Hello all! Just arrived in Brussels and now that I’ve managed to get some caffeine into my bloodstream, I’m getting around to posting.
I run a nonprofit called Free Machine and Cory Doctorow is one of our advisors – when I saw what you had got him up to, my partner/co-founder and I bought tickets to Brussels. So:
Personal introduction My background is in experimental and participatory performance. For about a decade, I made work within a fine art context, with and about the relationship between humans and technology, developing structures that invited participants to interrogate the politics of their lived experiences. As I was doing my graduate work at Carnegie Mellon, I became interested in game design, and went to work for a VR startup in Los Angeles, which is where I found myself when the 2016 US election cycle hit. I felt that I needed to close the gap between my politics and my work, and I co-founded Free Machine together with a collective of artists, designers, and civic researchers. We make narrative experiences that function as platforms to educate, engage, and organize folks around a critical left technopolitics. Our first project is called Future Perfect: A Postcapitalist Adventure. We are currently at work on a set of programs gathered under the umbrella title, A Public Option for AI. My dayjob is at Institutefor the Future, where I research and design engagement programs around themes including the future of work, critical approaches to smart cities, and data equity. In fall 2020 I’ll begin National Science Foundation-funded work on a Ph.D at Arizona State University in Human and Social Dimensions in Science and Technology.
My interest in the Lab SF, as Donna Haraway glosses it, is more than just science fiction–it is speculative fabulation, structural feminism, string figures. I believe passionately that SF is a necessary set of tools in the business of bending the future towards equity, inclusion, sustainability, and abundance. To metabolize an adversary’s insight: politics is downstream of culture. (This is Breitbart’s mantra.) And the minimum viable product of culture is a story. So this is one important function of SF: to translate the dryness of social science into the marshes of imagination and emotion, where it must go in order to transform philosophy and theory into a movement. The capacity to render (as Cory Doctorow does so masterfully) the abstract into the human is necessary for movement-building.
Of course, SF impacts not only the audience but the author. By casting our gaze into a world that is not our own, we jettison near-term political baggage (can this pass a vote in Parliament today?) in favor of visionary inspiration (what could our country look like in 15 years if our wildest dreams were realized?). This invites deeper, more meaningful questions to be asked and attempted. The possibility-space for problem-solving opens dramatically, and one finds oneself provoked by what may be found there. So, these possibilities are why I am drawn to the SF Economics Lab: the chance to catalyze provocative social science speculative thinking, and to translate visions of a more just and equitable future society into a form where they might root down into a popular movement.
Prospects for work with the Lab I am deeply interested in how data is conceptualized at various levels: by cultures, by academia, by industry, by government, and by individuals. I believe that there is potential for catalyzing popular social movements around the concepts of data rights and data ownership, as data takes on an ever-more central role in economies worldwide. Data cooperatives, trusts, unions, guilds, and/or any other associational configuration – these are proposals and phenomena that I wish to explore together with economists and other social scientists within a speculative framework. I believe that by defining various speculative future economic systems based on different configurations of ownership, rights, and commodification of data, we can expose the politics implicit in the decisions we make individually today, and envision how we could enact our politics through collective organized power in the future.
I am also interested in exploring speculative futures premised on cooperative structures, particularly in relationship to machine learning systems. For the last year I have been collaborating with SF author Cadwell Turnbull on the development of what will become an anthology of short SF stories, written by different authors but sharing a future world in which collectively-owned AI are commonplace. We imagine these stories as a collection of use cases and cautionary tales, aimed to illustrate what a machine learning system owned and governed by its stakeholders might look like. This is a topic I would also be interested in collaboratively exploring.
Besides these specific topics, I am very interested in facilitation. As part of the development of my collaboration with Turnbull, I’ve lead workshops with the Tech Workers Coalition to envision different cooperatively-owned and -operated products and services in city-specific future settings. As in: come up with some cooperatively-developed AI products that might arise in Chicago in the year 2035, given the historical, social, and environmental qualities of that city. In fact, I am coming to the SF Economics Lab launch from New York, where I lead another of these workshops (called Imagining Common Futures) as part of the Platform Coop Conference there.
My work at Institute for the Future involves me doing research on a particular sector or issue, then processing that information into future scenarios in the form of not just written reports/papers, but objects (‘future artifacts’), performance (protests from the future), and immersive role-playing experiences. I would be extremely excited to work with the SF Economics Lab to imagine ways of translating the output of discrete papers/projects into public/stakeholder engagement.
Thrilled to join you all, and looking forward to meeting at least some of you in person over the next few days.