Since arriving at UW almost four years ago, I’ve been involved in student politics. I’ve not talked about it here as most of it is rather prosaic and, for those not at UW, largely irrelevant. Every now and then, though, something comes up which might be of wider interest..

In early May, GPSS, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, ran its second Science and Policy Summit, an event for academics, policy-makers, and the general public that looks at the interactions between scientific research and policy development. This year, we ran two panels, one on the impact of bioinformatics on preventive medicine, and the other on the role of science in public political discussion, focusing on the US Presidential debates. As well as the panels, we also ran a series of short talks, inspired by the TED model.

There were about 10 talks, 10 minutes each, delivered by a mix of graduate students, post-docs, and faculty, and of a very high quality. Here’s a few topics to whet your interest:

  • Couch safety, various failed attempts at regulation, and the fate of your cat
  • The ups and downs of developing tourism as a means of restoring communities and ecosystems in SE Asia
  • A passionate argument for the necessity of cosmology research
  • The woeful state of healthcare in the US (not health funding, but healthcare itself), including some rather damning statistics and factoids, presented as humorously as possible

We recorded all of the talks, and they’ve now been posted to YouTube. They’re all rather interesting, and worth at least a look, even if the film quality isn’t all I’d hoped when I filmed them.


Posted in Conference Notes, Science & Technology | No Comments »

I spent Saturday at the HCI for Peace workshop representing the Voices from the Rwandan Tribunal project. It was fairly informal, with only 10 participants, which made it easy for everyone to participate in the discussion. Several participants presented projects they’ve worked on, including:

  • Lahiru Jayatilaka, a Sri Lankan PhD student from Stanford, who presented his work on improving land mine detection systems by tracking the detector tip and allowing the operator to mark detection points that are then displayed back along with the detector’s path, making it easier to determine the shape of an object detected. In trials with the US Army, he also found that his tool significantly aided in training by making it easier for trainers to see the patterns used by students. He’s looking for funding and collaborators to help him bring the tool to maturity so he can start to spread it to NGOs working in land mine detection and removal around the world.
  • Janak Bhimani, a TV director and producer pursuing a PhD at the Keio Media Design lab, who presented a documentary he produced collaboratively with a small group of online volunteers about the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake last year in Japan, called “Lenses + Landscapes“. Based on his experience with it, he’s become interested in tools for greater online collaboration in documentary making and, particular, in documentaries that evolve over time; what he calls the ‘growing documentary’.
  • John Thomas, a CHI veteran from IBM research, who presented his work on building a library of patterns for socio-technical systems that can avoid, deescalate, or assist in the resolution of conflicts. These focused more on a personal level than a societal one, but the general ideas run true to larger scales, and furthermore, large conflicts often emerge from small disagreements. He ran through several examples; here are a couple that struck me:
    • Who speaks for Wolf? – Based on a Native American story, this pattern suggests that in any decision making activity where one or more stake-holders are absent, it is important to identify that fact, and determine whether someone else at the meeting is able to speak with sufficient authority and knowledge on behalf of that stake-holder. By doing this, misunderstandings and conflicts can be avoided.
    • The Rule of Six – Whenever one is forced to make an assumption or interpretation because of limited or biased knowledge, one should attempt to come up with at least 5 other possible explanations before accepting the first (and probably easiest) one. This is particularly true with regards negative assumptions, and is basically a method for giving the benefit of the doubt.
  • Evangelos Kapros, a Greek PhD student at the University of Dublin’s Trinity College, who presented and discussed challenges in information visualization and data management with regards understanding flows of immigration and other critical demographic processes that sometimes lead to conflict.

Also in attendance were Juan Pablo Hourcade, an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa and organizer of the event; Lisa Nathan, an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, co-PI on the Rwandan project, and a former student at UW; Daniela Busse, from Samsung Research; Daisy Yoo, a student and colleague of mine at UW also working on the Rwandan project, and Kelsey Huebner, an undergraduate assisting Juan-Pablo with running the workshop. Neema Moraveji, director of the Calming Technology Lab at Stanford, was not present, but gave a short presentation on his work in ‘calming technology’ via Skype.

As well as individual project presentations, we also discussed the place of HCI in peace-making, peace-keeping, and harmony. A number of points and questions were salient:

  • The complexity of the term ‘peace’ is challenging, and requires much thought. We seemed to be conceptualizing peace as more than just the absence of war, but as a general promotion of peacefulness, including the avoidance of conflict, the promotion of harmony and calmness in life, and efforts to restore peace and order after events such as natural disasters.
  • The term peace may be over-broad to the point of being meaningless – by attempting to create a movement of HCI for Peace, are we mirroring the beauty queen who naively says she wants to bring about World Peace with her reign?
  • What should the research agenda of ‘HCI for Peace’ look like? Suggested approaches included creating tools like Ushahidi that aid others in peace-seeking efforts, working in the field to create new technical solutions that directly foster peace, and observing and understanding the use of technology by others in working for peace.
  • Who are logical ‘allies’ in this work – what other academics and disciplines should we look to for collaboration?

In the time available, it was impossible to come to any detailed consensus on these issues, and it was generally agreed that further thought and development would be necessary. Interactions magazine has offered us a spot as the cover article in an issue later this year, and we’re hoping that this will give us an opportunity to address these concerns in more depth.

All up, a fascinating and rewarding way to spend a day. Not to mention an excellent lunch and tasty pizza and conversation at the end of the day!


Posted in Conference Notes, Mind & Society, Science & Technology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
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