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Ethics & Politics in Media & Arts Technology

Inter/sections 2017 Exhibition at the Art Pavilion, Mile End Park.

Wisp has been invited to present our work at Inter/sections, an international symposium focusing on the intersection of science, art and technology. We joined other researchers, artists and activists who were presenting a wide variety of projects that challenge assumptions about technology and its value in our society. With the emergence of new technologies we see the emphasis on collaborative practices being the solution for global challenges that society faces today. The symposiums provide a space to discuss the frameworks for such collaborations.

The role of artists and designers are to question existing beliefs and value systems, proposing to see things in a new light. The day-to-day role of a designer does not just focus on a problem and a solution, but everything in between from user-centered design approaches to initiating explorative research topics. Technologies allow to innovate and deviate from current norms and from what is possible, entering unknown territories and finding unique solutions to problems.

Inter/sections was a symposium that Wisp participated in debating the new ethical frameworks of emerging technologies. The event was organised by the PhD students of Media and Arts Technology of Queen Mary University in London. It was an open discussion reflecting on political upheavals of the past year, questioning the notion of privacy in a connected world, and how to be open in a commercialised digital space, and what it means to have ownership of intangible data.

The day kicked off with eight lightning talks — one of which was Wisp — in which academics, artists, and activists talked of their own interdisciplinary work challenging political and ethical questions to society. Each project presented makes use of new media or technology to deviate from the status quo of our relationships to ourselves, each other and the world around us.

Anna giving a talk about Wisp and how our idea/concept came into fruition.

Wisp was not the only project in the panel that used technology to recreate or enhance intimate experiences. Caroline Yan Zheng works on enhancing remote intimacy by adding elements of synthetic touch through silicon robotics for long distance communication to increase the feeling of affection when one’s significant other is not physically present. Wisp facilitates long distance communication as well, but the focus lies on the exploration of one’s own body or with a partner, recreating the relaxing and sensual atmosphere of intimate experiences. Inventing novel modes of interaction with each other as well as with robots raise questions on the social implications this might have. Rather than replacing real human connections with technology, ideas like Caroline's and Wisp's products are about enhancing and intensifying human to human interactions, leading to better, more affective interactions and relationships.

A lecture by Dr. Dan McQuillan at Inter/sections on politics and ethics of machine learning shed light on the very political form of computation and the way it is modifying policing, social services and human interactions that constitute our social fabric. Machine learning is and computer algorithms are shaping our world in profound and invisible ways. The algorithms are usually based on some sort of a pattern of life analysis. Intelligent machines are very good at abstracting human relationships, but they are not truly “intelligent." They replace subjective judgments with objective measures. Their analysis is amplified internally and reinforced back on us — the invisible hand of AI.

It is important to talk about politics and technology as much of our everyday interactions are being algorithm based, and understood by computers and machines. Not to say that this is something that should be feared, but it needs to be addressed. A peoples council for ethical machine learning will be necessary to regulate artificial intelligences.

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