dConstruct: Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area

by September 6, 2013

In his talk at dConstruct in Brighton UK 2013 Dan Williams talked about our software mediated world, it's consequences and our role in it as creators. Here's my notes from his talk Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area:

  • All the constituent parts of mobile phones are quite cheap and ending up in a myriad of electronics wrapped in plastic. This is a brute force approach to creating electronics. No use case or intent, just trying loads of combinations.
  • Alibaba sells many of these kinds of electronics including small cameras and cell phones.
  • When we write software we encode our biases within it.
  • These components are so cheap you can put them into things without understanding what they will be used for.
  • Mini-phones are banned in prisons. No one designed these for the prisoner persona of sneaking in phones. Unintended uses emerge.
  • Another example is digital APIs like Foursquare's location data that allow people to make applications Women nearby and Rob my House. The argument for these services is that use of them is optional.
  • But not all services are opt out. For example, SceneTap uses computer vision technology to recognize the faces of people in a bar and reports total number of people, percentage filled, male/female ratios and more. There is no opt out.
  • The CCTV filmmaker manifesto states you can go film anywhere there is CCTV and make requests for the CCTV footage through the public information act.
  • The Acure vending machine in Japan changes the menu based on your demographic, which it reads from a scan of you (camera). Manufacturers assume that these data points are accurate but in reality they are not.
  • People are increasingly becoming apathetic to the surveillance all over around us. We can actively protest it or covertly stand against.
  • The are make-up and hairstyles that allow you to be invisible to CCTV facial recognition systems. These are called CV dazzle patterns.
  • Critical engineering is the process of exposing how things work. So people are aware of the implications.
  • Things can be visible and yet not legible. If you don't know how to read the technology, you don't know what it is doing.
  • Creating a sense of wonder means masking how technology works. So it can entertain. This isn't right for every implementation.
  • Fro example: new recycling bins in London tracked passer-bys by sniffing Mac addresses on phones to broadcast advertising which follows you around. These got removed by the city of London.
  • Those who cannot see the technology are powerless. Its up to designers to make some of these implications visible.