I started my last day at CHI seeing Elizabeth Churchill’s plenary talk, and I was all ready to be open and excited about everything else I saw during the day. And that positive post is coming, I promise, but I’m not ready to do that yet.
I was trying to be excited about new things, so I went to the session on brain interfaces, because brain computers are cool, right?? It turned out that was not a good place for me to be, because the second talk was about using brain interfaces for drone pilots. And the speaker made allusions to video games and ‘bad guys’ and I started to feel like this was a poor imitation of Orson Scott Card. But what bothered me the most, and I suppose I am complicit here since I got up and left the session before questions started, was that no one was even asking the question of how or why this study is centred around drone pilots. I’m not even saying that there are clear cut judgments, or that drones are implicitly bad, and I would have been happy to hear justifications and rationale behind it. But I just don’t understand why it wasn’t a necessary one-liner in the talk – is it really so easy to take it as a given, as an undeniable truth, that technology to aid drone pilots is the technology we should be working on? Or does it just make everyone too uncomfortable to bring up such unpleasantness in the context of a paper presentation? So where is the place for ethics? I don’t mean the boilerplate ethical protocols, but the professional ethics which address if a thing should even be done, and how to say no to it (which gets obviously complicated and personally damning when you bring funding, grants and sponsors into the mix).
So I started thinking about how (I assume) few of the people in the room have ever been in the position of ‘other’ and how that changes your perceptions of the world (I’m trying really hard not to invoke the term ‘privilege’ here). One of the talks from earlier in the morning was discussing performance-enhancing drugs, and I started to feel like maybe we need the opposite. In the absence of real empathy, maybe we need drugs that can make you feel weak, vulnerable, and powerless (this will be the topic of my future SF novels.)
So that’s about all I could take of CHI2014, and I had to spend the rest of the day wandering around my thoughts of our collective drug-adled, drone-fueled demise.