MARIA CURY

Contributed Articles

Ethnography for the AI Age: How to Get Started

By MARIA CURY, MIKKEL KRENCHEL and MILLIE P. ARORA, ReD Associates To influence the development of artificial intelligence, ethnographers must build more partnerships and new kinds of outputs. Artificial intelligence (AI) has made huge strides recently in areas like natural language processing and computer-generated images – every other week seems to bring another breathtaking headline. Engineers, developers, and policymakers in the AI community are more seriously grappling with the fundamental risks that AI poses to society, like perpetuating unfair biases, putting privacy and security at risk, harming mental health, or automating tasks that provide livelihoods for people. As people flock to the fields of 'responsible AI,’ ‘AI ethics,’ and ‘AI governance’ that are all about shaping AI towards what is helpful for humanity, it is time we ask: where are the ethnographers and applied anthropologists? Many are doing ground-breaking work in AI, and reporting back to the EPIC community (see here, here, here, also here for just...

Hands Are People Too: Reflections on the Value of Hands (and How to Study Them)

MARIA CURY ReD Associates KAHYUN SOPHIE KIM Facebook Reality Labs PechaKucha Presentation—Did you know that hands have bodies, relationships, and minds of their own? In the coming years as a new wave of technologies focused on our hands is under development, and as AR/VR may include haptics as a key mode of interaction, we need to design for hands as we would for people – keeping the technology in the background to ensure hands can learn, collaborate, and shine. We conducted a study in 2020 about what gives hands unique value to people. The ambition was to understand hand-based skills across contexts and domains of practical expertise. We asked practitioners to record themselves using their hands, analyzed the video footage, and watched the recordings together with each practitioner. We asked practitioners to reflect on their hands and compare how their skills might apply to other contexts. Through this process, we uncovered that the hands have bodies, relationships, and minds of their own. These fundamental observations...

Hybrid Methodology: Combining Ethnography, Cognitive Science, and Machine Learning to Inform the Development of Context-Aware Personal Computing and Assistive Technology

MARIA CURY* ReD Associates ERYN WHITWORTH* Facebook Reality Labs *Lead co-authors The not-too-distant future may bring more ubiquitous personal computing technologies seamlessly integrated into people's lives, with the potential to augment reality and support human cognition. For such technology to be truly assistive to people, it must be context-aware. Human experience of context is complex, and so the early development of this technology benefits from a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to research — what the authors call “hybrid methodology” — that combines (and challenges) the frameworks, approaches, and methods of machine learning, cognitive science, and anthropology. Hybrid methodology suggests new value ethnography can offer, but also new ways ethnographers should adapt their methodologies, deliverables, and ways of collaborating for impact in this space. This paper outlines a few of the data collection and analysis approaches emerging from hybrid methodology, and learnings about impact and team collaboration,...

Screenplay, Novel, and Poem: The Value of Borrowing From Three Literary Genres to Frame Our Thinking as We Gather, Analyze, and Elevate Data in Applied Ethnographic Work

MARIA CURY ReD Associates MICHELE CHANG-MCGRATH ReD Associates Applied ethnography still struggles with the fundamental challenges of (1) framing research to obtain ‘thick’ data, (2) making sense of data in teams and with clients, and (3) making a convincing case with data in challenging environments. We have observed that borrowing from literary genres can be effective in addressing these challenges. We therefore argue that in an age of data science, it is just as important to draw from the literary arts when gathering, analyzing, and elevating evidence to inspire change in applied ethnographic work. We raise three specific applications of literary genres to distinct project phases, to improve how data is collected and analyzed, and how data travels. In this paper we show: (1) how the screenplay can help solve challenges in research framing, to obtain thicker data; (2) how the novel can help solve challenges in analysis, to turn data into meaningful evidence; (3) how poetry can help solve challenges in the opportunities-development...

Applying Theory to Applied Ethnography

MARIA CURY ReD Associates DANIEL BIRD ReD Associates In applied ethnographic praxis, how should we use theory? Exploring how existing theory from a variety of domains has supported and advanced our work, this paper justifies and demonstrates how theory can be used in an accessible and practical manner when framing research and analyzing experience in the field. Two approaches for using theory are outlined, providing guidelines for different ways to apply theory to applied ethnography. Defense of such approaches is provided through both an appeal to the value we have seen it add to ethnography in industry and to a brief return to Hermeneutic ethnography, inspired by the likes of Gadamer and Geertz. The latter serves as a reminder of reasons to be skeptical that as ethnographers we uncover “the real.” Pre-existing theory provides valuable assistance when transforming an insight about the world into an idea with explanatory and predictive potential for our clients. Drawing upon theory allows us to elevate an interesting description...

Fieldnotes as a Social Practice: Elevating and Innovating Fieldnotes in Applied Ethnography, Using a Collaborative Online Tool as a Case Study

MARIA CURY ReD Associates In this paper I propose that applied ethnographers should think critically and innovatively about the practice of producing fieldnotes in ethnographic research. Critical thought on ethnographic fieldnotes has been relatively underdeveloped, both in applied and academic anthropology. Moreover, as applied ethnographers our projects have particular opportunities and constraints that are unique from academic anthropology. I make a case for elevating fieldnotes as a topic of more critical discussion in applied ethnography, and for moving fieldnotes from a private practice to a social practice. I use a collaborative online tool as a case example for possible innovation. Collaborative practices present certain vulnerabilities and challenges to creating fieldnotes, but I argue that the benefits of innovating fieldnotes help to build bridges both between researchers, and between researchers and stakeholders in a project. Innovative fieldnote practices can: deepen the thinking in our research; increase our impact; help...

Voices, not data points: building connections between clients and informants to create impact

by MARIA CURY, ReD Associates Camila sat down on her faded pink sofa, unwrapped the bandage around her calf, and showed me a violet wound, some of the skin crusty and some of it wet. Her daughter Cecilia sat on the edge of a chair in the corner, filling gaps in the story – “remember we tried a gel that inflamed your skin,” “the pharmacy down the street never gives us enough gauze.” At ReD Associates, we often work with big healthcare companies who seek more patient-centric approaches to product design, and our insights have implications on product, packaging, and patient-compliance. This project aimed to make wound care products relevant to more people by understanding how patients care for chronic wounds in emerging markets. Camila, a sixty-four year-old Brazilian patient with a venous leg ulcer, was doing everything wrong. She risked infection by putting olive oil over her calf (“I know I’m not supposed to, but it’s the only thing that takes away my pain pain pain”); she used dry gauze with wisps that stuck...