Unintended consequences

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On Thursday I saw Genevieve Bell’s entertaining PARC Forum talk titled “Feral Technologies: An ethnographic account of the future.” I learned all about animals–camels in Australia, rabbits in Australia, cane toads in Australia–each imported for specific reasons, each going feral and causing various kinds of trouble. Apparently there were also goats, donkeys, foxes, and other species, but she didn’t talk about those.

It was a good talk, following on her CHI 2010 keynote address. My problem with it was that the notion of unintended consequences of technology deployments (animal, mineral, or vegetable) is not particularly new.

While her abstract promised to focus on more recent technological phenomena

What do rabbits, camels and cane toads all have in common? And why might this be relevant to the future of new technologies? In this talk, I want to explore the ways in which new technologies are following the path of feral Australian pests – in particular, I am interested in the unexpected and unscheduled transformations that have occurred in the last decade.

there was little discussion of current technology, and little insight into how designers or deployers of technology can react to improvised uses of their inventions. Yet these examples are all around, ranging from IEDs and other tools of asymmetric warfare, to Twitter’s response to the RT convention adopted by its users, to the use of Internet technologies for the purposes of repression and control. It would be great to see her evolve the talk away from the interesting but irrelevant details of Australian history to more concrete characterizations of present (and future!)  feral technology.

What do rabbits, camels and cane toads all have in common? And why might this be relevant to the future of new technologies? In this talk, I want to explore the ways in which new technologies are following the path of feral Australian pests – in particular, I am interested in the unexpected and unscheduled transformations that have occurred in the last decade.

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