CHI 4 Evil

As a dyslexic, I find it difficult to get some of my non standard ideas understood, let alone accepted. This can be very frustrating to use an understated term. Once such idea was one I voiced in the Chi workshop CHI for evil. I feel it flew like a pigeon with a brick tied around it’s leg.

The workshop was again about the evil’s of technology. You can hear the sound of my eye rolling but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking. Sure there is a lot of evil technology out there. After all people have got entire workshops and conferences out there on Blackmirror. So all technology is evil and somehow tolerable.

One thing which got me was one of the workshop organisers Michael Skirpan declared himself to be critical of the blue sky utopian thinking you get with those ‘Silicon Valley types’. Yeah, I’ve seen presentations at Apple/Google IO/Microsoft Build to get the stereotype. If you don’t believe me watch the video of people introducing the new possibilities of Hololens two or the list of features for Google’s IO. To miss quote him ( I wasn’t recording his exact words ). Peter said something like
“One of the problems of these technology people is that they see technology as the solution to all the worlds problems.”
Michael was right, sort of. I’m sure if you said “Do you see technology as a solution to all the world’s problems?” To a Silicon Valley Utopianist. You would get some kind of slightly less affirmative, nuanced response which would mostly be a large amount of post-hoc retrospective self rationalisation. Which is fine in my book. As a dyslexic you don’t get a carrier path, the system isn’t set up that way. So my job is largely a mixture of opportunity and chance taking so I’m not going to demand that someone else has a totally rational approach to their life choices either.

So Michael is sitting there decrying people who think the thing they are building is fantastic and wonderful as somehow naive. I know this due to the existence of the workshop. I get the impression that Peter thinks they are in need of some external viewpoints/critique. Again Peter wasn’t much up for discussion in the pub afterwards, preferring to discuss bucket-list tours of Scotland and Game of Thrones ( plus his fabulous augmented theatre show which sounded fab). So I’m not 100% clear on his views and I’m sure I’ve miss represented them. I’m using Michael as an archetype of people who critique the impact of technology. Which is fine. My entire degree was Engineering Design and Appropriate Technology in the 1980s which was about 50% critiquing where technology was ‘taking us’ so this is partly the pot calling the kettle black. But this is an old pot so let’s go.

My problem is we think technologists are nieve unicorn thinkers because they can’t imagine the down sides of their devices. This is the implicit stance of people watching Black Mirror episodes after all. As part of Northumbria’s new Masters in HCI and AI we are going to have a whole module called ‘Technology and Society’. The purpose of which is to ‘raise the consciousness’ of our poor technology dominated students about the impact of technology on society (it’s a requirement apparently).

What I tried to articulate in the meeting was if technologists are the only nieve unicorn thinkers?
My example was rather controversially enough education. I’ve met many people in my profession is who think that education is a universal good. Education makes us better people they, if not say, then strongly imply. They way they are unreflective on this matches any silicon valley technologist. Education they believe is a universal good. There are only upsides and no downsides. More Education better. You can never have too much. The outcome of all education is good. So why don’t we get an episode of Black Mirror which has the consequences of some kind of teaching goes horribly wrong?

I guess my irritation is, why is technology the only conference where we get people having a ‘Chi4Evil’. Why is technology the only place where we appear to get people critiquing the product? It seems ridiculous if I tried to start a workshop on the ‘downsides and social disasters of teaching’ at a big education conference I would get little space. Yet Educators are as upbeat and lack nuance and a vision of the downsides of their activities as The most excessive silicon valley educators. Does a Masters course in Education have a 30 credit module you must pass on ‘Eduction and Society’ to warn us of the evils of miss apply eduction in the wrong place? No.

I’m picking Educators because they can’t see any downsides to education more than Mark Zuckerberg can see downsides to Instagram. If there was some damage caused by education would educationalists be any faster to acknowledge their errors and do something about it than Facebook has? What about psychologists? After all huge amount of Psychology is used in advertising are we really saying this is all benign? I could pick any area Economics, Politics the Arts. I’m not saying that comprehending the downsides of technology is bad it’s just that we single out technology for being deserving of ‘deeper’ analysis than other subjects which are of equal ignorance.

I guess my question is why do we pick on Technology to critique? Why do we stand in pubs and parties and feel OK about problematising technology and yet refrain from other things? Yes as a dyslexic I’m going to put English Academics in their too. They should be-reforming the rules of spelling and making it simpler for people to be able to write. They should be doing research on the stigmatising of low literacy writers.

So yeah English for Evil at the next big Educators conference anyone?

Need some evidence on the evils of education?  Check this out.

[ From https://www.niemanlab.org/2019/05/fact-checking-cant-do-much-when-peoples-dueling-facts-are-driven-by-values-instead-of-knowledge/ ]

Education is another possible means of encouraging consensus perceptions, but it can actually make things worse. Rather than training people how to think more reasonably, college and graduate school merely sharpen the lenses graduates use to perceive reality. In our data, those with higher levels of education are more, not less, divided. And the higher the level of training, the more tightly values and perceptions intertwine. Education provides the tools to more efficiently match their preferred values to their perceived facts.”