Call for Papers: The Infrastructures of Socio-Ecological Knowing in the City

Abstract Deadline: 14th December 2023

We invite you to our workshop on ‘the infrastructures of socio-ecological knowing in the city’ that will take place on the 11thJanuary 2024, at King’s College London. The output of this workshop will be proposed as a special issue, which will be submitted in late Spring of 2024. Contributors to the workshop will be encouraged to submit to the issue, understanding the workshop to be a space for developing works in progress, rather than necessarily presenting complete papers. 

Please submit your 200 word proposals by the end of 14th December by emailing to gunes.tavmen@kcl.ac.uk

We have funds to cover (at least partially) the travel expenses for Early Career Researchers who otherwise don’t have funding. If you need to obtain visa to travel to the UK, let us know and we’ll expedite the decision making process for your abstract submission.

Overview

When the concept of the smart city emerged, one of its primary promises was to make cities more sustainable. With ubiquitous sensing and real time data flows, city administrators, we were told, would be able to monitor levels of urban pollution, energy use and air quality, which would lead to more efficient and sustainable management of resources. Whilst it is true that technologies, including cameras. sensors, and more recently AI, have been effective at recognizing and tracking environmental impacts, there is also much evidence that highlights the environmental cost of these same technologies, which rely on energy intensive infrastructures (Monserrate, 2022). Moreover, several scholars have observed that the quantifiable logics of data collection on this scale (the datafication of pollution, tree coverage, air quality etc.) does not necessarily lead to meaningful policy changes or straight forward action (see, for example, Gabrys, 2020). 

With the recent progress (and hype) in data and AI technologies, some have argued that other ways of knowing the city have been eclipsed by the episteme of data and algorithmic imaginaries, which offer seemingly objective views on urban processes due to their impressive technical capabilities (Mattern, 2017). Following Louise Amoore’s (2020) work, however, we know that AI and Machine Learning techniques can be understood as an aperture – or a perceived opening to new ways of knowing, but also a foreclosing of possible futures into computational and statistical ways of knowing. So, taking the urbanists Brenner and Schmid (2015)’s question: ‘through what categories, methods and cartographies should urban life be understood’?, we instead ask, ‘through what other categories, methods, and technologies could urban ecology be understood?’

We invite papers that are grounded in the reality of how data and AI technologies, and the situated socio-political ways they have become embedded in city governance, have come to shape our understanding of ecological processes in the city, thus moving us away from the imaginaries of smart city techno-utopias. We aim to bring together an understanding of the current state of play, but also to develop future directions for urban-ecological relations that are guided not by today’s focus on datafication and algorithmic processing, but by other ways of knowing the city. 

Some questions to guide submissions:

  • How do sensing and algorithmic technologies shape understandings and perceptions of socio-ecological systems in cities, and how might they foreclosure other ways of knowing?
  • Which ways of knowing the city are obscured by our society’s focus on the logics of datafication? 
  • How are socio-ecological relations made visible through the lens of digital media? And who are they made visible for?
  • What role do digital media platforms play in our understanding of socio-ecological ways of knowing the city?
  • What are the ways of socio-ecological knowing that may be localised, digital or non-digital that might help in working towards environmental justice in the urban environment?

Outsmarted? A creative methods toolkit for developing collective intelligence around the ‘digital city’

Dr Giota Alevizou and Dr Mike Duggan

Student experience in a digital city 

UK universities are an increasingly popular choice for international students, especially those seeking to experience life in multicultural, diverse centres indeed global cities such as London. Nonetheless, getting used to life in large diverse urban settings is not without its challenges. Several studies have reported students facing difficulties ranging from acculturation and socialisation, to datafication and surveillance. To address these challenges, digital media use and information sharing have become critical tools among students to mobilize resources or seize opportunities, but also, to deal with change, uncertainty or risks. The Outsmarted project sought to design an innovative participatory toolkit for understanding how our students met these challenges through and with digital media technologies. Amongst these technologies, understanding the impact of social media and mobility apps was a particular priority, as they have become primary sources for orientation among students, particularly prevalent in global cities such as London, often shaping spatial understandings and knowledge about communications infrastructures, networks and cultures that regulate young people’s life and access to the city’s material and symbolic resources

In addition to London’s global standing, the city has been at the centre of debates and discourse regarding how digital media technologies are shaping contemporary urban life. It has been a space for experimentation, innovation and dissent surrounding digital models of urbanism – smart, data driven, algorithmic urbanism. For proponents, such models often promise the delivery of new efficiencies, conveniences, and, capacities. For critics, such models position users, or rather city dwellers, as actors devoid of agency or knowledge beyond the machine of urban administration. In The City is not a computer, Shannon Mattern argues that agency and local knowledge should be at the heart of urban intelligence. By studying student experiences in London, the Outsmarted team sought to understand how they make sense of, navigate, and, ultimately become dwellers of a city rapidly transformed by digital technology and smart devices.  

The Outsmarted toolkit

Inspired by critical technology, urban and education studies, the Outsmarted project, led by Dr Alevizou, worked with KCL students from Digital Humanities and Liberal Arts to explore their experiences of London in terms of digital culture and communication infrastructures, places and spaces for knowledge, learning and leisure. Deploying a range of participatory pedagogies and qualitative methods, as well as creative and computational, systems thinking, it drew insights into students’ understanding of the ‘digital’ (culture, media, connections, networks and infrastructures and frames surrounding ‘appification’ and AI) through the city and with the city.

Participatory mapping workshops and group discussions, March 2023

This involved a place mapping and ‘asset’ mapping events aiming to reflect on experiences and uses of media, apps and AI tools as well as considerations of resources, needs and obstacles across the following sectors: education and health, space, mobility and culture. 

Discussions following the ‘mapping activities’ evoked a sense of participatory agency, as students contributed experiences as city dwellers and offered reflections surrounding challenges such as information/cognitive overload, mis/dis-information, surveillance as well as privacy concerns and tensions surrounding representation and algorithmic biases. Students reflected that ‘computational thinking’, and the creative, tactile elements of this methodology stimulated discussions that enabled them to collectively cultivate capacities for developing critical digital and AI literacies. 

Funding from the Digital Futures Institute enabled us to further reflect upon the existing instruments of the asset mapping toolkit. We used student feedback to refine and reproduce both design and frameworks for discussion that involves a ‘knowledge game’.  Deploying gamification, the toolkit can be used as board gameto:

  • offer new ways to learn about how the digital and the algorithmic is embedded in civic, personal and public domains of life in cities & to reflect on how to make meaningful change
  • to examine how sociality, subjectivity, and bias, affect become embodied practices within urban communication & digital infrastructures

We believe that deploying creative methods for enabling dialogue alongside conventional focus group and qualitative interviewing methods, allows for building an understanding of ‘knowledge’ or ‘intelligence’ around/through the ‘digital city’, and for, creating platforms for learning rights and for cultivating civic capacities. Living well with technology means engaging with technical processes and systems; recognizing that they are not neutral; and unpacking their agencies and their entanglement with how they are produced and used. It means awareness and intervention. 

The Outsmarted creative methods toolkit

Future Plans

We will use this toolkit as a further learning resource, based on research- informed collaborative pedagogies for DDH’s modules in digital culture and media.  A series of workshops will be advertised in the 2023-24 academic year for those wishing to learn more about the project and how to integrate the toolkit into their research and teaching and with a view to developing critical digital and AI literacies. 

Funding

The Outsmarted project was jointly funded by the Faculty of Arts & Humanities as well the School of Education, Communication and Society at King’s College London. The design iteration and production of the Outsmarted toolkit was funded by the Digital Futures Institute.  The toolkit builds upon participatory, capacity-building methodologies devised by numerous projects including the Media, Community and the Creative Citizen project and the UnBias AI project with further adaptions based on input of faculty and students from the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London. 

The toolkit can be accessed online and cited as: Alevizou Giota, Duggan, Michael & Photini Vrikki. (2023). Outsmarted? A Creative Methods Toolkit for reflecting on experiences of London as a Digital City. Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.8341806

Article on COVID-19 testing situations on Twitter published in Social Media + Society

King’s College London Department of Digital Humanities (DDH) researchers have contributed to a new collaborative article on “Testing and Not Testing for Coronavirus on Twitter: Surfacing Testing Situations Across Scales With Interpretative Methods” which has just been published in Social Media + Society.

The article is co-authored by Noortje Marres (CIM Warwick), Gabriele Colombo (DensityDesign Lab Milan, former King’s DDH), Liliana Bounegru (King’s DDH), Jonathan W. Y. Gray (King’s DDH), Carolin Gerlitz (Media of Cooperation, Siegen) and James Tripp (CIM Warwick), building on a series of workshops in Warwick, Amsterdam, St Gallen and Siegen.

The article explores testing situations – moments in which it is no longer possible to go on in the usual way – across scales during the COVID-19 pandemic through interpretive querying and sub-setting of Twitter data (“data teasing”), together with situational image analysis.

The full text is available open access here. Further details and links can be found at this project page. The abstract and reference are copied below.

How was testing—and not testing—for coronavirus articulated as a testing situation on social media in the Spring of 2020? Our study examines everyday situations of Covid-19 testing by analyzing a large corpus of Twitter data collected during the first 2 months of the pandemic. Adopting a sociological definition of testing situations, as moments in which it is no longer possible to go on in the usual way, we show how social media analysis can be used to surface a range of such situations across scales, from the individual to the societal. Practicing a form of large-scale data exploration we call “interpretative querying” within the framework of situational analysis, we delineated two types of coronavirus testing situations: those involving locations of testing and those involving relations. Using lexicon analysis and composite image analysis, we then determined what composes the two types of testing situations on Twitter during the relevant period. Our analysis shows that contrary to the focus on individual responsibility in UK government discourse on Covid-19 testing, English-language Twitter reporting on coronavirus testing at the time thematized collective relations. By a variety of means, including in-memoriam portraits and infographics, this discourse rendered explicit challenges to societal relations and arrangements arising from situations of testing and not testing for Covid-19 and highlighted the multifaceted ways in which situations of corona testing amplified asymmetrical distributions of harms and benefits between different social groupings, and between citizens and state, during the first months of the pandemic.

Marres, N., Colombo, G., Bounegru, L., Gray, J. W. Y., Gerlitz, C., & Tripp, J. (2023). Testing and Not Testing for Coronavirus on Twitter: Surfacing Testing Situations Across Scales With Interpretative Methods. Social Media + Society, 9(3). https://doi.org/10.1177/20563051231196538

Seminar: Experiments with stylometric distant reading too many books, or is there evolution in literature, or what happens to target language in translation, or what is poetry, and many other things • 28 November 2023

Event organised by the Computational Humanities research group

To register to the seminar and obtain the link to the call, please fill in this form.

28 November 2023 – 3pm GMT

King’s College London (in person) and MSTeams (remote)

Jan Rybicki (Jagiellonian University of Kraków, Poland), Experiments with stylometric distant reading too many books, or is there evolution in literature, or what happens to target language in translation, or what is poetry, and many other things

Abstract

If you want to analyse more books than you can read and remember (say, ten thousand and five novels, dramas and poetry collections in a language and/or translated into that language from other languages), you can count various things in their texts (like meaningful words, or, even better, grammatical words) and then try to make some sense out of it all by combining these results with the set’s metadata: author, authorial gender, translator, translatorial gender, source language, year or century and place of publication, and more). The questions that you can answer that way may not be the ones you’ve been taught to ask of literature at school, but at least you may get some answers. To prove this point even more strongly, this presentation will use literature that you’ve probably never read because it’s in a language you don’t even think you could learn (but no worries: this talk will be given in English).

Bio

Jan Rybicki is Associate Professor at the Institute of English Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, and Director of the Jagiellonian Centre for Digital Humanities there. He specialises in stylometric authorial attribution and distant reading of literature, with particular interest in literary translation, a natural choice when one considers that he has also translated into Polish over 30 novels by such authors as Kingsley Amis, Douglas Coupland, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, William Golding, Nadine Gordimer, Kazuo Ishiguro or Jeanette Winterson, including 10 books by John le Carré.

The video of this seminar is available here.

Seminar: Using AI to broaden access to historical archives• 21 November 2023

Event organised by the Computational Humanities research group

To register to the seminar and obtain the link to the call, please fill in this form.

21 November 2023 – 3pm GMT

Remote – Microsoft Teams

Giovanni Colavizza (University of Bologna, Italy), Using AI to broaden access to historical archives

Abstract

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is crucial in supporting archival processes and records management decisions, including for the increasingly digitized historical archives. The scale and complexity of historical archives contribute to make AI ever more relevant for bettering their organization and broadening access. In this talk I will discuss recent developments at the intersection of archives and AI, as well as highlight some of the challenges still lying ahead of us. I will also discuss recent work to exemplify the current state of AI applied to historical archives. Finally, I will suggest future research directions in AI for historical archives.

Bio

Giovanni Colavizza is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Bologna (Italy), and the CTO and co-founder of Odoma LLC (Switzerland). Colavizza has previously been an Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Amsterdam and a Senior Data Scientist at The Alan Turing Institute. Colavizza has a background in computer science and history and is specialized in Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications in the GLAM sector (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums).

The video of this seminar is available here.

Seminar: A digital journeying around • 12 September 2023

Event organised by the Computational Humanities research group

To register for the event, please fill in the following form: https://forms.gle/YT5k2Pqxv2DKNY6b6.

12 September 2023 – 3pm BST

King’s College London, Bush House (SE) 1.03, (in person) and MSTeams (remote)

Elton Barker (The Open University, United Kingdom), A digital journeying around

Abstract

Writing in the second century CE, Pausanias provides a deep dive into the cultural centres of the ancient Greek mainland. Describing the built environment through which he moves — from buildings to statues, even rocks on the ground — Pausanias supplements his account with stories about the places and objects he encounters. The challenge when following in his footsteps is to negotiate this ‘thick’ description, where every step of the way can be viewed through multiple temporal frames.  

In this talk I suggest that digital technology affords ways of not only identifying the granularity of the places Pausanias describes but also of getting a better sense of their place in the narrative, where places are related to each other and readers are challenged by the constant and insistent temporal shifts to place themselves in Greece’s storied landscape. Primarily, I want to show how Pausanias is “good to think with” when modelling digitally informed approaches to Humanities research. In particular, I will discuss the use of maps as tools for research (rather than as illustrations); the importance of collaboration and public scholarship; and the transformative potential of the technology of Linked Open Data, for helping us understand the ancient world as every bit relational, intersectional, and excitingly dynamic as ours.

Bio

Elton Barker is Professor of Greek Literature and Culture at the Open University. He has also lectured at the universities of Bristol, Nottingham, Reading, and Oxford. His research interests mostly focus on Homeric studies and historical geography. Since 2008, Elton has been leading and co-running many collaborative projects that use digital resources to rethink the spatial understanding of the ancient world. Such projects are Hestia, investigating the cultural geography of the ancient world starting from Herodotus’s HistoriesGoogle Ancient Places, identifying places across corpora of digital texts, and Pelagios, aimed at linking different online materials, among which many historical gazetteers such as Pleiades and the World Historical Gazetteer.

The video of this seminar is available here: https://youtu.be/zvoEoJlGeu0.

New article: ‘Risk consciousness and public perceptions of COVID-19 vaccine passports’

A new article on how perceptions of risk (Beck, Giddens) impact public attitudes towards vaccination passports, authored by DDH professor, Btihaj Ajana, and Elena Engstler, Anas Ismail & Marina Kousta.

Link to article: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/05390184231182056

Abstract:

In response to the global outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, many countries around the world have rushed to develop and implement various mechanisms, including vaccination passports, to contain the spread of the virus and manage its significant impact on heath and society. COVID-19 passports have been promoted as a way of speeding society’s return to ‘normal’ life while protecting public health and safety. These passports, however, are not without controversy. Various concerns have been raised with regard to their social and ethical implications. Framing the discussion within the ‘risk society’ thesis and drawing on an interview-based study with members of the UK public as well as the relevant literature, this article examines perceptions of COVID-19 vaccine passports. The findings of the study indicate that participants’ attitudes toward vaccine passports are primarily driven by factors relating to perceptions of risk. While some considered vaccine passports as a positive strategy to encourage vaccine uptake and facilitate travel and daily activities, others saw this mechanism as a coercive step that might alienate further those who are already vaccine hesitant. Issues of fairness, equity, discrimination, trust, and data security were major themes in participants’ narratives and their subjective assessment of vaccine passports.

Résumé:

En réponse à l’épidémie mondiale de COVID-19 au début de l’année 2020, de nombreux pays dans le monde se sont empressés d’élaborer et de mettre en œuvre divers mécanismes, dont les passeports vaccinaux, afin de contenir la propagation du virus et de gérer son impact considérable sur la santé et la société. Les passeports COVID-19 ont été présentés comme un moyen d’accélérer le retour de la société à la vie « normale » tout en protégeant la santé et la sécurité publiques. Ces passeports ne vont toutefois pas sans controverse. Leurs implications sociales et éthiques ont suscité de nombreuses inquiétudes. En inscrivant la discussion dans le cadre de la thèse de la « société du risque » et en s’appuyant sur une étude basée sur des entretiens avec des membres du public britannique ainsi que sur la littérature pertinente, cet article examine les perceptions des passeports vaccinaux de COVID-19. Les résultats de l’étude indiquent que les attitudes des participants à l’égard des passeports vaccinaux sont principalement motivées par des facteurs liés à la perception du risque. Alors que certains considèrent le passeport vaccinal comme une stratégie positive pour encourager la vaccination et faciliter les voyages et les activités quotidiennes, d’autres considèrent ce mécanisme comme une mesure coercitive qui pourrait aliéner davantage ceux qui hésitent déjà à se faire vacciner. Les questions de justice, d’équité, de discrimination, de confiance et de sécurité des données ont été des thèmes majeurs dans les récits des participants et dans leur évaluation subjective des passeports vaccinaux.

New Research Project: Art x Public AI

Art x Public AI is a new research project by the Creative AI Lab, a collaboration between the Serpentine (a public arts org in London) and the Department of Digital Humanities, KCL. The lab focuses on developing research and prototypes that further artistic experimentation with AI. Our aim is to expand the conversations around AI by offering a more nuanced vision and approach to the negotiation of its public value and interest. Through the lens of art-making, we are able to explore key questions with greater precision and specificity.   

A data visualisation analysing the openness of two AI tools over different layers such as energy, server, data, model, software application

In our first workshop* on the topic of Art x Public AI last month, we sketched out an AI tech stack (see above) in order to get a more multi-dimensional view of AI tools that artists are using across their technological infrastructures. In particular, we explored how the tech at each layer is governed and whether or not it is open source. This has been a useful preliminary exercise for shifting the conversation around foundational AI models, from being purely about the IP of inputs (training data) and outputs (generated works), to a bigger one about the interplay between different public and private governance and ownership models used at each layer of the stack. This shift is necessary to give us a better picture of how public interest can be positioned in relation to the influence and development of these technologies.

To this end,  Alana Kushnir (Serpentine Legal Lab & Guest Work Agency) provided us with insights into the existing legal frameworks for each layer of the AI tech stack. This allowed us to identify conceptual gaps and speculate about new types of legal and supralegal approaches that might become necessary in the near future. This first attempt to create a method for examining AI tools has allowed us to articulate where new approaches need to be devised––e.g. for dataset governance, or for a model and its weights. 

As an example, RadicalxChange’s work on data coalitions and escrow agents presents a new data governance paradigm that could sit within the ‘data’ layer of the stack. New frameworks like this emerge only when we closely interrogate the value of the data layer and understand it to be relational. This aligns well with Salome Viljoen’s work on relational data, which Photini Vrikki and Mercedes Bunz discuss as a shift from big to democratic data

Why use artistic production to explore AI discourse?

We know from our work in the Creative AI Lab that artistic practices are exceptionally good at surfacing models for engagement with AI technologies–and not only engagement with the end user. More importantly, the production processes of the creative systems (including ML models) that artists build, highlight concerns that are resonant with those of the general public: What rights do you have over the models you build? Or over the outcomes of a model you use? What relationship do you have to the data you use to train it? Etc.

As we move closer to a world where generative images, audio, and language models can produce evocative content ad infinitum, artists will increasingly identify their ‘artwork’ with their own creative tech system including their own AI model. So, for artists working with AI, the capacity for creative agency will be heavily correlated with the ability to manipulate, govern and verify their machine learning models. And as it happens, this negotiation will also be central to the way in which AI can become a truly public societal infrastructure. 

We will be posting updates as we advance our research. You can also follow the work of Future Art Ecosystems by subscribing to their newsletter, here

Eva, Mercedes & the Creative AI Lab

*Thanks to Eva Jäger, Victoria Ivanova and Kay Watson (Serpentine), Alana Kushnir (Serpentine Legal Lab & Guest Work Agency), Reema Selhi (DACS), Oliver Smith (dmstfctn), and Mercedes Bunz, Daniel Chavez Heras, Alasdair Milne (all DDH) as well as Caroline Sinders.

Professor Stuart Dunn’s Inaugural Lecture at King’s College London

On 20th June 2023, Stuart Dunn of the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London delivered his Professorial Inaugural Lecture, The Spatial Humanities: A Challenge to the All-Knowing Map, which explored:

What are Spatial Humanities, and why does King’s have a Professor dedicated to them?

In 1946 Jorge Luis Borges published a short story about a fictional kingdom fixated with perfecting the Art of Cartography. The people construct a map so exact, that it covers the whole expanse of the kingdom. But the map is abandoned by later generations and decayed; until all that is left are its tattered ruins, inhabited only by animals and beggars.

Professor Dunn examines the present-day successors of Borges’s all-encompassing map. Namely, the platforms through which we navigate and wayfind – Google Maps, OpenStreetMap, Apple Maps and so on, and which – metaphorically – cover the world’s entire surface.

Framed partly by the history of ideas, partly by cartography, and partly by digital place-making, Professor Dunn’s approach is situated at that crossroads of disciplines that make up the Spatial Humanities. Through a linked discussion of early antiquarian place-writing, the emergence of Global Position System (GPS) technology, and with what the geographer Doreen Massey called “space-time compression”, he explores the origins of our motivation to “know” the entire world through mapping.

He also discusses how this has led to contemporary placemaking becoming tattered through corporatization and commercialization. How can the Spatial Humanities help us fix our place? Both in the sense of locating where we are, and of repairing our relationship with it.

A full transcript and recording of the lecture can be found here.

Dr Kate Devlin leads £5m UKRI research project to explore responsible and trustworthy AI

King’s College London have been awarded £5m in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to support a collaborative project led by Dr Kate Devlin from the Department of Digital Humanities and involving Dr Caitlin Bentley and Professor Sana Khareghani (Department of Informatics), and Professor Prokar Dasgupta (Peter Gorer Department of Immunobiology and the Department of Surgical & Interventional Engineering).

The grant will fund research that helps us understand what responsible and trustworthy AI is, how to develop it, and how to build it into existing systems and the impacts it will have on society:

This is a timely investment, bringing together a world-leading, diverse and multidisciplinary team from all four nations of the UK to work on cutting-edge issues. It is particularly exciting to have the King’s strand of the project based in Arts and Humanities, where the College has recently invested in the Digital Futures Institute, exploring how we can live well with technology. This is truly cross-cutting research on responsible AI with a human-centred approach at the very heart of it.

Dr Kate Devlin, who is leading King’s involvement with the UKRI Responsible Artificial Intelligence UK (RAI UK)