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Computers or Humans? Afternoon seminar

When: Tuesday 29 May 2018, from 2pm to 5pm

Where: Taliesin Create: Mall Room (Singleton Bay campus)

Speakers: Matt Jones on human-centred mobile future visions, William Merrin on algorithmic warfare, Yan Wu on digital media and the sensory impaired – Details below

  • MATT JONES: Why California is such a problem

Mobile and ubiquitous computing researchers have long imagined future worlds for users in “developed” regions of the world. Such visions have steered innovation of devices and services and exploration of their value for individuals, groups and communities. But this kind of radical and long-term exploration is uncommon for what have been termed “emergent users”: those for whom advanced technologies are just within grasp. Instead, the assumption is, perhaps, that today’s high-end mobile technologies will “trickle down” to these user groups in due course.

For the past three years, our team of researchers and partner organisations have started to explore how to do future envisioning that includes emergent user communities. We have carried out intensive, coordinated innovation-prototyping-deployment yearly cycles, working with people from townships in South Africa and informal and slum districts in India and Kenya. Novel mobile devices and services have been developed that would not have emerged without the insights provided and integrated through working in these regions.

In this talk, I will explore what mobile technologies might be like if emergent users are directly involved in creating visions for the future 5–10 years from now; explain and reflect on our methods, highlighting the success and failures; detail some of the platforms and devices we’ve created; and also argue that this kind of innovation is vital to re-invigorate mobile design for “traditional users” (like me) in the rest of the world.

Bio: Matt Jones is the author of two books and many research articles that have helped shape the field of Mobile HCI and UX (Mobile Interaction Design – with Gary Marsden; There’s Not an App for That – with Simon Robinson and Gary Marsden). He has spoken at public events for both arts and science audiences (such as (such as the Hay Book Festival 2017, British Science Festival 2016, Cheltenham Science Festival 2018). He has worked both with academic research groups and industrial partners across the world. His work combines a passion for invention with a commitment to working alongside non-traditional users of mobile technology. He is a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award Holder (for his work on interactions for resource constrained communities); was awarded an IBM Faculty Award (for work with the Spoken Web); and leads two major UK programmes focussed on human values and computational science (the Research Council UK funded Digital Economy CHERISH Centre; and the Welsh Government/ EU funded Computational Foundry). He has enjoyed being part of the HCI community: he co-chaired ACM CHI 2014; ACM Mobile HCI 2017; and is on the steering committee of both of these conference series. More at www.undofuture.com.

  • Yan Wu: Digital Media Usage of Sensory Impaired Users in Wales

This presentation is a summary of the main statistical findings from a survey into digital media usage and attitudes among sensory impaired audiences in Wales. The survey ran from March to May 2017, and was part of a research project based at Swansea University, funded by Challenging Human Environments and Research Impact for a Sustainable and Healthy Digital Economy Centre (CHERISH-DE).

Studies show that the use of the internet and digital technologies has grown dramatically in recent years and benefited many aspects of social life. However, disabled people are disadvantaged in gaining access to the online world (Lunn and Lyons 2010). Scholarly research argues that when as the Internet matures, the digital divide has been intensified to reflect the offline social, economic and cultural inequalities (Chen and Wellman 2005; van Dijk, 2005; van Deursen and van Dijk 2013; Witte & Mannon 2010). Amongst disabled communities are people with sensory impairments. Recognising that digital exclusion could further disadvantage this community, we aim to gain a better understanding of the usage of digital media and communication technologies by sight impaired users, and investigate the possible solutions to their barriers to enjoying the benefit from using the internet and other digital services.

Overwhelmingly, respondents’ digital media ownership is low compared to the national average. The ownership of and access to digital devices varies but roughly in the range of 20% to 40%. A PC is owned by most of the respondents (38.5%) and smart phones have the least popularity (23.3%). Although a smart phone is the most personalised device, it is the least owned or used among sensory impaired users. The vast majority (59.4%) of the respondents do not use any kind of assistive technology. The most popular form of assistive technology is screen magnification (27.6% up-take rate), followed by voice recognition software and accessible keyboard (at 13.5% and 13% respectively). The rate of usage of other forms of assistive technology (specialist software, screen readers, hearing aid app, amplified hearing and compatible smartphones, etc.) is 10% or below.

In terms of online activities, using a search engine is the most frequent online activity with almost 2 in 5 (38.6%) of the respondents using a search engine when online. Roughly a third of respondents use email to send personal messages to family or friends and can find a website that has been used before. Less than a third of the respondents engage in online purchasing (28.3%). 13.9% go online to access public services.  12.6% show an awareness of online security and safety and are careful in making online comments and sharing personal information with others. 11.4% of the users use the internet to book appointments. Just over half (50.3%) said that they did not do any online activities.

The presentation will conclude with an analysis of factors that create barriers to digital inclusion and recommendations with regards to promoting digital inclusivity for sensory impaired users in Wales.

Bio: Yan Wu is Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication Studies. She has been researching in the area of digital media and sensory impaired users and has been working with Action on Hearing Loss and Royal National Institute of the Blind People since 2011.

  • WILLIAM MERRIN: Algorithmic War: The AI ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’

Recognizing the rapid advances in digital technology in the period following the Gulf War, in the 1990s the US military retheorized conflict to foreground issues around information, computing and communication. Their dream of an electronic battlefield with perfect information bringing military superiority dated back at least to Vietnam’s ‘Operation Igloo White’, but by 1998 it had found a new expression in Cebrowski and Garstka’s influential theory of ‘network-centric warfare’ (NCW). They argued that a smaller, lighter, decentralized networked force, with access to full battlefield information, would be able to outmanoeuvre and defeat larger conventional forces.

NCW was successfully deployed in the ‘War on Terror’, but the US military have since pressed further with their dreams of networking down to the unit or individual level. Hence their development of networked wearables and soldier-systems packed with sensors. These presage a coming ‘big data’ transformation in the military, linked with the ongoing deployment of AI machine-learning systems to analyse the increasing volume of battlefield sensor information and ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) produced by the military.

AI machine-learning is also behind the increasing movement towards autonomous UAV systems such as Taranis and many see it as aiding the development of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). The US military isn’t alone in this new interest in AI. On 20th July 2017 China published its ‘Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan’ which designated AI as the transformative technology that will secure its future economic and military power. China predicts global AI-dominance by 2030.

The focus to date on ‘killer robots’, claims (such as Peter Singer’s) that robotics represents the next ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ (RMA), and public campaigns against military robots may all be missing the point. The real RMA will be AI-based and it will transform data collection, analysis and decision-making around battlefield information. The real threat we face in the future won’t be robotic foot-soldiers, but AI commanders.

Bio: William Merrin is Associate Professor in Media Studies, specializing in digital warfare, digital media and media theory. He is the author of Digital War (forthcoming, August 2018), Media Studies 2.0 (Routledge, 2014), and Baudrillard and the Media (Polity, 2005), and co-editor of Trump’s War on the Media (2018) and Jean Baudrillard: Fatal Theories (Routledge, 2009). He is on the editorial boards of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies and Media, War and Conflict.