ResearchCenter, the Dorotheum and the Department of Art History at Vienna University. The conference presented a selection of papers approaching the theme from different, fascinating viewpoints, and combined it with two special events, namely a guided tour of Viennacontemporary, Austria’s international art fair, and a tour of the Belvedere Research Center. There was also a round table on the art market and the internet.