Showing posts with label big data. Show all posts
Showing posts with label big data. Show all posts

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Speaking on Digital Cultures at Collège des Bernardins in Paris


This international conference at the Collège des Bernardins was on the topic of "L’humain au défi du numérique". Basically, it focused on digital & cultural diversity. Following the work of Milad Doueihi, the Chair of the Collège des Bernardins on "The human being with the digital challenge", the study day "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" proposes to examine the digital experience in other regions of the world and the possibility of thinking differently, using different methodologies and categories of thought. Can we still study digital culture, or produce an audible discourse on it, without systematically discussing the issue of digitization, encoding, mapping, data and usage? The meeting of computer science with the human and social sciences seems to have tightened the perimeter of the latter. The suspicion that weighs since their origins on their scientificity and their social utility is thus based, at a time when public funding is always demanding more "results" applicable.

Faced with an institutional restructuring in progress, which imposes laboratories a hard model of scientificity, the colloquium "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" draws from diverse voices. What should a number of academic disciplines (anthropology, communication, etc.) and actors (artists, engineers), usually little understood, have to tell us about digital culture? How does the latter, for example, work our perception of ethnic groups? What relationships do we have with these "non-human" robots? What are the alternatives to western platforms, such as Google or Facebook, and what new culture do they create? Etc. The notion of "diversity" is thus to be understood in two ways: diversity of approaches to studying digital culture; Diversity of its "inhabitants", which deserve our attention.

To respond to this program, the colloquium "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" of the Collège des Bernardins brought together international actors whose work focuses on several issues (activism, robotics, standardization of Internet standards, etc.) and Other parts of the world, such as Asia, the Middle East or India.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Keynote Talk at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland

I will be giving a Keynote talk at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland on November 30th 2016 on the topic “Databased democracies in the Global South.” This is a development studies symposium to explore contemporary themes and approaches in development studies with the advent of big data. The symposium is intended to draw scholars doing cutting-edge work on the intersection of digitized databases and democracy in the Global South. This is vital in the field of development studies today (and in the social sciences more generally), but which has not received much attention.
So, in a nutshell, my talk is about how democracy is being shaped today in emerging economies through digital media. Here is an abstract of my talk:
Democracy is an aspiration and a continuous struggle, particularly in post-colonial contexts. The instrument of datafication, the documentation of social life, has been used for the longest time to control subjects during the colonial days. Today, these instruments in the form of big data, algorithmic infrastructures, and social bots, promise empowerment. It gives us an alternative vision in how we can use data to improve the well-being of the vast poor in such emerging economies through the expansion of socio-political participation and citizenship. This talk will grapple with the trade-offs that ensue as the global South enters the digital age. Here, identity, locality, and value gain new meanings in this digitization of information.
For more information about the event, click here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

New paper out on big data and the global South

My paper, "Bottom of the Data Pyramid, Big data and the Global South" has been published in the International Journal of Communication, an open access journal. This work is a build-up from the blog that I wrote earlier on regarding this topic for  Discover Society as well as a couple of keynotes I gave in 2015 at the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference in Berkeley and IS4IS Summit in Vienna. 

Basically, this paper argues that so far, little attention has been given to the impact of big data in the Global South, about 60% of whose residents are below the poverty line. Big data manifests in novel and unprecedented ways in these neglected contexts. For instance, India has created biometric national identities for her 1.2 billion people, linking them to welfare schemes, and social entrepreneurial initiatives like the Ushahidi project that leveraged crowdsourcing to provide real-time crisis maps for humanitarian relief. While these projects are indeed inspirational, this article argues that in the context of the Global South there is a bias in the framing of big data as an instrument of empowerment. Here, the poor, or the “bottom of the pyramid” populace are the new consumer base, agents of social change instead of passive beneficiaries. This neoliberal outlook of big data facilitating inclusive capitalism for the common good sidelines critical perspectives urgently needed if we are to channel big data as a positive social force in emerging economies. This article proposes to assess these new technological developments through the lens of databased democracies, databased identities, and databased geographies to make evident normative assumptions and perspectives in this under-examined context.

Hope you enjoy the article.



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

LSEImpactBlog out on Facebook as the Internet and the digital romance economy

Check out my blog on the London School of Economics Impact Blog regarding Facebook and the Digital Romance Economy.

Brief overview...

Through the controversial internet.org initiative, Facebook now serves as The Internet to the majority of the world’s marginalized demographic. The Politics of Data series continues with Payal Arora discussing the role of Facebook and internet regulation in the global South. While the West have had privacy laws in place since the 1970s, the emerging markets are only now seriously grappling with this. This piece explores some of the unfolding areas of vulnerability in the digital romance economy.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

New article out on big data and the global south

Last year, I initiated the Privacy and the global South Project with fieldwork on digital privacy in the favelas of Brazil, townships of South Africa and the slums of India. Its been an exciting year and while at it, big data is one of those topics that dominate this discussion. So, wrote a thought piece on this for Discover Society which just came out. Check it out if you are interested in how conversations on surveillance, privacy, big data and trust transfer to this much neglected setting and populace. 
Big data and the global south project


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Big data and the Politics of Participation: Plenary Talk at the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference, Berkeley

It was a wonderful experience to serve as a Plenary Speaker for the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference held this time at the University of Berkeley, California. The theme was 'Big Data and the Politics of Participation in a Digital Age.' Since the other plenary speaker Deirdre K. Mulligan from Berkeley's School of Information was talking primarily on the legality of big data and how diverse corporations interpret compliance in the United States and Europe, it was nice to contrast this with perspectives from the global South. After all, most of the conversation around big data seems to be hijacked by Western concerns, issues and contexts.

My talk, 'Bottom of the Data Pyramid: Big data perspectives from the global South' played with the much hyped Development idea on the bop as a new consumer base, inverting decades of viewing the poor in the global South as passive beneficiaries to now active co-creators of their own data.What do we know after all of the impact of big data on most of the world's population, about 60% of them being below the poverty line and residing primarily in emerging economies?

With India's newly launched and much celebrated scheme to create biometric identities for its 1.2 billion people, Brazil's problematic partnership with Phorm, a British spyware company that uses big data to track all navigation activities of Brazilian users to Africa's social entrepreneurial sites such as Ushahidi, designed to turn data from different channels into real-time crisis maps that can assist humanitarian relief efforts, there was much to discuss! Going into such cases was the building blocks of my talk, pushing what constitutes as data identities, data democracies and whether the global South is experiencing such a thing as a data commons?

 Look out for my article on this soon. will keep you posted!

Monday, July 1, 2013

General Electric Panel on Cutting through the hype (Helsinki WCSJ 2013)

General Electric Panel Helsinki Finland June 26 2013 (WCSJ)


Just got back from Helsinki after speaking on the GE sponsored panel on energy at the World Conference of Science Journalists 2013 (click here for the live video recording of our panel talk). And yes, before you even go there, it is true that I'm not an expert on energy. In fact, ask me a question on wind turbines or solar energy or whether or not fracking is good or bad for the environment, and I would just advise you to Google these issues instead. So where do I fit in on a panel with Haydn Rees, the managing director of Clarke Energy or Rhys Owen, Deputy Editor of Global Water Intelligence or Tom Freyberg, the Chief Editor of WWi Magazine?

Simply put, there is no escaping the conversation of social media infiltration into all corporate spheres, including that of the energy world. In a forum such as this where science journalists are confronted time and again with the hype on citizen scientists and amateur journalism as somehow more authentic, there is need to talk about the impact of Web 2.0 on communicating science to the public. Today, science journalists are expected to be more flexible in their expertise, be able to move seamlessly through multimedia platforms and transform their language constantly to suit the needs of the diverse audience out there in the Twitterverse to the Blogosphere.


There is concern about reductionism and popularization of science and the compromise of the integrity of the science journalist as s/he views this as selling out to mass appeal. But as we see this play out, it is hardly a choice of amateur versus the expert but rather we need to view this new communicative landscape in its spectrum of pitfalls and opportunities. For instance, at the conference there was much talk about data checking departments being shut down due to budget cuts and the genuine concern by journalists on making sure their reports were cross-checked for errors and misinformation. Here, crowdsourcing can come in handy where citizens volunteer to do that for experts and lend to the vigor of the article rather than diminish it. (This is not to advocate for it replacing professional data checking but given the financial crisis within the field of journalism, this provides some solace to journalists looking to maintain their quality of reporting).

Also, when citizens take an interest in science through participation, this also increases the audience for science journalists. When there is personal involvement in the making of science news, this is bound to generate an interest in consuming such news. Also, science journalists need to view these amateurs as possible mavens, disseminating critical science through the numerous channels of mass media, framing it in numerous ways beyond that which is institutionally endorsed by the state and corporate entities. While by no means am I an uncritical enthusiast for the much talked about wisdom of the crowds and collective intelligence phenomena, I do see the potential in amateur involvement. What would be worse is public indifference to science where decisions are made through primarily emotion and not understanding of the ramifications of science in our daily lives.
What struck me was how much in common the art market has with the world of science. Currently, one of my research projects entails gauging the impact of social media on the traditional gatekeepers of the art world such as museums, galleries and art critics. Much like science journalists, art experts are far from redundant in this information deluge. Experts are very much entrenched to guide audiences through this maze of data online but what has changed is the nature of expertise in their communicating and networking abilities that requires re-addressing. Basically, the role of the science journalist as the primary interface in the golden triangle of the scientist, state and the industry is over. Today, there are multiple intermediaries due to the affordances of new media and the changing appetite of the public for more accessible science. There have been a number of studies that demonstrate that the public accesses their science and technology information primarily through the medium of entertainment such as the television (NSB 2008; Pew Research Center on People and the Press 2008). Social media platforms come second as a source for investigating more on specific science issues such as climate change.

Of course, this comes with a whole host of problems including the promotion of pseudoscience and the hijacking of the Google algorithm by concerted parties. That said, if we are to Google water and nuclear energy debates, what we get are a range of results that are not all corporate-oriented. For instance, the search results for water debates are biased toward conversations around water conservation in Australia and New Zealand while the nuclear energy debates seem to be driven by a non profit 'Do Something. Org.' In other words, it isn't necessarily the commercialization of algorithms that has pervaded as internet pessimists have predicted but rather a cat and mouse game between corporate, non-profit and other special interest groups that fight to dictate the search for science issues, shaping how the public constructs and processes them as fact.




Contrary to popular belief, this emphasis on public engagement cannot be credited solely to social media. In fact, if we are to look at public policy on science dissemination, well in the 1980s, from the UK to the Netherlands, there was a concerted effort to make science public and promote what is called as 'deliberative democracy.' In 1985, the Royal Society in London issued a report on The Public Understanding of Science, where it was the moral responsibility of the state to make transparent its expenditure by explaining science investments in layman terms and connect it to the everyday life of citizens. Or take for instance the Broad Societal Debate around Energy Policy (BMD) in the Netherlands in the early 1980s. The Dutch Parliament was instrumental in organizing broad societal debates pre-Facebook era on a range of science agendas including cloning, GM-food and xeno-transplantation.

This historical rootedness can be found even in the hype around big data. There is an overwhelming feeling that science journalism has been overtaken by the algorithmic mastermind that swerves conversation and factoids in the digital landscape of reporting. While undoubtedly the scale at which data is collated is unprecedented, it is hardly new. Citizens have been contributing information about their lifestyles, preferences and opinions through conventional media and the state and corporate entities have been gathering them in strategic ways to market and personalize articles of interest and frame science agendas that makes it more palatable to the public. Granted, big data is more sweeping and thereby gives us the impression of being more representative of the public. However, it is still the amassing of data from those within the system which leaves a large percentage of the global public that are undocumented and outside the radar to not be considered. Last but not the least, the role of science journalists is to convert this data into a narrative, to guide conversations on energy debates through their story telling. They need to use big data as a starting point of critique and analysis rather than factoids that create a grand narrative of critical science that pertains to our daily lives.