måndag 31 december 2018

The Future of Computing and Wisdom (article)

I wrote a blog post some time ago about a workshop we organised at the NordiCHI 2018 conference (Oslo, end of September), "The Futures of Computing and Wisdom". Quick recap:
- The organisers were Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson, Rob Comber, Ben Kirman and Oliver Bates.
- The participants did not know it beforehand, but the workshop was set up so as to generate material for a journal article.
- The planned article was to be submitted to one of three special 50th anniversary issues of the journal Futures (theme: "Wise Futures").

Well guess what, I submitted that article, "The Future of Computing and Wisdom: Insights from Human-Computer Interaction" through publisher Elseiver's clunky submission system just a few short hours before the deadline on December 31, 2018 (happy new year!). On the way - between the workshop and the finished article - we picked up two additional co-authors who attended the workshop and who were interested in contributing and the finished article. Here are the authors of the just-submitted article:
- Daniel Sapiens Pargman, K​TH Royal Institute of Technology
- Elina Eriksson KTH Royal Institute of Technology
- Oliver Bates Lancaster University
- Ben Kirman, University of York
- Rob Comber, KTH Royal Institute of Technology
- Anders Hedman, KTH Royal Institute of Technology
- Martijn van den Broeck, Umeå Institute of Design

Our article breaks some of the conventions for scientific articles since this is what the Call for Paper asked for/specified:
- This call invites reports from collaborative dialogues on responsible futures. In this case, the dialogues should attempt to articulate normative futures in 2068; what futures should humanity strive for?
The call [...] invites reports of dialogues on the futures of wisdom, i.e. what might be considered responsible and wise in 2068, and why [emphasis in the original call].
- The main outputs to be published in this theme are structured reports on conversations. These will be edited accounts of dialogues between people.
- For these dialogical contributions rapporteurs will be the corresponding author of reports. Significant contributors to the particular dialogue (e.g. 20% or more) can be named as joint authors. 

So papers for this special issue have "rapporteurs" rather than "authors" and the main contribution of these papers isn't that they report on an experiment or provide a sharp analysis of some social phenomenon, but rather that they constitute a "structured reports of conversations" about the futures of wisdom. This presented us with a challenge as none of us (naturally) had written such report before. A paragraph in the call gave some hints about this new genre ("structured reports of conversations") and what was expected from us:

Dialogue contributions
The aim is to produce a series of dialogues that are well-informed and well-reasoned, rather than rhetorical polemic with single dominant voices. Dialogues should be explorative of normative images of 2068, recognise points of agreement and recognise points of difference. We do not seek consensus, nor battles to be won. As with all publications in Futures they should contribute new knowledge to our understanding of the future and our relationships with the future. Thus clarity of ideas and reasoning and contribution to knowledge will be the main acceptance and editorial criteria. Diversity of participants and imaginaries is encouraged to offer voices to those who, in the language of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, will be ‘left behind’. Unlike more traditional academic papers, discussions of a range of extant literature and methodologies etc. are not required, except in as much as they form part of the context setting and explicit argumentation in the dialogue.

With this in mind, we wrote a paper that presents the main tool we used at the workshop to critically  think about the future, namely fictional abstracts or "abstracts of yet-to-be-written research papers that will be published in 2068". Each workshop participant wrote a fiction abstract and they together discussed various aspects of future wisdom in the context of computing and all nine fictional abstracts are available here. The results part of our paper builds on our workshop discussions and presents our thoughts on a number of themes "that have been extracted both from the workshop discussions as well as from the fictional abstracts themselves". These themes are:
- What is wisdom?
- Where is wisdom, and how do we build and transfer it?
- Human++ [about enhanced humans]
- Time and Acceleration
- Beware and Rejoice futures [what we hope for and what we fear]

All in all a fun special issue and a fun project. I finish this blog post with the abstract of our paper:

The Future of Computing and Wisdom: Insights from Human-Computer Interaction
In this paper, we present a structured report on a dialogue on the Future of Computing and Wisdom. The dialogue consists of a recorded and transcribed discussion between researchers and practitioners in the field of Human-Computer Interaction that was held at a workshop in conjunction with the 10th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction in September 2018. However, the dialogue also encompasses workshop participants’ preparatory work with writing “fictional abstracts” - abstracts of yet-to-be-written research papers that will be published in 2068. The polyvocal dialogue that is reported upon thus includes not just the voices of researchers and practitioners who attended the workshop, but also includes the voices of the future researchers of 2068 who wrote the abstracts in question as well as the voices of the organisms, individuals, intelligent agents and communities who are the subjects, victims, beneficiaries and bystanders of wise (or unwise) future computing systems.