Thursday, 28 November 2019

Two new projects granted

I am happy to share the good news that two projects have been granted recently.

The first project has been selected as a so-called BMS signature PhD project - a project funded by my faculty to showcase the work being done at BMS. The project will allow Isaac Oulouch to continue and extend his great work on slum mapping in his master thesis. The project will be co-supervised by Monika Kuffer and myself with additional support by Karin Pfeffer and Yola Georgiadou. Peter-Paul Verbeek will be the promotor.

Here's a brief summary of the project, which will go by the name of FRAME-PRO (Framework for responsible and accountable deprivation area mapping in support of pro-poor policies):

Locational data (“geo-data”) has become increasingly available due to technological innovation. This innovation has improved the capability of capturing, storing and processing vast amounts of geo-data, producing results which have commercial and administrative value. For example, such data are essential in the SDG agenda.
While there is a growing awareness of the ethical challenges of geo-data (such as privacy, access to data and surveillance), we require a better understanding of the societal role emerging technologies can play in acquiring geo-data. Building on insights from Philosophy of Technology, we begin with the premise that technologies are not neutral tools but shape the ways in which we perceive and act in the world. In our project, we will answer the question: To what extent do geo-data technologies affect the responsibilities of various stakeholders to improve the lives of the urban poor? The project links to global policy goals of promoting public health (SDG-3), access to water (SDG-6), and building inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities (SDG-11).
The PhD project will build a framework to evaluate geo-data technologies (such as geo-information systems, mapping and sensor technologies) through two case studies. Such a framework helps to identify the relevant stakeholders in the geo-data acquisition, to address the distribution of accountability and responsibility in the global use of these technologies. The first case looks into the automated detection of “slums” through satellite and drone images, focusing on the long-term planning and development of mapping practices. The second case concerns the design of GIS for disaster response, to understand how geo-data technologies can help in improving resilience to human-made and climate-related risks in developing countries. These cases will be supplemented by embedded research in various institutions.
The second project will be funded by NWO within the MWI line on Responsible Innovation. Designing for public values in a digital world. It is called "Disastrous Information: Embedding ‘Do No Harm’ principles into innovative geo-intelligence workflows for effective humanitarian action."

I will collaborate with Jaap Zevenbergen, Caroline Gevaert, and Yola Georgiadou. Here's a brief summary:

Most humanitarian scholars ask what geospatial intelligence, from satellite and drone imagery combined with artificial intelligence, can do for humanitarian action. We ask what these technologies do to the core principles—humanity, impartiality, and independence—of the “Do No Harm” humanitarian imperative (Sandvik et al 2017). Upholding humanity and impartiality suggests that not only affected humans and groups/demographics must be protected, but also the privacy and dignity of their “data doubles.” Upholding independence suggests that humanitarian organizations need the capacity to audit donors’, industry’s and digital humanitarians’ geospatial data, tools and algorithms for privacy violations. Empirically, we focus on Malawi. There UNICEF Malawi has an infrastructure comprising rich geospatial data sets, the first dedicated humanitarian drone corridor worldwide, a strong network with Malawi government, donors, and drone industry, as well as a plan to install and replicate in other African countries the first African Data & Drone Academy (ADDA) for Masters students from Malawi and neighboring countries. Conceptually, we draw upon scholarship on Fair, Accountable and Transparent (FAT) socio-technical systems, cultural and organizational theory and privacy by design. We use a mix of experimental (hackathons, mapathons, choice experiments) and qualitative methods (in-depth interviews and focus groups) as well as Q-methodology. We will determine the optimal distribution of technological and regulatory designs for Malawi and an appropriate design for co-creating audit capacity within ADDA’s Master program. The research team combines legal, geo-intelligence, policy & ethics expertise, and decades of collective experience in institutional development and capacity building in the global South.
The best part is that both grants will offer great opportunities for combining the research efforts and to make a substantial contribution on the meaning of high tech in the lives of the urban poor. I am excited, but also a bit scared about the task ahead of us.

We will start hiring a PhD candidate and a PostDoc for the project shortly. The project aims to start in March 2020.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Graduation Ching Hung (Nov 13, 2019)

On Nov 13, 2019, Ching Hung will defend his PhD thesis entitled "Design for Green: Ethics and Politics for Behavior Steering Technologies." You can find the official announcement here, which also includes a summary of his work.

I am proud to have served as daily supervisor on his project. Of course, his thesis includes an interesting chapter about cities and smaller human settlements. This comes with little surprise since urban planning is in good parts concerned with steering human behaviour, although it's not always understood in these terms. In his thesis, Ching does not only examine two communities which are designed on the principles laid down by B. F. Skinner in his utopian novel "Walden Two." He also evaluates the design of Village Homes, a community built in 1982 and located near Davis, California.

B. F. Skinner's work plays a significant role in the thesis. While his approach of radical behaviourism has been contested, Skinner also made the interesting point that meeting global challenges like climate change will require foremost to change human behaviour. Hung's starting point is that we do actually know quite well, that we do need to change - but knowing about the need is not sufficient. Therefore, he turns to the multiple ways in which artefacts and the built environment at large play a role in guiding our everyday activities.

Inspired by the work of C. Mouffe, Hung suggests an approach of agonistic design, where artefacts challenge hegemony. For example, speed bumps challenge the hegemony embodied and facilitates by smooth roads, which invite to drive fast. Green communities, thus, need to be understood as a challenge to the current mainstream, which doesn't support a sustainable lifestyle. To avoid the risk of forcing people to adapt to a particular lifestyle, Hung also argues in favour of small and experimental communities, which also allow for mutual learning.

If you are nearby on November 13, 2019, please feel free to join us in celebrating Ching Hung's stimulating contribution to the much-needed debate, what we are willing to do to meet the challenge of climate change and to avoid the destruction of our planet due to stupid human behaviour.