agency

Agency & Tech Colonialism: Extending the Conversation

“What can those of us who work in, and maybe even love, computing cultures do about computing’s colonial expansions?” Sareeta Amrute’s keynote address “Tech Colonialism Today” opened EPIC2019 in a provocative, mobilizing spirit that inspired discussions on stage, in breakout sessions, and around breakfast tables. Sareeta journeyed across time and territory to explore what characteristics make something colonial to begin with, such as extractive and hierarchical systems. As you might guess, she argued that yes, the tech industry today has core colonial attributes. But goal wasn’t just critique; Sareeta showcased counterconduct—the agency that people, communities, and companies have to build alternatives. If colonial legacies and socioeconomic systems seem a bit “out of scope” as context for standard product or user research projects, check out Sareeta’s award-winning book Encoding Race, Encoding Class. You’ll learn about Meena’s daily tea ritual, hear Bipin describe why he sometimes chooses to write bad code,...

Robots and the Fallacy of Agency

STEWART ALLEN Fuse Foresight PechaKucha Presentation What if I told you, that humans are not very special? That the very qualities that make us human are not pre-given features but are rather properties generated by our participation in the world at large. In this view, humans are not mere expressions of blueprints. Rather, we are shaped and fashioned in the course of our lives by many different environments. This presentation challenges the notion of agency itself through an exploration of a recent project we conducted on service robots and human interaction. I raise questions on the nature of our humanness and the idea of ‘humanity’ as a special, protected class. If we set aside humans as special and unique, we tend to then dehumanise and downscale everything that is non-human, setting the stage for our current malaise where our environment is objectified as a resource to be used up as quickly as possible. I conclude that a shared and sustainable world is one where the qualities of life are accorded to all things, human...

Calibrating Agency: Human-Autonomy Teaming and the Future of Work amid Highly Automated Systems

LAURA CESAFSKY Alliance Innovation Lab – Silicon Valley ERIK STAYTON Alliance Innovation Lab – Silicon Valley, MIT MELISSA CEFKIN Alliance Innovation Lab – Silicon Valley This paper explores how the design of everyday interactions with artificial intelligence in work systems relates to broader issues of interest to social scientists and ethicists: namely human well-being and social inequality. The paper uses experience designing human interactions with highly automated systems as a lens for looking at the social implications of work design, and argues that what human and automation each do is less important than how human and automation are structured to interact. The Human-Autonomy Teaming (HAT) paradigm, explored in the paper, has been a promising alternative way to think about human interactions with automation in our laboratory's research and development work. We argue that the notion of teaming is particularly useful in that it encourages designers to consider human well-being as central to the operational success...

From ‘Cool Science’ to Changing the World: The Opportunity to Support Pre-startup Science Commercialization through Ethnography and Human-centered Design

SIMON PULMAN-JONES Emergence Now AMY WEATHERUP AJM Enterprises Introducing an emerging context for human-centered design work, this paper extends previous EPIC literature on startup innovation upstream into university science commercialization. It provides new perspectives on how the human-centered design community can engage with scientific models of agency to inform broader engagement with the innovation and design challenges inherent in ‘intelligent’ technologies, and offers the challenge of engaging with and developing empathy for the dispositions of scientist innovators as a new vantage point from which to reflect on our core strength as facilitators of cross-disciplinary collaboration for innovation and design....

A.I. Among Us: Agency in a World of Cameras and Recognition Systems

KEN ANDERSON Intel Corporation MARIA BEZAITIS Intel Corporation CARL DISALVO Georgia Tech SUSAN FAULKNER Intel Corporation This paper reports on the use and perceptions of deployed A.I. and recognition social-material assemblages in China and the USA. A kaleidoscope of “boutique” instantiations is presented to show how meanings are emerging around A.I. and recognition. A model is presented to highlight that not all recognitions are the same. We conclude by noting A.I. and recognition systems challenge current practices for the EPIC community and the field of anthropology....

EPIC2019 Gallery

Gallery installations at EPIC2019 evoked multi-modal experiences of ethnographic practice—written, oral, visual, three-dimensional, interactive, critical, reflective. These creative projects offered conference attendees diverse experiences of agency and ethnography. The conference committee made an open call for proposals and selected installations through anonymous review. Gallery Committee Chair: ANJA MAERZ, Babylon Health Carolina Amiguet, Google MAKALÉ FABER CULLEN, Urban Soils Institute ANNA HICKEY-MOODY, RMIT University SHEILA PONTIS, Princeton University WAFA SAID MOSLEH, University of Southern Denmark Installations The Ethno-graphic Sensibility, Jamie McPike & Diana Graizbord Socially Informed Policy and Planning for AV Mobility in Rhode Island, Kate Fisher Agency via Avatar Emotions in Virtual Reality, Ayfer Gokalp & Jacqueline Pospisil Office Humour, James O’Neill, Francesco Pini & Frauke Hein What Are Memories Made of?, Hema Malini Waghray Debris, Daria Loi & Heather McGeachy...

Designing Good Jobs: Participatory Ethnography and Prototyping in Service-oriented Work Ecosystems

MARTA CUCIUREAN-ZAPAN IDEO and DePaul University VICTORIA HAMMEL IDEO Three service design projects, in hospitality, finance, and health care, highlight how to design for agency in the workplace, including the implementation of automated and data-driven tools. Inspired by Tacchi, Slater, and Hearn's work on ethnographic action research, Amartya Sen's capabilities approach, and Gibson's affordances theory, this paper examines work as an ecosystem, in which workers’ motivations, values, and ability to achieve what is important to them should be a continual input into how structures and tools are designed. In order to design for agency, teams must shape access to information in order to support workers’ autonomy. Second, project outcomes should reflect the emotions and values which create a sense of progress and purpose. Third, tools, technologies, culture, and incentives within the work ecosystem should be aligned with workers’ goals. Finally, workers must feel safe and protected from censure when they participate in co-creating...

Agency and AI in Consulting: Pathways to Prioritize Agency-Enhancing Automations

CENGIZ CEMALOGLU ReD Associates JASMINE CHIA Oxford University JOSHUA TAM IBM Amidst the advances of AI and automation, this paper provides a framework for ethnographic methods and insights to enhance human agency at work. Through analyzing data collected from ethnographic immersions in three different consulting firms (a professional services firm, a management consultancy, and a boutique insights agency), human-agent decisions are isolated in case studies and the pathways of unlocking the potential of automation to enhance the agency of individuals rather than constraining it are highlighted. Through drawing a distinction between thinking agency and executional agency present in the work of a consultant, this paper argues that automations that preserve thinking agency while maximizing productivity and accuracy are the solutions that should be adopted. Through vetting workflows sourced from ethnographic immersions with the established criteria, a framework for consultancies – and more broadly businesses – to better...

Agency and Innovation

EPIC2019 Panel, Providence, Rhode Island Moderator: DAWN NAFUS, Senior Researcher, Intel Labs Panelists: MELISSA CEFKIN, Principal Researcher, Alliance Innovation Lab Silicon Valley MICHAEL LITTMAN, Professor of Computer Science & Co-Director of the Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative, Brown University CLAPPERTON CHAKANETSA MAVHUNGA, Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society, MIT HELI RANTAVUO, Senior Insights Manager, Growth Opportunities Mission, Markets Business Unit, Spotify Robotics, machine learning, and other technologies are provoking new hopes and fears about human agency. Tropes of the charismatic lone innovator, whether hero or villain, are also starting to lose popular currency. When we acknowledge that the agents of the built world are not just people who call themselves “innovators” but are made up of many kinds of people, and physical materials, new questions arise. How do issues of responsibility, accountability, attribution, and even regulation get solved in situations of distributed...

Creating Agency: What Ethnography Can Learn from Storytelling

ANNA ZAVYALOVA PechaKucha Presentation This PK explores the relationship between ethnography and post-modern storytelling techniques that shift the locus of agency towards the audience and away from the protagonist. The presentation builds on insights from a project about the future of storytelling, and explores the ways in which various storytelling formats (theater, film, comics) promote creative agency through immersion and interaction. The PK shows how through a deep engagement with the lives of the people we study, and our ability and willingness to take clients along with us, we as business ethnographers assume a sense of ‘creative’ agency, which allows us and our clients to take greater ownership of the story we tell. Anna Zavyalova is an anthropologist, socio-cultural explorer and a keen writer, passionate about applying the ethnographic method to real business challenges. With over five years’ experience in academic and commercial research, she has carried out global ethnographic studies spanning technology,...

Owning Our Devices: Learning from People Who Adapt Tech for Well-Being

An interview with MARGARET MORRIS by ANNA ZAVYALOVA & GIULIA NICOLINI, Stripe Partners Public debate has rightly focused on the perils and toxicity of new technologies, and questioned the motivations of the companies building them. Meanwhile though, people are creatively adapting technology to their own social and psychological needs. Margie Morris explores this crucial space of personal innovation for social connection and well-being in her new book Left to Our Own Devices: Outsmarting Smart Technology to Reclaim our Relationships, Health, and Focus. Margie is a clinical psychologist, researcher, and inventor of technologies which support well-being. She led research on emotional technology at Intel, conducted user experience at Amazon and now teaches in the department of Human-Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. Based on years of primary and secondary research as well as Margie’s own involvement in creating apps and other technologies, the book offers a fresh take on human-technology interaction,...