Thursday June 6
Bio/profile at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Flows of learning between STS and its fields
Etymologically, to con-tribute means ‘to give in common with others’. Making a scholarly contribution typically implies specifying those others from the outset: either they are defined as fellow scholars within a circumscribed discipline – the scientific contribution – or as societal recipients of the scholarly gift – the societal contribution. Although STS would seem less susceptible to such categorizations due to its non-linear understandings of knowledge production and travel, such dichotomous understandings do linger on in the “floating ampersand” debate: the question whether the acronym stands for Science, Technology & Society, or for Science & Technology Studies. But what possibilities for making contributions emerge if we resist the choice between making academic or societal contributions? What flows of learning may then emerge between academic and other epistemic practices? What artful contamination between STS and its fields become possible if we take Michel Serres’ advice to heart to “give up the comforts of disciplinary specialism” that the scientific contribution provides, and instead “risk putting [our]selves into perpetual translation” (Brown 2002)? In this contribution I draw upon efforts to carve out spaces for STS scholarship that make and do their contributions by entwining scholarly and societal concerns and epistemic practices. I specify their potential by drawing upon ongoing work on knowledge inclusion in epistemically hierarchal settings in health care. Mobilizing methods from natural language processing AI to analyse what people post online on health topics, allows their knowledges to become part of highly methodologized guideline development spaces. It also creatively entwines epidemiological attachments to frequentist epistemic reasoning with attempts in STS to move beyond the reification of ‘local knowledge’. But may I thereby also be stumbling upon the uncomfortable finding of widely shared – dare I say universal? – experiential knowledge across patients in vastly different settings?
Friday June 7
Bio/profile at University of Warwick
On tech trials in the public sector and the politics of falsifiability
In this talk, I examine two recent controversies about tech trials in the public sector in the UK to develop an analysis of the politics of technology testing and counter-testing “beyond the laboratory": the NHS-Deepmind controversy and the use of facial recognition by the police. I will argue that these controversies demonstrate the importance of knowledge politics to the politics of innovation today. In both cases, the very status and definition of the object of technology testing in society became the focus of public contestation. Can tech deployments in hospitals, shops and streets really be defined as test when the consequences for affected parties are real? Do tech trials evaluate algorithmic systems, or are underpinning data infrastructures part of what is being tested? The answers to these two questions not only have implications for the distribution of epistemic power in tech trials, they also determine to a significant extent whether the politics of innovation pursued through tech trials qualifies as authoritarian or democratic. I will argue that ultimately at stake here is the falsifiability of technological propositions. Today’s tech trials are embroiled in a techno-politics of non-falsifiability: even as tech is continuously being tested in hospitals, shops and streets, trial designs render technology unchallengable from the standpoint of everyday life. However, at the same time, these trials are being challenged through new forms of epistemic activism, in which the creation of conditions of falsifiability and the articulation of testing facts - inaccuracy, bias and abuse of power - becomes a key contribution of activist intervention.