Anthropology + Technology Conference, Bristol 2019

We are excited to announce a conference that will bring together anthropologists and technologists in Bristol on 3-4 October 2019. Will you join us?

Why this conference and why now?

Already we are seeing the damaging and dangerous effects of automated decision-making (AI) in areas such as policing, finance, credit reporting, and administration of public programmes. The rapid pace of change means the social harm being caused by emerging technologies is deeply disturbing. 

Before we reach the "momentous social and economic turbulence that is on our horizon", something needs to change. 

There’s so much at stake.

Why anthropologists are uniquely placed to help

More and more people and institutions are calling for ethical standards, for a Hippocratic oath for the data scientists, systems engineers, and computer scientists. Some are pointing to bioethics as a model.

However, what seems to be missing is a call for social scientists.

Anthropologists, with their understanding about human practices and human experience, are uniquely placed to help. Anthropologists are already working in companies such as Intel, Google, Microsoft, Nissan, and Volvo. 

Anthropologists can help technologists understand how their technology can align and integrate with human workers — what aspects can be automated and what needs to be done by humans  how humans and machines can work together to avoid the future we seem to be heading towards. Machines are exceptional at churning through gigantean amounts of data at speed but less good at making nuanced judgements based on wisdom and knowledge.

Understanding the socio-cultural landscape in which companies are designing their technologies is constantly being overlooked, largely because the socio-cultural exerts an unseen influence. It's the reason we see bias and prejudice being built in, and products being designed for the few, not the many. And why some technology products fail.

How can emerging technologies be designed for human futures?

An increasingly ‘woke’ public is becoming less tolerant, and more demanding, of companies who repeatedly fail to consider the long-term downstream effects of their technologies — look at the significant fallout this past year alone over Facebook, Amazon, DeepMind, Uber, to name a few. 

The technology companies who take social harm seriously, who take genuine steps to mitigate it, who ask questions such as ‘how can emerging technologies be designed for human futures’ and ‘what should those human futures look like’ will, I suspect, see their hoped-for benefits to society come to fruition.

About the conference

The conference aims to bring together anthropologists and technologists who are working on emerging technology projects, with the specific objective of showing why anthropologists are needed and how they can add value, and creating a space where people can collaborate across the disciplines.

Our intention is also to 'buddy up' anthropologists with technologists at the conference to get each talking to the other and create some real connections and dialogue. 

A conference website will be up in February 2019 with information about the speakers, programme of events, and venue. You're welcome to email office@mundyandanson.co.uk to register your initial interest and we will let you know when the conference website is up.

The conference organisers are Mundy and Anson Ltd.

And why Bristol? Because it's one of the UK’s top technology and innovation hubs, and because I live and work here.

Call for speakers: anthropologists + technologists

Keynotes

Our invitation to speak has been accepted by four highly-respected academics/practitioners:

  • Anna Kirah, an applied anthropologist who counts Microsoft among her clients. Anna is an internationally-respected design anthropologist and psychologist known for pioneering the people-centric approach to innovation and change management. She has her own consultancy, teaches at the Oslo Metropolitan University and is the Managing Director of Design without Borders.
  • Professor Joanna Bryson, a Reader (tenured Associate Professor) in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath. She works on Artificial Intelligence, ethics, and collaborative cognition, and believes social scientists are missing from the equation: "The impact on our society is so spectacular that our institutions are struggling to keep pace, including the social sciences that might help us understand the promises and risks of our new situation".
  • An applied anthropologist who works on emerging technology projects, and divides their time between Australia and Europe. (Invitation to speak accepted. Awaiting confirmation of availability.)
  • Dr Simon Roberts, an internationally-respected applied anthropologist based in London, who has worked for Intel. Dr Roberts is a founding partner at Stripe Partners, and has devoted his career to bringing deep human insight to solve business challenges and inspire innovation, with a particular focus on technology.

Case studies and success stories from the 'field'

And because we want this conference to showcase the value of anthropologists on emerging technology projects and for there to be actionable take-aways (less talk, more action!), we invite you to get in touch to share your case studies and success stories with us at the conference:

  • Anthropologists who have worked/are working on emerging technology projects.
  • Technologists (computer scientists, data scientists) who understand the significant value of having anthropologists on their teams.

Second day: workshops, lightning talks, perhaps even an 'ethics hackathon'

A second day is now planned, due to the high level of interest. I've been asked if students could partly organise this day themselves. It's a fantastic idea and so I have invited the Oslo University student who suggested it to collaborate with a student at Bristol University, to bring together students from the fields of anthropology, computer science, data science, etc. This will be a day of workshops, lightning talks, and perhaps even an 'ethics hackathon'.

Call for sponsors

If you'd like to join this exciting conference and get your brand in front of 300+ technologists and anthropologists, we'd love to hear from you.

 

If we collectively fail to act, the social harm of emerging technologies will continue unabated. Future generations will ask us: why did you do nothing?

Join us, and be part of the solution.

 

Image credits: 'Big data is watching you' photo by ev on Unsplash; Woman photographing city by Semina Psichogiopoulou on Unsplash.