Conjectural Technologies (Prototeam 2)

Designing for cross-disciplinary conversation

Institutions are investing in responsible research and innovation efforts to address anxieties around the uncertainties of sociotechnical innovation and in attempts to responsively take care of the future. Rights- and risk-based frameworks attempt to ensure the protection of values of perceived importance, such as privacy, independence, and autonomy, centering people as autonomous and independent individuals who can make informed decisions about technology use given sufficient information. This perspective puts impossible responsibilities on people as they make decisions about technology (Dourish, 2004, Stewart et al., 2008). Despite increasing work on the development of ubiquitous computing systems as holistic care services (Key et al, 2021, Light & Akama, 2014) care remains a difficult term to define. When ambient sensing environments are designed to provide care, notions of care relations and care networks move into the focus of technological development, acknowledging the fluidity of relations between actors. 

From a critical algorithm studies perspective, algorithms are viewed as social and cultural artifacts that mediate social interactions, shape individual behaviour, and influence societal outcomes (Kitchin, 2017). In turn, the outcomes of these mediations lead to bottom-up understanding of the agency and potential of algorithmic systems (Seaver, 2017).  

According to social learning theory (Bandura, 1977), humans rely on observing how other people behave–and to which consequences–to adopt behavioural patterns. There are diverse actors in our environment that influence which information we learn and reproduce, which are broadly classified according to their social and cultural relevance and divided into vertical (parents/children), oblique (non-parental adults/children) and horizontal (peers) hierarchies. The influence of these actors changes over time, with actors replacing or displacing each other alongside changes in culture and context. In the context of ageing and care practices, old adults have mostly relied on their children (vertical) and medical professionals (oblique), yet with the exponential integration of algorithmic systems into caring practices it is relevant to ask: which actors might be replaced or displaced as algorithms increasingly take on caring roles, and to what consequences? We address these questions by using a social learning lens to look at how the imaginaries of aging-in-place technology users become positioned in their caring networks and ask: 

i) through which everyday practices are users of aging-in-place technologies discussing and imagining the agency and intention of these technologies? 

ii) how are these imaginaries shaping the relationships they develop with aging-in-place technologies? 

We present three pre-participatory speculations, based on previous research with ACRC and personal care stories from the relations with our elder relations. The speculations touch upon different themes of shifting care relations as outlined above, and are presented in forms of fictional corporate documentation materials – with user testimonials and product pitches. These speculations are suggested to be used as disposable storylines enabling cross-disciplinary conversations amongst the different departments of ACRC, connecting conflicts of technical feasibility with tensions of social desirability. The different spcuelations can be viewed on the website of a speculative design studio Conjectural Technologies, which provides the fictional corporate framing for the speculations. We embed these disposable speculations in an interactive workshop framing which aims to encourage the participants to dissect and deconstruct them based on their different disciplinary perspectives, and thus engage coorperatively in the critical examination of the speculation across their disciplinary disputes.  

In this prototeam, we partnered with ACRC.



Dourish, P. 2004. What we talk about when we talk about context. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing. 8, 1 (Feb. 2004), 19–30. DOI: 

Stewart, J. et al. 2008. Accessible contextual information for urban orientation. Proceedings of the 10th international conference on Ubiquitous computing – UbiComp ’08 (Seoul, Korea, 2008), 332. 

Key, C. et al. 2021. Proceed with Care: Reimagining Home IoT Through a Care Perspective. Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Yokohama Japan, May 2021), 1–15. 

Light, A. and Akama, Y. 2014. Structuring future social relations: the politics of care in participatory practice. Proceedings of the 13th Participatory Design Conference on Research Papers – PDC ’14 (Windhoek, Namibia, 2014), 151–160. 

Kitchin, R., 2017. Thinking critically about and researching algorithms. Information, communication & society, 20(1), pp.14-29. 

Seaver, N., 2017. Algorithms as culture: Some tactics for the ethnography of algorithmic systems. Big data & society, 4(2) 

Bandura, Albert, and Richard H. Walters. Social learning theory. Vol. 1. Prentice Hall: Englewood cliffs, 1977. 

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