Designing Humanity


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Designing Humanity
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Fass, John
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This session proposes that the design of digital interfaces and interactions is a fundamentally moral and political enterprise. From weather forecasts to activity trackers, digital interactions shape the way we understand the world around us. We are shaped in turn by the interfaces we use. Swiping right to select a date or sharing selfies, digital interactions are designed to fulfil a vision of frictionless ubiquity. Is that the right thing to do? What would be better? How should we respond? Come and listen to a few suggestions…
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home the hand is the um as a noun as
John fast as designer researcher lecture to merge them Royal College of Arts um or them London College of Communication hatch in the 1st evaluated the upset land here in that the implicit or the long bond of as it is the angle of the pulsar John fossil and design and humanity but in a time
and that the means and unique came here expecting to see Thomas Fisher now's your chance super-peer
organist I am extremely impressed as so many people the 1 about the ethics and morality of interface design because that's on the talk about that my name is John and so introduction I'm a teacher lecturer in London I run a course on information interface design in South London the London College a communication from a lecture at the Royal College of Arts and Kensington uh I'm going to talk about um designed principally cause that's what I do I'm and designer almost gonna talk extremely fast and use a lot of English idioms so they can really test the person is writing down 1 thing to say so thus making semi message symmetry canal half so uh additional interfaces they all bull way into the digital world and then the everyday activities of Y Tu and Y. care about and I think that a lot of old road map a Republican this week so far as really important stuff about data politics and politics but a lot of this debate it just doesn't reach up to the interface level and it doesn't reach out to the details of designing interactions for the screen and so and talk about a bit and I think that this ethical and political dimension of interfaces I should be a bit more widely understood so when the 1st talk about the concepts behind this idea uh and how technologies can have a lot of unforeseen effects on the people that use them but good and bad on the talk about how technology is particularly
interfaces in body certain types of power relations that are implicit in how they made and delivered to us online or otherwise on the talk give some suggestions for how we could design
interfaces to be more moral and more ethical and more useful for a just society and this talk is called designing humanity after a Dutch philosopher of 10 technological
equal Paul Verbeek who says that technology is increasingly shape our behavior our actions in the world in obvious but often quite unexpected ways designing technologies that means designing humanity designing behaviors into technologies so this he takes technology as a functional instruments for achieving a certain things but as active mediators in a set of relations so we don't really see technologies as objects that we pick up a news but as ways that we can get through to our life well the things that we experience in life so that that means I see digital technologies as indicative of
this set of relations that we have at the world around us thank the it uh so really here ways any kind of activity or fitness tracker there wearing 1 those now my expected a few more and what we at devices uh my wife used to wear 1 and 2 she found the self climbing up and down the stairs every nite about 6 times in order to reach a required talking goal but we talk of behavior and but that's what I interface elicits quite this is the track I wanna be's
ahead headband uh every nite for about 6 months as it tracks it what sleep phase urine most interested in checking my sleep and
war until a set of waking up every nite looking at the thing to try and find out what the phase I was in
ridiculous threw away after that and technologies can make us behaving quite strange ways and and no 1 is immune to this the Holy Father himself included and and I was also argue
that for a crowd behavior amplifies this effect so I thing here is that he's doing a walk about somewhere people on itself is with and the technologies also shape our identity uh they allow
us to be it different types of people in a scene different times about this sees Lawrence Lessig right so a little bit about this so
I suppose the question for a designer of ethical interfaces in this context is what types of identities does your interface encourage inhibited or produce and I you know where the technologies do this allow for this kind of thing it
technologies of power intersect with technologies of the self this is a different for growth which has I think a specific resonance of the social media was a lot of talk where social media this at this conference so this is a kind of quite clear example from a this is and I love you've probably seen this person me is a covert very current mean from earlier on this week is about breast cancer campaign in not allowed to show that women's bodies on facebook so you have to use a man breasts to do quite interesting so this is an interface that forbids you to show your body except in very very specific and prescribed forms of power relations in very in a very obvious dynamic and so what happens when technologies and no longer mediating our experience of everyday life like say a camera phone that we might look through a sunset
they in fact the technologies constitute that life itself that like like an Oculus Rift or of VR helmet then there might be some really different ethical dimensions to 1 interface designer might do if if all of life is experience by the technology not simply a passage through the technology to other life than the maybe some other more complicated moral questions so the external world in this situation is external only to the extent that it sits on your face in the form of a helmet or or a mask and and if you go through to the laboratory Okonkwo work of a column on how to say the word but I think it's a laboratory at everything is the are over there and I suppose I would like to see a maybe a more critical approach to how those interfaces are designed so this is a vision of how we should experience alone I find it quite telling everyone else is immersed in the with only the 2nd his head above water uh a 1 0 0 no kind of what what I might mean is known in the audience that wants to take their their heads off so all designers act through materials uh furniture makers use wood and steel 90 million and jewelry designers use use gold metals always kind of thing and but the materials of interface design a bit different than much less materially present they include the menus and and and I think a hierarchy of hardware screens processors memory chips software desktop applications menu tools files and at code-level uh perhaps additional John scripts and CSS and a lot code level tools that interface designer might use and all of those technologies are in some way holistically aligned toward and that is in the the functional getting people through the system and I suppose what I wanna say as we should harness those tools also for moral ethical and political ends it the
and I use these tools or time every day of the designers become very familiar with them and in some ways that they disappear but the constraints of these materials somehow extend into also implicit moral and ethical constraints so again the question for an interface design is how to your design constraints evolve into behavior constraints and are you even aware that that's happening and what can you do about it it
it the it so the
interface design has developed under the influence of very of technological determinism and very technocentric way of being in the world
and acting every everything's gonna be seen of seamless and smooth and and there's no friction that doesn't what punk looks like very smooth California no seamless stuff but the solution is very hard to maintain so this is how tender responded when the system went down and about 10 days ago this was a really what they're saying all we restore assistance totally broken all those interactions that you've been doing find someone's go out with that so few disappeared but their interfaces and really allow them to respond in a way the represents what's happening really sorry they can be back really soon and
it so at the same time the making of technology has changed from a response to human necessity we need tools for communication to the essential purpose of human effort now the idea is that kind of all we do is develop
technologies the often quite blindly I would say so that in the context of digital technologies this effort is shaped by market dynamics that traditionally they don't really value reflection of critical input so left alone
technological feminism will never provide for its own self-correction it just they can't do that it is left on it so it must act
toward his own ultimate and my argument is that interface designers should use you some of the moral responsibility but for that to happen because technology is never gonna do on its own additional systems are designed to
encourage certain behaviors and inhibit others usually their prime in primary motivation is to increase the number of users and consequently monetize uh that the actions of those users so some limits we are always going to be built into the system
given that those are the parameters of the people behind it so he can see the amount of 10 likes is strictly limited you want more lights that you gotta pay for them the system creates his
own needs and then the interfaces right is designed around fulfilling or denying those needs find a closed system so we access the world
through yeah technologies social world and the physical world from these glasses dominating through to you all out nor even that many people texting quite surprising to the
phone screen I read the news from and this has a fairly significant effect on how we see the world so our
understanding of how the human brain works is profoundly shaped by magnetic resonance
imaging technologies our ideas of what the unborn child looks like are mediated by ultrasound technologies and that influences the
way we think about the world around us it the digital technologies I think always seem to tend towards invisibility or certainly increasing miniaturization so contactless payments is a huge thing at the moment there was announcements for contactless has arrived as if we're all supposed have been waiting for it for so long here it is right but might might it not be better that financial transactions were in fact more visible
not less visible so this is a big thing to detecting in and out of the public transport system but with your watch it seems like
it seems like a strange thing to do to me this conceals a whole lot more complex interactions that are not present in any kind of interface so using your watch to control your access to public transport has significant implications for identity recognition data capture algorithmic profiling of all of other stuff so so the ethical and moral thing to do fine interface design is to make those things apparent making clear know what's really happening when you talk show just touch a rest for a 2nd uh to that reader so
this is a pet facial recognition uh I would argue the ultimate end point of camera vision technology recognize your pet where river he goes so what I wanna say is that Digital Life is life not 2 separate spheres of moral or political action dish life is life moral and political decisions that govern individual and collective life of simply displaced to digital technologies that encompassed by them many of them developed and maintained by large corporations that we don't know and never see so we should insist that digital life is inseparable from what we might call real life because if we don't we always going to have the argument
award don't worry that doesn't have to be moral that's only digital so so that's another part another
important part of this argument is a digital life is life it needs a moral framework around it just like everyday life does uh interface should play a part in the argument digital technologies
invite all technologies are always being adapted uh and transformed by the people that use them uh that actively shaped by people and this is why hacker labs and make a space is uh and and if you go into the main hall you'll see
that geeks Sturm the all that stuff is really important because it shows that technologies on closed we can enter into them and we can adapt them an improvised into our own use is that perhaps might be an unintended but but that means that the evaluation of the success of any design must ought not only include its functional qualities how well does it do its job I easy is it is it to use how quickly does it download but also its moral qualities seen as a measure of how it encourages people to act on what kind of acts it results in a that's the station I make between ethical and moral to ethical implies
actions in the world a moral implies some behavior or inner and understandings yeah the technologies always adapted to people do whatever they want with them as technology becomes more physically close with tiny tiny screws that you
need specialist screwdrivers to to unscrew and fused plastic cases they also become more conceptually closed with proprietary operating systems commercially seeker algorithms and other things that we that we can't enter into legally when are allowed to uh and so our opportunities for adaptation transformation become more important as they become more limited and and
we need to be aware of that but so 1 of the questions some I ask you guys is this movement is already well established that we make stuff and take things apart and make new things out of it but so why are interfaces so rigid and so unchangeable inside the system interfaces seem to be
the last thing in this argument and of of being able to change things as this is an interesting 1 in India that people use the missed call function as a as an important signifier to land to user expensive minutes you your phone rings he don't answer and the fact that you've missed the call uh has as the meaning of its own so this is a form of what call social technical behavior and has been and exploited by a political parties and and global corporations so so the point I wanna make here's
our assumptions about human activity i.e. that people will answer the phone when it rings and they designed into the interface the big bounds on Stratus this white on 3 or whatever but and in fact people 2 very different things with technologies and that means the decision about what to include shapes the possibilities for human action in human agency and therefore control over what we do in the world and it frames at the design decision as in as a moral decision so what what are we able to do what is the system allow us to do what actions are possible it the it so 1 strategy for that is repurposing stuff to hear someone uh they've taken the uh a battery of the phonon and got as a lithium ion rechargeable cells so come we build these
possibilities in into the interface itself maybe not physical objects that some people think about already and buy into the interface and how it works this idea that could be taken upon you can adapt it for yourself that this is the crystal meth drone it yeah
a there unintended consequences to everything that we put into the world and once the design is baked into it it's pretty difficult to change it so that this is why open technologies a sample to so how does it
manifest itself these problems on interfaces that dark patterns and some of your D worrying know about this but they work on num defaults it's when interface design is deliberately set out to deceive people and to and to put misleading information uh many of these and are very everyday experiences in a firm for a lot of people support the design process
is anticipating how people will use any particular designed object virtual or physical and designers then build in those prescriptions how should it be used and and what is possible so some some actions are invited and
some are discouraged and the ethical task then is to decide the balance between those 2 things and I'm not really saying that things should be always encouraged or things should be always inhibited but that there should be a moral balance between those decisions and not just a functional or a visual 1 so pans defend on that depend on defaults and this is you quite well known piece of research now that shows that if you set the defaults for organ donor ship and to opt out you have you have far greater than uptake of people so you have to choose not to be an organ donor and in virtually every country that's ever done this you have much much larger uptake uh Oxfam good organization that we could support the global NGO doing good things uh distributing aid all around the world all the look they've got a default is single donation is a regular monthly donations that we pretty
easy to overlook that and suddenly you making a regular monthly donations talks found not saying that's a bad idea in fact we probably should all do that but the fact that they set this default I would argue is morally questionable with Oxfam is doing that you can bet most of the people are to his someone's blog iPad and at the last moment the system has slipped in an iPad case without them ordering that all selecting the classic example of a dark pattern so when you receive your iPad accounts of the case new thing hold on and in order that a but you did and you paid for it this is the UK postal service how many of us have seen this kind of thing
this was especially tricky because the 1st 2 are if you don't want to receive and the next 2 or if you do want to receive so you'd have to read all that text and click the correct
boxes to avoid your mailbox filling up with with junk and how often you see this kind of thing I mean no lots of websites to this so he's a case is a game to adopts quite a fun to downloaded it think it was 4 . 7 overtime loss of games do this in a very good at it they did the
interface trains you to react in a certain way it's in interphase item in this case the green button to go from left to right
you can circuit play again go on apply wanna play all hold on now paying to play with no real indication that the interaction is changed and if you and if you play this game a lot you can end up spending money and that you don't want and didn't intend to
spend this is kind of famous example ryanair otherwise known as the devil
they yeah they try to get you to buy insurance in order not to buy insurance you have to scroll down to
between Denmark and Finland to the beginning of the word d food don't give me insurance if
tricky stuff that you designed that had
very sneaky very unethical uh all of this stuff is invisible at toll even if you did
scroll down to between Denmark and Finland there's lots of sneaky unethical stuff going on without you even knowing and a few examples here most of these are all kind of the same example which is uh it's hidden geo-location so it is and it is uh in emoji input this is this is kind of famous case from the Google um Chrome store you download app and let's use all kinds of weird and wonderful emerges but hold on it reports your location every 10 minutes so they're just not that into the app without letting anyone know that that is happening so it turns out its main purpose is not to give you new and fun emerges is main purpose is to tell advertisers where in the world you are and sell information on the same thing going on
here is aware that was the weather where I'm going nowhere I'm likely to be 0 at the weekend what's going on hold on reports locations with incredible frequency is no real ever reason for it to do that uh who here uses Instagram
most people uh heavy turn geo-located images off probably have is run doesn't care about that they geotagged or your images with the you've got geotagging turned off or not very sneaky very moral For unethical fission finally a famous case the tall chapter the reports where you
are to advertisers around the world uh this 1 that was it was it was is a famous case and so designers can use technology to persuade and this is a great case for that uh political advocacy and Oxfam there to seduce people into buying things or even seduce people into acting to do good things in the world and in forcing people to act in certain ways you see this all the time uh loads of apps and platforms they force you to give your name was
looking at there would never sign up to the but right and worry but you are not allowed to use over until you've given them your full name full name you phone number and a credit card details that's the 1st thing that they ask you for before you can even see what the system does all wrote an account a b and b by incredibly complex system of feedback don't worry you can give this comment but your host when see it but we'll see it but what business don't use all of that so these technologies they enforce invisible power relations you see this all the time and and 1 of the jobs of the interface design is to bring them to life just to make them apparent everyone can see the type of things be better well if you clear and
easy ways and this is quite new of field I think but this is a voluntary regulation so codes of ethics style explicitly for user experience and
the interface design work uh DIA is an Australian design institutes code of ethics and ethics code for the user experience professional association of this kind of thing is well known in other fields as why shouldn't interface designers are very well out there doing it would support this kind of thing and this is what I would call a resistance so when you bring and
invisibly tracts by your browser cookies whatever they now use goes to reach pretty good but lots of other things and you can use that do
this and that makes that tools explicitly designed to counteract the hidden in forced actions i.e. we're
taking as a data value you and we're not gonna tell you so my argument is that this is a
category of ethical design that takes ethics and morality as a as
explicitly as its subject to the people who design these things that already same ligands unethical interface they're saying we're gonna interrupt this marketplace of tracking with a thing that we think is better and more and more ethical so support this kind of thing and finally but this this kind of thing something more often as well it's an intervention directly into the interface you can see the 1st 1 is higher and it says there is an apple I'll say these are the kind privacy settings do you really wanna do this no
prop in a pop up through the process of using the the system and the 2nd 1 you can see is privacy protection work in any of seeking date
protect uh 0 or fake Cecaf fake your the uh the uhm map 1 you can start a fake your location so you can drag that 10 anywhere in
the world you wanna be and I'll be a good 1 for the Instagram users for example he's able you might
think that and I'm in Berlin but I'm just gonna say I'm in Santa Monica or whatever quite clever quite clever idea I think and the
4th 1 there is some since place for that were discovered to have been tracking people who who just visit the site without even being members and this is a way of giving false names but to the system sort all
track imaginary people and and and and and and deceive the system in that way so I'm not the only 1 is thinking about this some
not representing this is a as a as a brand new ideas a designer could Gabriel white has been doing interesting stuff and he says that designers should provide feedback on how much the how much time people spend on the site and how the system elicits a
change in usage patterns over time so when a start using up I might be using if they're in a certain way maybe you once a day or something and and as it starts to shake my behavior out so my pattern of usage will change on the AP on playing a game more often or whatever and the interfacial explicitly show that how has this system started to shake my behavior you could also compare the way you use the system to the way other people use it that kind of thing and we should design features so that users are not encouraged to do repeated on obsessive uh actions Candy Crush great example them the ethical thing to do as a designer would be to consider the behavioral impact of avoided designing warehouses houses know have you deliberately designed it and predictive or obsessive behavior and so the speaker after me
and which only sums mis-stressing work on this topic as well uh about how interfaces enforce obedience of a certain kind of certain Mrs. told directly after this you I think you locked in here in US economy where anyway and so all of this stuff could be go in to interfaces and so what I want to end with
is a call for designers and like mean from a teacher's well of course but in my design
work is quite head down stuff it's quite difficult to be able to you know lift your head away from the
coal face and so that 1 of my doing and how my doing it so my call is that we should do that and so consider the implications for humanity and behavioral more people do all the stuff that we desire um thanks not falling asleep thanks
for listening habits tools to anyone wants to talk more about this thanks a lot we have
to thank you very much so we hear that tone might win


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