Workshop at ACM FAT* Conference: Burn, Dream and Reboot! Speculating Backwards for the Missing Archive on Non-Coercive Computing

Helen Pritchard Goldsmiths (U. of London), Eric Snodgrass (Linnaeus U.), Romi Ron Morrison (U. of Southern California), Loren Britton (U. of Kassel), Joana Moll (Independent Artist and Researcher)

Whether one is speaking of barbed wire, the assembly line or computer operating systems, the history of coercive technologies for the automation of tasks has been one with a focus on optimization, determinate outcomes and an ongoing disciplining of components and bodies. The paradigmatic automated technologies of the present emerge and are readily marked by this lineage of coercive modes of implementation, whose scarred history of techniques of discrimination, exploitation and extraction point to an archive of automated injustices in computing, a history that continues to charge present paradigms and practices of computing. This workshop aims to address the history of coercive technologies through a renewed attention to how we perform speculation within practices of computing through a renewed attention to this history. We propose to go backwards into the archive, rather than racing forward and proposing ever new speculative futures of automation. This is because with a focus on futures, speculative creative approaches are often conceived and positioned as methodological toolkits for addressing computing practices by imagining for/with others for a “future otherwise”. We argue that “speculation” as the easy-go-to of designers and artists trying to address automated injustices needs some undoing, as without work it will always be confined within ongoing legacies of coercive modes of computing practice. Instead of creating more just-worlds, the generation of ever-new futures by creative speculation often merely reinforces the project of coercive computing. For this workshop, drawing on queer approaches to resisting futures and informed by activist feminist engagements with archives, we invite participants to temporarily resist imagining futures and instead to speculate backwards. We begin the session with a method of speculating backwards to various moments, artefacts and practices within computing history. In this initial part of the workshop, participants are encouraged to select a coercive technique and work in smaller groups to delve into the specific computational workings of the technique in question, while also working to trace out some of their legacies as they have travelled through history from one implementation to another. Examples will be provided, but participants are encouraged to suggest and work with their own examples. What does it means to understand techniques of computing and automation as coercive infrastructures? How did so many of the dreams and seeming promises of computing turn into the coercive practices that we see today? Following this opening discussion, we then move to working to build up a speculative understanding and possible archive of non-coercive computing. What potential artefacts, techniques and practices might we populate such an archive with? Has computing as a practice become so imbued with coercive techniques that we find it hard to imagine otherwise? By the end of the workshop we hope to, in the words of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, be able to look at the emerging archives in these sessions and wonder "how did their dreams make rooms to dream in"... or not, in the case of coercive practices of computing. And "what if she changes her dream?" What if we reboot this dream?

The workshop is part of the ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability and Transparency (ACM FAT*) which will take place on January 27-30, 2020.

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