|Halcyon Lawrence||Auto-transcribed by reduct.video with minor edits by James Parker|
James Parker (00:00:00) - Well, thanks so much Halcyon. Could You begin by just telling us a little bit about yourself And your, your work,
Halcyon Lawrence (00:00:08) - Sure. So I have, um, Well, my name is Halcyon Lawrence and I, I have a PhD in technical communication and information design, and I’m constantly trying to figure out what all of that means for my, my formal schooling was done in both and to be who I am from as well as in the U S where I did a master’s and a PhD, um, as always taught in STEM, you know, whether it’s an engineering and computer science, this is sort of the first time that I’ve been teaching in the humanities. So that’s been an interesting transition. Um, my work specifically, and the work that we’re talking about is that I do research into speech technology use. Um, I am, I’m very interested in the week that we don’t often think about design that speech and sound is, uh, it’s a medium that can be designed. The met that needs to be designed carefully for a specific audience and a set of users.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:01:23) - And I found that tension coming out of my PhD program, um, because the field of technical communication and information device design has done this wonderfully developed this wonderfully rich set of standards and guidelines for the creation and deployment of the written text and visual text for users. And yet when I look around, I don’t see any commensurate with done in the area of speech and sell. And yet if we went to the airport to the, you still have difficulty hearing, um, what’s being said on the PA system, or if you’re on the tree and the announcement comes on, it’s unintelligible. Um, many of the devices that we use that employee speech or sound a problematic, and you have no standards for, for design exists. So, um, I’m interested sort of very broadly and how we can start thinking about the design and speech and sound.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:02:34) - I’m specifically interested in how plus assistance devices like Siri and Alexa. So, um, uh, what I, what I tomb disciplinary devices that they’re are doing to engage with everyone. Um, although I am, for example, uh, uh, a native speaker of English, um, these devices have a lot of difficulty in terms of understanding and then last mean she changes to the way that I speak. I don’t get to engage with them the way others might. So that’s sort of the more specific research that I do, but more generally, I’m very interested in how we think about the design of cell as an information medium.
James Parker (00:03:16) - That was a fantastic introduction. Um, thank you. Um, you know, just the idea that sound needs to be designed. You know, it’s just such a and S and S and speech and voice interfaces need to be designed in such a provocative way already to think about or framing for thinking about voice assistance. I don’t, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anybody, but it that way before,
Halcyon Lawrence (00:03:39) - And that came out of a personal experience, you’ve probably heard me share it at some of my talks, but, um, because I was living in the U S and my parents were back in Trinidad, my parents were handling sort of my financial responsibilities for me. Um, as I was living a week, I got this panicked call one day from my mother who said, you’re crap. You know, I got a call. Um, it was one of those automated voice assistance. It was from the bank. And it said that you had eight transactions on you. I’ll call it wins. And I was like, surely I’ve been hacked because I wasn’t using my, you know, my card. And so I went through the process of having to make an overseas call logged into the system and heard the seam announcements that she had. And what I heard was each transaction, single transaction. It was, it was, it was not a Trinidadian voice. It was very clear to me at that stage. I had been doing a lot of work in terms of linguistics and sort of, I understood why my mother would misunderstand eats transactions, but it occurred to me. It was one of those aha moments that, that entire message could have been designed differently to avoid any confusion. One would have been an appropriate choice instead of E transaction, for example,
Halcyon Lawrence (00:05:03) - And so when I thought about all of the inconveniences that went along with it, uh, it was clear to me that this is not something that we’re thinking about. Um, and that very often the concern that we have about the design of speech technologies is about whether it works or not. And we aren’t asking the question about what, for whom, uh, who gets to participate, who gets left out, who gets represented, who gets heard, um, who gets in here that wouldn’t voices, um, and the kinds of inconveniences that people who are acting on the margins of these devices experience.
Sean Dockray (00:05:45) - Do you get the feeling that part of the reason that’s given for not thinking, thinking about the design of these very fully in the way that you’ve described as is that, uh, the technologists are just sort of saying it’s so hard to even get it to work in the first place. Why are you making me think about all these other things
Halcyon Lawrence (00:06:06) - I can say it to you Sean! I mean, yes. I mean, it may be more complicated than that, but I remember, so I did my post doc at Georgia tech in Atlanta and I, I, for three years I taught a capstone course. It was a co-taught course. I was teaching tech comm. I had a computer science colleague in the classroom with me, and I don’t remember what the subject matter was that D but speech technologies came up. And my colleague who’s been teaching for years and computer science said, well, but we’ve got speech technology figured out. It was just like, and I knew what he meant was that the technology and that there is something to be acknowledged in the fact that we have devices that speak. I think that often gets conflated for revolutionary. And, um, you know, that if somehow signals sort of this major, major change, uh, in the way that we interact with technology.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:07:21) - But, um, I don’t know if you’ve come across the work of Marr Hicks, she’s a historian of science and technology. She says, um, and I use this almost as a way of sort of asking myself about technology. Every time I encounter it, if a technology is reinscribe bias, it cannot be revolutionary. And so to simply say, the technology works is not enough, um, for whom is it working and for whom is it, you know, it’s on the fringes. Those questions have to be answered. And I have seen time and time, again, my own experience in the classroom with the next generation of, of, of Google developers and Amazon developers. There’s a lack of willingness to engage with those questions. And that’s the fact that these devices work is often sufficient. And that in itself, I think is very problematic.
James Parker (00:08:23) - Can you give us an example of a specific form of interaction with a speech, uh, with, uh, with a voice user interface or, or, or, or an assistant that is problematic in the way that you describe and perhaps speak to some of the specific political and technical, um, dimensions of that?
Halcyon Lawrence (00:08:45) - Well, I mean, I think about a couple of years ago, a couple of years ago, I was in Trinidad and this is, this is probably maybe about five, six years ago. Now I was in Trinidad and I was listening to a friend interact with Siri and she asked for some information and Siri didn’t respond sort of the standard response. And I think my friend sort of just caught herself and she repeated the command using an American accent. And Siri came to life and I was flabbergasted because I couldn’t pull off an American accent. If I wanted to, it was, it was one of those shocking moments for me because there’s so much tied up in identity and accent and language. And it was one of it was more months when, if there was a dialogue between Siri and not use a, it would have been, I’m not going to respond to you until you speak to me in the way that I have been designed.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:09:55) - And there’s no negotiating that happens. And there was, and there was interactions. And so there’s a politics of, I think one, for me, it was sort of sitting down in Trinidad and realizing that this was a new form of imperialism. This was an export of cultural standards in the form of a device. And having grown up and inherited a clue, your experience, the issue of language and language discipline is a rural for me. Um, you know, try that and to be who has gone through Spanish occupation, French occupation, British occupation, right up until the time of independence. And so you, you sort of, you go through my Island and you see sort of the markers of language of colonized, isle colonizers. And so to have this single device sort of do all of that work for you in such a short interaction was just absolutely shocking.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:11:07) - And I, when I say I’m concerned, I’m concerned about the way in which we are, those of us who don’t get recognized by these devices are robbed, divide them to T and trying to interact with them, that they replicate the same kinds of subtle biases that exist in society with regard to language and accents. The story that I tell is that in Trinidad and then the Caribbean, I think the two that might be used in other islands as well, we have a two called freshwater Yankee. And the term is to Rob the tree in that, it’s it, you refer to anybody who sort of goes away and comes back, speaking with an accent other than a Trinidadian, not to be Gwynnie an accent, um, as a freshwater Yankee, but that was, that was something that, that happened when you left and came back home, you know, there was a leaving and a returning and the sort of see and hear that fresh water, um, in some of these living room with a device was just so problematic for me.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:12:13) - I have a, I have a niece who studies in, in the us, and she has said on a number of occasions that she speaks, she moves between accents, um, as a matter of survival, but she feels very often it feels so inauthentic. And I imagine not as the experience that we have once we have, once we have to make those switch between those acts and still engage with the devices, there’s an inauthenticity. And I think our being of identity that I find problematic, that’s a great answer. And I was just thinking about the sort of mundane
Sean Dockray (00:12:56) - Example that you gave a little while ago about your interaction also with Alexa, I’m just trying to set your alarm, right. And then in the end you have to give up, uh, and just wake up 15 minutes earlier than you were intending. And just thinking about that due to its inability to, uh, recognize your voice is that you were drawn into this, uh, extra process of negotiation. And I just think about that also the proliferation of bureaucracy, you know, that we often find ourselves in, but, uh, you know, it’s also quite, um, uneven in the way it’s distributed it, you know, it disproportionately affects people of color too, you know, and I think of like traffic, traffic infringement, um, you know, just the way that almost that these sort of minor infringements, I just sort of weaponized to take up people’s time. Um, and just, uh, thinking about how all that extra red tape comes with all these personal costs. And I realized it’s a very mundane example, just like Alexa, not setting the alarm properly, but to me, it’s sort of connected to this whole regime of just, um, you know, the way that bureaucracy just, um, yeah, it comes with all these personal costs, uh, for certain things
Halcyon Lawrence (00:14:09) - And mundane for some, but not for others. And I think that’s one of the arguments that I try to meet, but for this, there are people for whom speech and sound become sort of a primary mode of communication. And so if these devices don’t get it right, there’s more police smell costs. There’s more, there is more at risk. And so I’m always careful about the examples that I use because I am not dependent on, on Siri and Alexa. So, you know, navigate my daily life. But for some people, these speech devices, not necessarily just please my systems, but to complete a banking, um, transaction or to book a flight or any of these devices that use speech and so on, they are dependent on good design,
Sean Dockray (00:14:59) - Just in that question of good design. Like I think we’d expect that when it starts to go wrong, that there’s some feedback or there’s some recognition or some way of communicating to a person. Could you describe a little bit about when the speech interactions going wrong. What happens? Like how does the device tell, tell someone that it’s going wrong,
Halcyon Lawrence (00:15:20) - But I think that’s the disciplinary nature of the device, that there is no negotiating if you and I were in a conversation. And, um, and this happens in my daily interactions and human human interactions, that if I said something that perhaps is confusing or that you don’t understand my accents, even before you see something, maybe there’s a facial expression that says you didn’t quite get that. And I can repeat it. I can see to them another, we, they all have these strategies. For example, like I said, I couldn’t, I couldn’t conjure up an American accent if I wanted to, but having lived here for 12 years, I understand clear speech strategies. I can slow my speech down. I can hype articulate all of these things that I could do, um, that allow me to continue communicating you doing puts upon me in deal interactions or demand of me that I change my accent so that we can continue to, to communicate.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:16:22) - I don’t get to negotiate with Alexa. I mean, five 30, five, 15, five, 15. We went on, I lost that battle. I lose that battle every single time. And she’s so polite and she never gets frustrated. Like I knew. Um, so it, is it just this constant losing of a baffle, um, with a very polite, I’m sorry. I, you know, I do. I don’t understand what you mean. I think the other thing that’s sort of striking for me is I didn’t think I’m going to get into hot water one before seeing this, but it’s those moments when you begin to see the unintelligence of the devices, that if I like I’m going grocery shopping tomorrow morning, I need to check that list before I leave here, because I guarantee you, if I pull that list up in the grocery store, I have no idea what Alexis put on that list for me.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:17:25) - Um, and I have, you know, sort of screen captures and docu, um, what you recordings of, of who puts in whole human beings on my grocery shopping list, without question like, John, do you really want to order John? Um, there’s something so unintelligent about that if you and I were talking and I said, Sean, you know, can you put John on, on the grocery list? It’s like, what’s going on? And I’ll see, you know, and so there’s this, there is more months when she doesn’t work for me, that signal V artificial unintelligence of these devices
James Parker (00:18:03) - You happen to know as a technical matter, whether any of the companies that produce these things, um, you know, gather, you know, are they, can they work out that they can’t understand you? And, you know, does somebody at Google app Amazon receive that data and then go, okay, well, you know, like I’m imagining how that might play out. And it almost certainly doesn’t, but you know, well maybe, maybe there’s a market opportunity. Yeah. If only we could, you know, cause one of the, one of the sort of political responses to the accusation of bias is always, Oh, we’ll just, unbias it. And you know, that has a politics too, because inclusion also means kind of proliferation in a certain kind of way so that the, you know, if we could just make, um, more, um, you know, every accent in the world and every, um, every dialect, um, you know, comprehensible to machines, then we would have, you know, eradicated by us sort of impossible on its own time, especially in the context of the unintelligence you’re talking about is political it’s economically probably not, you know, rational quote unquote for, you know, these companies.
James Parker (00:19:14) - So how, how do you respond? How do w w how do we confront as a matter of education advocacy policy, the problems that you’re identifying, I don’t know, decision, you have all the answers without resorting to, uh, sort of, you know, an omnivorous, um, all of the accents, all of the dialects, uh, kind of, um, politics, or kind of, of a politics of perfection in response to accent bias and, and other forms of language and interaction biases.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:19:44) - That is, that’s probably my biggest question, Mark. Um, in part, because I doing work in industry and I don’t have an insight into how these decisions get made. My trucking of the development of the languages allows me to meet.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:20:03) - See certain kinds of humans, for example, what English has get developed, um, and what dialects within the English language get shoes, um, suggest to me that the market is driving on the one hand, many, maybe not all of the decisions with the fact that standard UK standard, Australian standard, British all of, you know, sort of the Englishes that have already been developed for markets that are far larger than a trend out in English or Jamaican English. You know, you sort of recognize the different market is the decision. If market is going to be driving the decision, then, um, I probably will never see a Trinidadian accent, um, which is one of the reasons I, I argue that those sort of dialects are going to be developed by independent developers who are interested in hearing, uh, and being represented. And that in itself is problematic because of the massive undertaking, um, to be able to develop accents and dialects for these devices.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:21:18) - Um, but it’s not just about the market is because when you look at some other devices and you see far smaller populations that speak sort of like the Singaporean English, for example, that I think Google has developed for it clearly is about sort of buying. I mean, it’s not just about the size of the population is what I’m seeing. That there’s something else that’s going on, male, um, that we have to examine. I don’t have an answer for you. I do. And part of what I am trying to, to figure out, I’m trying to answer the question for myself. Do we need the fact that we’re able to walk around in some ways myself undetected as a minority in the U S may not necessarily be a bad thing. So that while it’s an annoying thing to have to wake up at five 15 in the morning, instead of five foods, if you run my voice through unmatched, it’s the some civilians device, you know, is it a bad thing that I don’t get detected? Or I do it? No, if, while I critique it, I don’t know if that is the Google a lot is what I should be advocating for, for people of color. I knew I did not see a question
James Parker (00:22:39) - That’s so fantastic. That’s a fantastic point. And I was just thinking, as you were saying it about how the kind of portability and accountability thing just plays out so differently in different contexts, you know, I’m thinking of the voice biometric databases that have begun to grow up around prison populations, which we know are, you know, re re heavily racialized, but not just racialized and, you know, the way in that PR that, that produce a certain form of audibility to Machine listeners. Um, that is kind of what was different too, but profoundly related to the kinds of audibility and enable in order to ability that you’ve been talking about, you know, and, and as, as Machine Listening gets embedded through the so-called smart city and, you know, and becomes less a matter of consumer, you know, consumer toys, these problems, you know, compound and proliferate.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:23:32) - Yeah. I wrestle with that on the one hand. So you’re quite right. You’re starting to see these devices being used, um, uh, as surveillance in prison populations. Um, I don’t feel aware that there have been some schools that have been using them as emotion detectors, um, to sort of anticipate, uh, angry speech in a more highly emotional speech. Do we want to be represented in the Wisco pro? Is it what happens when we are and what happens when we are? I, I, I don’t have, I don’t have answers for this question is that I’m very, very concerned. Um, what is sort of the threshold of representation? I think added to which there is, we are also sort of dealing with the development and the proliferation of these technologies in a highly unregulated environment where at least to meet lawmakers in the U S have no idea how to keep up with what’s going on. And so, you know, there are no laws, there are no regulations. It’s the wild, wild West for developers out here. So where it go is, is anybody’s is anybody’s guess. And I think the food challenge that compounds it’s concerning for me is that we invite these, these devices very often into our spaces of it, that we are complicit in very often the invasion of privacy. And we are sort of key with giving up Susan Cain’s of rights and privacy for the convenience of services. And we aren’t often thinking about.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:25:10) - That we’re providing data for is data that can be aggregated. Um, and that can expose patterns about ourselves that we may not even be aware of or aggregated and expose patterns of what communities that were at palazzos. So I think there’s a lot think about I’m burdened by that. It’s one of the questions that I’m bitten by. Um, do we represent, is it better that we all underrepresented as people of color? Is it, is it problematic that beyond?
Sean Dockray (00:25:42) - Um, I, I was wondering, like, just following up on that, whether it’s interesting to look at, um, how companies have come to address problems of bias. I think it’s only been in the last few years that it’s sort of, I don’t know, it seems like it’s come out as a publicly acknowledged sort of problem for machine learning to the point that I think even the companies are sort of recognizing our yes, we recognize that the data sets that we’re training our models on, uh, that there’s a latent bias within them. Um, I mentioned that some companies have tried to address that over the past few years since it’s sort of, um, been identified as a, as a problem. And maybe by, you know, have you found that in your research that companies have trusted?
Halcyon Lawrence (00:26:32) - I think one of the challenges, one of the challenge, even before we get to the point of identifying companies identifying and acknowledging the need to address bias, I, I think we’re sort of now, well in the city, not enough, but part of the challenge is that the, the makeup of these companies, uh, who gets to make decisions and who codes and who designs I think are problematic in and of themselves. And so, um, the choices that we see that manifest themselves in the design of these devices, I think are a direct outcome of, you know, who gets to sit at the table. I think the matters of inclusion and diversity are just as much about sort of who’s sitting at the table, um, thinking about design as they are in terms of the decisions that sort of get filtered. And so to address address the design of the device feels almost impossible unless we sort of getting to the real issue of, of what’s going on in tech and that conversation.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:27:42) - I think, um, it’s coming to the forefront. I think of work by, for example, Sophia noble. Um, who’s been exploring and talking about, um, um, radical, radical change that’s needed in Silicon Valley. And, um, in the way I’ve been thinking a lot about, uh, in our education system. So I work with a colleague of mine, um, Dr. Liz Hutter, we are having, we both with the Georgia tech for a couple of years, and we were sort of struck by, uh, this orientation, this language of paternalism that emerged in our classrooms. And we’re curious as to where students, um, that there’s almost a devaluing of anything that isn’t, um, tacky, you know, teams like pre like primitive or really basic. Um, but we will communities, um, that they’re willing to, the students are willing to dismiss, um, because there’s a technological solution. Um, I’m considering them and Dr. Hudson, I noticed this, that, um, sort of a reductionist approach to problems that somehow we can take a communication that’s so messy and so problematic that we, as humans will have difficulty figuring it out and to reduce that, uh, a series of ones and zeros just feels so arrogant to me. Um, and yeah, so I, I think until we can address the human problem of, um, hiring and training and education, I don’t know that we can any, anything with regard to the divine design of the device view superficial to me. Yeah.
Sean Dockray (00:29:39) - That already answers sort of my, my follow up, which was thinking that if, if the way that these companies are, are recognizing and addressing bias, you know, leads to this, there’s kind of like ability to recognize more voices, you know, then there’s kind of dialectic of like kind of inclusion and exclusion just shifts, uh, because there’s still okay. We, there’s more voices that are recognized, but there’s still, uh, exclusions. And you’re identifying that, that those, those are happening just in this question,
Sean Dockray (00:30:11) - Of the design process in the prior to even, you know, thinking what does this device need to do? You know, who’s asking the question who gets to ask the questions and pose those questions and be at the table. Um, so that was a great,
Halcyon Lawrence (00:30:26) - Yeah, probably we and how do we keep, how do we keep the needs of the use at the scent of design very often at, I think that was my, my greatest challenge in teaching in computer science that, um, very often, um, the people for whom these devices will be designed on consultant, they aren’t considered the, the history and needs there. You know, everything about the design just felt. So acontextual the example that Dr. Hutter and I, uh, uh, have been using, but also sort of now researching, cause it keeps coming up over and over again is the design of sign gloves that do signing. It just seems to be a pet project and computer science people, our students constantly win prizes and I give them money. And every time it comes up, somebody from the deaf community will come forward and say, that is not signing.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:31:27) - Who is this for? And they, and if you ask them what is a solution, they will say to you learn sign language. Um, and the, these communities are often not looking for technical solutions. Um, but there’s something in the orientation to computer science and coding that suggests that everything has a technological, a technological solution. And it’s problematic for me to say that out loud is so shocking. I grew up around technology. I didn’t realize that was a privilege. My dad worked at IBM when I was a child growing up in 1981. I had a PC in my home. I didn’t realize other people didn’t have a PC in my home. Um, so I’ve always been comfortable around technology, but in some ways the things that I’m seeing in Legion makes me feel like a Luddite. I’m always sort of just no stop. Do we need this?
Halcyon Lawrence (00:32:24) - You know, I have, I sort of tag new, um, ideas as has another solution, the problem that doesn’t exist. Um, and I’m not something that we still, we would see that students create problems for which they need to then design a solution. So as a, as a teacher in the humanities, I think it’s one of the, was the marginalization of the humanities in these fields, I think is particularly problematic because we no longer students no longer get to ask those questions about the value of, um, these contributions and who benefits and who’s who’s who and, and who else has access. Even if you have the best intentions, how can these devices be used in ways that you have not necessarily thought about?
James Parker (00:33:21) - Well, I was thinking I was going to ask you the question about the humanities. Cause you said that you had just started teaching in the humanities context. And as I was listening to you, I thought, I always think that you know, of this problem as a, as a kind of, or some of these problems as, uh, you know, quite humanistically basically that, that, that if, if only we had, you know, broad humanities based educations, if only we could come up with, you know, we could, I mean, the humanities are under attack in Australia right now, very explicitly in price pricing signals that the government has just introduced. Anyway, it’s a whole thing, but I wonder if you could just talk about your experience because I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m teaching from the humanities and I want to defend, but, but, but is it, um, you know, we’ve just established a new center, so supposedly supposedly interdisciplinary center, um, for, you know, what is it, AI and design ethics. I think it is. And it’s meant to be, you know, but when I look at it, I, I don’t, I don’t know if that’s the solution or part of the problem ethics, washing and so on and so on. So, um, I just wonder if you could, if you could elaborate a little bit on your experience at moving into or around the humanities, um, cause it seems like a lot of hope is being placed in that at the same time as the humanities are being dismantled.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:34:47) - Yeah. I, one of the things that I really enjoyed, um, in the last couple of years was being able to sit in the humanities and to engage with technologists and recognize that we speak a very different language. We think about problems differently. Um, one of the things that I love about the field of technical communication.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:35:12) - Is that we become almost to these advocates who do the work of, uh, negotiating on behalf of the user with technical experts. And so I do think I do you think there is a rule for technical communicators, for example, doing this kind of the advocacy work, which is why I raised the alarm in my discipline, that if we aren’t paying attention to speech and sound design this week is happening without us, that the rollout of these technologies are happening without our intervention. So I think that’s one of the, one of the ways, um, but the humanities can help mitigate these issues. Um, if I sit at a table with a technologist, they don’t fit to me. These don’t feel like basic questions, but I’m always amazed to see people stumped. When I ask the question, who is this for that sometimes they’ve gotten so far away from just a discussion around audience and people and communities, or maybe not even have that conversation that having somebody, um, sort of just interrupt that world and ask other questions.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:36:36) - I think, um, an important intervention, I think the other kind of intervention at the level of education, um, how do we begin dismantling these patriarchs? Okay. Thinkings around technology and technology development months. Um, how do we, I think ethics, I think ethics actually in some ways has created some of these problems. Um, particularly patriarchal thinking. There’s an article, very short article. It was very provocative. Uh, I forget it’s by Williams and she’s actually looking at patriarchy in engineering and suggests that part of the, the, where she sees perhaps the beginning of patriarchal thinking is wrapped up in these codes of ethics, that engineering and computer science codes of ethics suggest that these disciplines are here to see, to protect, to look after the human good, you know, to produce these devices that will better the lives of people. And so you come into an inherit, um, this thinking about technology that suggests that you are the savior, you are the patriarch, um, and the guardian of, of humanity, and that your devices are going to always go out and do good in this world. And so I think only about ethics and not think about issues of diversity who is inclusion, where’s the power distributed. I don’t know that ethic, just sort of thinking about ethics is, is going to be sufficient. Um, and that kind of training has to start if, if our students are being taught to code at four and five years a little, I think those conversations have to start at the C major as well, right. Alongside the skills we have to have conversations about who benefits from these, these technologies.
Joel Stern (00:38:44) - Um, thank you for that answer Halcyon, and, um, just sort of to, to return to, um, the quandary that you, you kind of, um, grappling with earlier about, you know, whether our imperative is, is to sort of improve these technologies. So, so that they, um, sort of cater for a more diverse group of users, um, or whether to resist them, you know, um, in the understanding that the sort of disciplinary and policing kind of, um, implications, um, at the end of the day, uh, uh, worse rather than better, especially for, for, um, different communities. And I suppose one of the things I was thinking about in relation to the question of ethics and inclusion also is that we’re talking about devices produced, but by some of the wealthiest companies in the world, um, Amazon and Apple, et cetera, um, who, who have risen to the top of, of a sort of capitalist system, a platform capitalism and, and ha have, you know, um, raped a kind of unimaginable amount of money from sort of extracting data from communities. And so just sort of going back to the earlier kind of thought you were having about what would constitute a revolutionary technology, you know, would it necessarily be. Uh, technology, not, not produced by a company like Amazon or a company like Apple, um, but rather a voice user interface that was grounded somehow in a, in a kind of not-for-profit context. So I wonder if you could, you know, say something about, um, what, how voice user interfaces could be more revolutionary, um, not just in their design, but in their political grounding. Yeah.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:40:45) - There is a tension there Joel that, um, on the one hand, I think that the, I would make the argument that a revolutionary voice into fees would be, would come from within a community of color, um, for that community of color, the challenge and the tension of course, is the resources needed to develop. That kind of interface are often not available to communities of color. So the fact that we’ve been training our voice interfaces on a Midwestern accent for the last, what 50 years is part of the challenge, where do we begin to start collecting voices of community of color communities of color and not have that and not have that, um, initiative? Co-opted I also think even before we get to asking the question about, I think he, revolutionary device is one that a community has said that they will benefit from that there is there’s no company organizational piece and making those kinds of decisions, um, and making an argument that this would revolutionize the way that our community does something or accomplishes X.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:42:22) - Um, so that, that I do think it needs to emerge from within. And that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s, I think that sits with the initiative of individual developers who, um, perhaps wants to hear their, um, their voices represented their community’s voices represented and not to is problematic. That that doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual developer understands what’s that risky. Um, but something about being pulled out of that community suits and me getting set dress, some of the concerns that we have about inclusion and, and representation, I think there’s an economic cost to the development of these devices in a weave that, that other kinds of software might not cost. And so I think, I, I think the community fleets has to figure out if that is something that they want. Um, and to then as a community, they begin until, um, two week towards the realization of how that might might happen at that feels like a cop out answer.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:43:34) - I do on top of battle one, I don’t have a battle one for you, I’m thinking about. And I return to the work of Ramsey Nasser all the time who has been diligently, just plugging away at, um, developing a code in Arabic. That is the work of an individual who wants to be able to cool it in his native language. That is never going to be the concern of, um, a large company, unless it is, it is economically beneficial. And even then there’s the politics of, of, you know, that sort of leads to certain kinds of decisions about what, what languages get developed. So I think it sits within the video renegades who want to upset the theater school, but to do that as it is, it’s such personal sacrifice.
James Parker (00:44:35) - I was just thinking, as you were speaking about, you know, the, the, the discourse of rev revolutionary technologies is so profoundly problematic in the first place. I mean, what precisely is being revolutionized other than the technical paradigm and, you know, so much, I mean, w w w w we’ve been thinking a bit with this, you know, well-known work anatomy of an AI system by Kate Crawford and blood and Joel, uh, which maps the, um, the sort of economic and labor and human costs of producing a device like Alexa, and in the case of that, that work and, um, And it’s all for the sake of convenience and what minor conveniences. I mean, I’m always astounded when people are like obsessed with the idea that they don’t have to turn off the light switch, you know, because they can just use it unlike, but that there has never been anything less worth reinventing the entire technical paradigm of like global society then than to save you the energy required to turn off the light switch. And so the moment you think that, you know, so much work has been, has gone into making that seem like, you know, revolutionary, I feel a bit of an idiot saying this, cause it’s sort of so obvious, you know, what do we want automated cars or do we want public transport? You know? Um, but on the other hand it just remains as true as ever like, like what has been revolutionized, revolutionized other than the technical system itself, which enables the further sale of devices and, you know, it’s
Halcyon Lawrence (00:46:12) - And the food of a widening of the gap of access. Absolutely. But I would hear all students would make these pitches all the time and every time they made a pitch, it was going to revolutionize. It didn’t matter if it was a smoothie app. It didn’t, it was always revolutionary because that is the language of the industry. It’s how you get funding. It’s how you get the support. It has to be revolutionary. And I think the media, I am teaching a class close science and its public audience this semester. And we’re looking at the role of the media in picking up these stories and running with it and not critiquing them sufficiently enough that the headlines see very often that it’s revolutionary. And then there isn’t enough investigation, I think in these articles about what’s problematic and what’s being reinscribe in these devices. So I, I I’m, I’m concerned about is one of the things that I wanted my master’s students to, to have an appreciation for is how do we talk about these, these innovations in ways that I think all in, in ways that allow the readers to really understand what’s at stake? I don’t think that’s happening in many of these articles that we read.
Joel Stern (00:47:38) - I think we were, we were interested in, um, knowing a little bit more about the forthcoming, um, piece of writing, um, Siri disciplines. And, um, you, you, you’ve said a little bit already about the disciplinary, um, functioning of these devices. Um, but I w I wondered, um, you know, if, if you wanted to share a little bit more about the, the sort of ag argument that you make there, and, and then we, we, we also had a question about your, your core, some series progeny, um, and perhaps, you know, those two answers are strongly connected in some, in some way, because, uh, well, I’ve got two little kids and so discipline and progeny interrelated questions, but yeah, if you could, um, expand, expand on that a little bit, that would be fantastic.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:48:33) - So I’m really excited about this piece. It’s called series three disciplines, and it’s part of a, an edited collection that is coming out later this year, um, that these chapters and the titles themselves of each of these shops as a series of provocations, that when me additives sort of came together to imagine this collection, it, we sort of imagine that there was a challenge to what was going on in Silicon Valley, asking of the next generation of technologists to consider, to be able to read the humanistic concerns in the design of the technologies, um, in many ways, everything that we’ve spoken about. And now I think about that, that article probably is trying to do too much, because I think about all of the ones that I’m trying to make. Um, so I, I do think there are, uh, many of the things I spoke about, uh, the arguments that I read that I, I made the argument, that speech technologies in a way, revolutionary fairy, inscribing bias. Um, I mean, the argument that speech devices are disciplinary, I talk about sort of the inability to negotiate, um, with these devices. Um, I do talk about sort of the very imperialistic nature of these devices about, um, that in itself is what for me makes it a disciplinary device. I also make the argument that, that what’s at stake. And at the time I had conceived that peep, it was a couple of years ago. I was only thinking what was at stake was identity. Um,
Halcyon Lawrence (00:50:19) - My research has led me to sort of understand and see far more, especially as I see these devices being ruled out as civilians devices. Um, I am increasingly concerned about, um, what’s, what’s the cost, but I think the, I think the, um, the, um, the conclusion that I come to in that work really goes back to my dissertation research. And I make the argument that there are conditions under which accented speech can be used and deployed in speech technologies that are not problematic. And that I make up call to technologists to start thinking about the use that accented speech is not unintelligible speech. There are certainly conditions where it may not be optimal. Let’s say in the case for the emergency and people have to process speech very quickly. Maybe you don’t want to deploy accented speech in, you know, in a device that kind of device, but there is value in allowing people to hear a range of accents in these devices, because one, we knew that all is going to get Sri and, um, but that we need to normalize accented speech.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:51:45) - The research shows that accented speakers are seem to be less intelligible. They have different kinds of outcomes in the courts. They have different outcomes and housing and education that all of these, uh, discriminatory practices that people experience in sort of a day-to-day life as, as accented, because we are seeing replicates in the use of these devices and the, there may be value in expanding the range of accents that are available. When you hear an announcement, a P a system, for example, let me get, and still normalize the use of accents, because you all have been looking at the news. You’ve been seeing, for example, in the U S just, um, you know, people being tooled to, if, if they want to speak Spanish, go back, you know, to go back to Mexico and just really horrific, um, steep months about that, that sort of understand that that linguists and acts and bias are alive and well.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:53:00) - So those are the, those are the things that I, the arguments that I make in that series, progeny actually was a, it was a cause of co-taught because it actually isn’t connected to what I’m teaching now. And I have been sort of thinking about ways in which I can bring that I recently moved to Towson university in Maryland. That core series progeny was a co-taught core design course with a colleague of mine, Dr. Lawrence. And it was interesting. It was cross-disciplinary. And we also brought together two different levels of classes, their composition class. And there was a theory, a technical communication class, and we smashed them together. And we wanted our students one, because we were dealing with composition and writing. We wanted our students to sort of be exposed to the domain of speech and sound as a domain of composition. Um, with traditionally they’ve been taught just about writing, um, in the very, in the very narrow sense that we wanted to broaden that idea of composition for them.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:54:10) - We wanted them to develop Listening, literacies and sound literacies. Um, but we also wanted them to reimagine speech devices that were inclusive. We wanted them to reimagine to think about audiences first and what they needed as central to the design process. And so while we went off from them to build, I mean, many of these students would have gone on. And as my thoughts, um, Dr. Niece still has a couple of students who writes years later and see, you know, I’ve designed this thing. Um, we wanted students just to think conceptually about the way in which, uh, speech and sound design could be different. So I haven’t yet found a space for that to tell us, but it’s coming, I’d take that course. It was wonderful as a motto for it. I remember the time, um, um, we’re not sure how he found it, but the series manager at Apple, uh, roots.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:55:19) - Um, to us to see, I’ve just seen your course design and, you know, I think it’s provocative. It’s asking the questions that we, we would like to answer as well. And yeah, so yeah, I, I do think there is value in, um, targeting this challenge at, uh, at the stage of education and by the time it hits industry, I think we’ve tested in battles that we’ve lost. That sounds really fatalistic, but I can say that as an advocate, so yes,
Sean Dockray (00:55:55) - Yes. I don’t, I don’t know if it’s an inappropriate question sort of at the end. Um, I just want to thank you again so much for your time, and it’s been a really rewarding experience for me to listen to you talking about all these things. Um, you can sort of, uh, take this or answer this question, how you will, but I was thinking about this, this idea of emergency that you just brought up a few minutes ago and just thinking how crucial it is that accented speech is recognized, of course, in emergency contexts and especially, uh, in these situations where we depend on the devices and we depend on these systems and just thinking about how, like, you know, maybe in triaged or call centers, and there’s more automation, you know, going hand in hand with a reduction of, of labor forces and things like this, which brings me to disability.
Sean Dockray (00:56:48) - And, um, just thinking about communities, um, of people who might sort of benefit or depend on, on these devices and, uh, yeah, the importance and recognition for those, uh, communities and getting it right. Um, and having them be sort of able to be recognized and have their voice be heard. I guess I just wanted to hear you talk a tiny bit about, um, both the way that disability is both like, uh, an actual community of men. I mean, multiple communities of users, but at the same time kind of functions as a, as almost like a rhetorical figure for these companies. Like, um, like in a way the student that you mentioned about who is, you know, treating sign language as if it’s just something you do with your fingers and not a whole ongoing evolving practice, you know, that involves just, or more broadly in face and, you know, um, but at any rate that, that, that it becomes like almost a way to justify the technological development, but at the same time, it, it, it functions a disability functions as a real practical, um, an important, um, community of users for whom yeah. It’s essential that these technologies work.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:58:07) - Absolutely. I will say. And I know you’re interested in, in, at, in any other people that, that you can talk to whose work might be of interest. Um, I don’t know if you’ve come across the week of Meryl Alsper. She has a book called, um, it’s M E R Y L A L P E R. And she has a book called giving voice that I think, um, would Marin would definitely be able to speak more comprehensively to this and to the question that you’ve raised. And I recommend, I recommend her work direct, recommend you chatting with who? Um, I think one of the things that I appreciate about marrow’s work is, I mean, all of the conversations that we have been having to the sort of think about communities broadly. I think once you start talking about disability, you’re talking about very niche communities. And that requires in my mind, I’m thinking about Meryl’s week requires a different kind of engagement.
Halcyon Lawrence (00:59:18) - That means that you have to sit with these community youth. You have to be able to really understand what the challenge is, what the problem is, but you also have to ask the questions of the community. What do you want and what is necessary for you? And Meryl’s would specifically look at, um, speech devices, uh, for children with, with speech impediments, speech disabilities, dyslexia, and so on. So I think work, I think she would do a far better, um, off a far better response, but even as you were asking the question show, and I also think of very recently, um, I had the privilege of sitting on a dissertation committee for a doctor, um, Alex Ahmed, A H M E D. And what I love about Alex’s work is, um, so she does she designed and built.
Halcyon Lawrence (01:00:26) - Sort of a beta app for voice training for the trans community. So that we, one of the, one of the challenges of transitioning in that community is often the voice. It is sort of what is considered to be the giveaway. Um, it’s also speaks to identity, you know, sort of having a voice that represents, um, how people see themselves and how they feel they want to be represented. And so Alex, as a trans researcher sits with this community over a period
Sean Dockray (01:01:03) - Of months and months, and months
Halcyon Lawrence (01:01:05) - And code designs and cool develops this app for the community. Um, and so this idea of it’s not even, it’s not even ethnographic work, it is participatory design, um, and there is something that is so humane and so respectful about the way in which she goes about doing this work that shows up in the design. Um, for example, one of the things that strikes me when I look at how, when I looked at her, um, app was just the flexibility. Um, because one of the things you begin to recognize that even though you’re designing for specific community, this still not a monolith. And so that idea of, of, of flexibilities is sort of embedded in design. So I think those are the two people that I would, I’m not suggesting that the trans community, the disabled community at all. I’m just saying that I think there’s a research method there that we, that we need to consider that even as I describe it, you begin to realize it’s time consuming. It requires a certain kind of orientation to receive that we typically do and often see in STEM. So I think sort of looking at the work of people who do this participatory research would be interesting, but I also suggest looking at Merrill Alper’s work on giving voice. I think there was a two, um, researches that you can, you can check out and I can, I can email you. Um, and if you’d like an introduction, I would be very happy to facilitate that
Sean Dockray (01:02:39) - Those are great leads. Thank you very much.
Halcyon Lawrence (01:02:41) - No problem. And allows me to cop out now that I haven’t thought about it. I just don’t think I’m the best person to answer those questions.
Sean Dockray (01:02:50) - Thank you so much. Um,