Issue 24

Ali Alkhatib Algorithmic injustice: the expert on human-computer interaction exposes the biases deeply rooted in Big Tech’s AIs.

Jutta Treviranus The inclusive design visionary on why diversity is our greatest asset and inclusion our greatest challenge.

Xiaowei Wang ‘Modernity gone off the rails’: making sense of the intertwined systems connecting Shenzhen and Silicon Valley.

Jillian C. York The free speech writer and activist grapples with the impossible problem of moderating the world’s speech.

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  • Ali Alkhatib
  • Jutta Treviranus
  • Xiaowei Wang
  • Jillian C. York

“The dilemma that it feels like we’re in now is that we have all of the same problems we had before, but now they’re more technically obscure.”

Ali Alkhatib
Anthropologist, AI Researcher

Ali Alkhatib describes himself as ‘an anthropologist shouting at engineers’. But voices like his, it seems, must often strain to be heard above the din of computer science’s feverish quest to find the answer to all the world’s problems by endlessly sorting through data. As the interim director of the Center for Applied Data Ethics at the University of San Francisco, he maintains that algorithmic systems are being deployed into our world so quickly and so pervasively that they are now eroding the very institutions that hold our societies together. Exploring this dilemma through his conviction that ‘technical problems are social problems’, Ali works to bridge the gap between disciplines and communities. He stresses the vital importance of our lived experience – making it possible for those most affected by tech to join in the conversation about our future. He makes the most explicit plea we’ve ever published that society must emphatically assert its right to demand more accountability from the tech giants. The burden is on us, in turn, to radically transform the ways we think about and care for each other.

“We need diversity – and we need fragility too – because it compels us to create a system that will work for us at the times when we’re fragile or vulnerable.”

Jutta Treviranus
Inclusive Design Expert, Researcher

Jutta Treviranus is a true design visionary whose mission is to ensure that the many complex systems we build leave no one behind. As the founder and director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre, and professor at OCAD University in Toronto, she is a leading expert on empowering and responding to human uniqueness – wherever and however it occurs. From the advent of the personal computer, through the evolution of the online world, to the AIs that are exploding into our lives today, Jutta works tirelessly to make technology accessible for everyone. But beyond the promise of inclusive design to enable ‘outliers’ to overcome barriers, she offers us a compelling invitation: if we integrate long-term thinking into our design practices, we can create powerful systems to protect us from the unpredictable but inevitable changes that we’ll face as individuals and as a society. In so doing, we have the opportunity to use humanity’s incredible diversity as the foundation for an equitable future.

“We need to ask what ‘progress’ is – whether it be from Silicon Valley or Shenzhen – because it’s progress for only a certain set of people.”

Xiaowei Wang
Writer, Artist, Designer

Xiaowei Wang’s multifaceted interests and aptitudes coalesce at the intersection of tech, ecology, and community empowerment. Their practice of ‘seeing geographically’ means coming to deeply understand place and the many interrelationships that link our world and transcend the artificial boundaries separating nations, people, and ideas. Against a backdrop of global anxiety over the unfathomable pace of technological development, Xiaowei journeyed to rural China to explore how it is being transformed, rebuilt, and inextricably connected to the rest of the world. They show that rural China is neither a backwater nor a periphery. On the contrary, from the industry on display in so-called Taobao Villages, to the bizarre ingenuity of the Blockchain Chicken Farm that gives its name to their book, Xiaowei discovered a truly progressive and potentially self-sufficient approach to tech development, where hardware is easily repairable and software is open source – a possible model for democratising technology so that it is truly by and for the people.

“The people who are the most censored are those who are the most marginalised, and the most vulnerable.”

Jillian C. York
Freedom of Speech Activist, Writer

From her first encounters with state censorship as a blogger in Morocco, to her current position as Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Jillian C. York is deeply concerned with censorship, whatever its origins – cynical governments, or the corporate might of Silicon Valley. In her book Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech Under Surveillance Capitalism, the writer and activist explores the myriad ways in which what we see and what we read is being controlled and manipulated, and how that affects our rights as humans. As the true cost of online censorship mounts every day in our politics and our private lives, Jillian calls attention to how the already-marginalised among us are being increasingly shut out of the global discourse. Her honest assessment of just how free our speech is today culminates in an appeal for us to put our voices together to demand that we be heard.

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Table of contents

Spreadsheets: A Novel Idea
Food for thought by Megan Marz

In Praise of Aiming (S)lower
Food for thought by Jess Henderson

Ali Alkhatib on street-level algorithms, AI-powered injustice, and the radical idea of caring about other people.

A Day With
Spend a day with Rebecca Brooker

A Day With
Spend a day with Kusum Gole

Jutta Treviranus on designing to the edges, the awesome responsibilities of designers, and the flawed concept of innovating for the majority

Rules of Business
Guiding principles for doing business, by Antionette D. Carroll

Xiaowei Wang on thinking geographically, the intertwined systems connecting Shenzhen and Silicon Valley, and why society needs more friction, not less

Ridesharing as a Lifeline
How rideshares changed the way six women from Kolkata navigate their city.

Jillian C. York on how to better understand ‘censorship’, the impossible task of moderating the world’s speech, and our oversimplified discourse on ‘deplatforming’

Ten Things I’ve Learned
Temi Adeniyi and Kathryn Gledhill-Tucker share ten life lessons from working on the web.

Issue 24 is kindly supported by