How is robot care for older adults envisioned in fiction? In the 2012 movie ‘Robot and Frank’ directed by Jake Schreier, the son of an older adult – Frank – with moderate dementia gives his father the choice between being placed in a care facility or accepting being taken care of by a home-care robot

Living with a home-care robot 

Robots in fiction can play a pivotal role in influencing the design of actual robots. It is therefore useful to analyze dramatic productions in which robots fulfill roles for which they are currently being designed. High-drama action packed robot films make for big hits at the box office. Slower paced films, in which robots integrate into the spheres of daily domestic life, are perhaps better positioned to reveal something about where we are as a society, and possible future scenarios. ‘Robot and Frank’ is one such film, focusing on care work outsourced to  machines.  more...

The best way I can describe the experience of summer 2019-2020 in Australia is with a single word: exhausting. We have been on fire for months. There are immediate threats in progress and new ones at the ready. Our air quality levels dip in and out of hazardous, more often in the former category than the latter. This has been challenging for everyone. For many, mere exhaustion may feel like a luxury.

In the trenches of the ongoing fires are the Australian emergency service workers, especially the “fireys,” who have been tireless in their efforts to save homes, people, and wildlife. While the primary and most visible part of their  work is the relentless job of managing fires, there is also a secondary–though critical–task of public communication, keeping people informed and providing material for anxious-refreshers looking for information about “fires near me.”  In the last few days, as fires have approached the Canberra suburbs where I live, an interesting variant of public safety communication has emerged: Instagramable photography. more...

Drew Harwell (@DrewHarwell) wrote a balanced article in the Washington Post about the ways universities are using wifi, bluetooth, and mobile phones to enact systematic monitoring of student populations. The article offers multiple perspectives that variously support and critique the technologies at play and their institutional implementation. I’m here to lay out in clear terms why these systems should be categorically resisted.

The article focuses on the SpotterEDU app which advertises itself as an “automated attendance monitoring and early alerting platform.” The idea is that students download the app and then universities can easily keep track of who’s coming to class and also, identify students who may be in, or on the brink of, crisis (e.g., a student only leaves her room to eat and therefore may be experiencing mental health issues). As university faculty, I would find these data useful. They are not worth the social costs. more...

Today, the influence of our moon Goddess foremothers is everywhere. Contemporary progressive activists dress up like witches to put hexes on Trump and Pence. The few remaining women’s bookstores in the country sell crystals and potions for practicing DIY feminist magic. There is an annual Queer Astrology conference, Tarot decks created especially for gays, and beloved figures like Chani Nicholas who have made careers out of queer-centered astrology. Almost every LGBTQ+ publication, whether mainstream or radical, features a regular horoscope column (including them.).

In this feature from last year, Sascha Cohen reflects on אסטרולוגיה recent re-ascendance and seeming ubiquity in LGBTQ+ circles, and the skepticism it’s meeting with more queer-identifying people. Astrology’s pseudoscience was a nonstarter for some (mainly those from STEM fields). For others it was New Age culture’s appropriation of indigenous spirituality and separately, the risk astrology poses as a distraction from systemic repression. A “sense of exclusion” or just being “seen as a cynic and no fun,” in one person’s words, was maybe the most common of all the complaints.

Despite these reservations, most of the queer ‘skeptics’ Cohen interviewed recognized astrology’s appeal for queer people — as a source of “meaning and purpose,” as an alternative to exclusionary religious communities, as entertainment, and one that in practice usually “centers and empowers women.” Hardly isolated from systemic anti-LGBTQ+ forces, “a recent uptick in such practices,” Cohen asserts, “may be because, [as interviewee] Chelsea argues, ‘We’re in the midst of a global existential crisis.’”

Though these responses make sense, an aspect that goes unmentioned in the piece is the part popular meme accounts and algorithmic social media appear to be playing in astrology’s current revival.

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I am not an expert on Bolivian politics. I am, however, human, which is more than can be said about the Twitter accounts commenting on the Bolivian coup:

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“Modelling is superficial, and anything superficial in the long run will never be good for the psyche”—this seems to be intuitively true. Although modelling might boost self-esteem, it cannot fill an inner emptiness. However, several years of participant observation, surveys and interviews in the scene of amateur modelling draw a different picture. Models seem to agree on the fact, that it makes them feel better.  How is this possible?

Broadly speaking, there are two reasons apart from the fact that for many there is something pleasurable about it: Modelling can teach some skills relevant in everyday life and modelling can help to cope with identity.

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Mark Zuckerberg testified to congress this week. The testimony was supposed to address Facebook’s move into the currency market. Instead, they mostly talked about Facebook’s policy of not banning or fact-checking politicians on the platform.  Zuckerberg roots the policy in values of free expression and democratic ideals. Here is a quick primer on why that rationale is ridiculous. more...

As technology expands its footprint across nearly every domain of contemporary life, some spheres raise particularly acute issues that illuminate larger trends at hand. The criminal justice system is one such area, with automated systems being adopted widely and rapidly—and with activists and advocates beginning to push back with alternate politics that seek to ameliorate existing inequalities rather than instantiate and exacerbate them. The criminal justice system (and its well-known subsidiary, the prison-industrial complex) is a space often cited for its dehumanizing tendencies and outcomes; technologizing this realm may feed into these patterns, despite proponents pitching this as an “alternative to incarceration” that will promote more humane treatment through rehabilitation and employment opportunities.

As such, calls to modernize and reform criminal justice often manifest as a rapid move toward automated processes throughout many penal systems. Numerous jurisdictions are adopting digital tools at all levels, from policing to parole, in order to promote efficiency and (it is claimed) fairness. However, critics argue that mechanized systems—driven by Big Data, artificial intelligence, and human-coded algorithms—are ushering in an era of expansive policing, digital profiling, and punitive methods that can intensify structural inequalities. In this view, the embedded biases in algorithms can serve to deepen inequities, via automated systems built on platforms that are opaque and unregulated; likewise, emerging policing and surveillance technologies are often deployed disproportionately toward vulnerable segments of the population. In an era of digital saturation and rapidly shifting societal norms, these contrasting views of efficiency and inequality are playing out in quintessential ways throughout the realm of criminal justice. more...

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In the wake of the terrifying violence that shook El Paso and Dayton, there have been a lot of questions around the role of the Internet in facilitating communities of hate and the radicalization of angry white men. Digital affordances like anonymity and pseudonymity are especially suspect for their alleged ability to provide cover for far-right extremist communities. These connections seem to be crystal clear. For one, 8chan, an anonymous image board, has been the host of several far-right manifestos posted on its feeds preceding mass shootings. And Kiwi Farms, a forum board populated with trolls and stalkers who spend their days monitoring and harassing women, has been keeping a record of mass killings and became infamous after its administrator “Null”, Joshua Conner Moon, refused to take down the Christchurch manifesto.

The KF community claim to merely be archiving mass shootings, however, it’s clear that the racist and misogynistic politics on the forum board are closely aligned with that of the shooters. The Christchurch extremist had alleged membership to the KF community and had posted white supremacist content on the forum. New Zealand authorities requested access to their data to assist in their investigation and were promptly refused. Afterwards, Null encouraged Kiwi users to use anonymizing tools and purged the website’s data. It is becoming increasingly clear that these far-right communities are radicalizing white men to commit atrocities, even if such radicalization is only a tacit consequence of constant streams of racist and sexist vitriol.

With the existence of sites like 8chan and Kiwi Farms, it becomes exceedingly easy to blame digital technology as a root cause of mass violence. Following the recent shootings, the Trump administration attempted to pin the root of the US violence crisis on, among other things, video games. And though this might seem like a convincing explanation of mass violence on the surface, as angry white men are known to spend time playing violent video games like Fortnite, there has yet to be much conclusive or convincing empirical accounts that causally link videogames to acts of violence. more...

William Gibson novel The Peripheral

The following contains light spoilers for William Gibson’s novel, The Peripheral.

I just finished The Peripheral, William Gibson’s latest novel, published in 2014. Generally, the work documents two different futures: a time not too far off from now (maybe 15 years or so?) and then around 70 years after that. Overall, it’s extremely Gibsonian in its plot and narrative arc (my wife asked, “what’s that about?” as I started it and I could only reply, “I’ll tell you after page 50”), and for that I really loved it. His visions of the future are informed by so much more than the utopian technolust or dystopian apocalypse of Hollywood or most pop speculative fiction. Instead, they are filled with nuanced socio-political prescience, the kind that just seems to make sense as logical progressions from our current trajectory.

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