I remember the beginnings of computer-assisted presentations. My unit at the University of Toronto Computing Services experimented with the first tools and projectors. The three-gun projectors were finicky to set up and I felt a little guilty promoting set ups which I knew would take lots of technical support. In one presentation on digital presentations there was actually a colleague under the table making sure all the technology worked while I pitched it to faculty.
Alas, PowerPoint came to dominate though now we have a bunch of innovative presentation tools that work on the web from Google Sheets to Prezi.
Now back to Tufte. His critique still stands. Presentation tools have a cognitive style that encourages us to break complex ideas into chunks and then show one chunk at a time in a linear sequence. He points out that a well designed handout or pamphlet (like his pamphlet on The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint) can present a lot more information in a way that doesn’t hide the connections. You can have something more like a concept map that you take people through on a tour. Prezi deserves credit for paying attention to Tufte and breaking out of the linear style.
Now, of course, there are AI tools that can generate presentations like Presentations.ai or Slideoo. You can see a list of a number of them here. No need to know what you’re presenting, an AI will generate the content, design the slides, and soon present it too.
Nökkvi Jarl Bjarnason gave a talk on the emergence of national and regional game studies. What does it mean to study game culture in a country or region? How is locality appealed to in game media or games or other aspects of game culture?
Felania Liu presented on game preservation in China and the challenges her team faces including issues around the legitimacy of game studies.
Hirokazu Hamamura gave the final keynote on the evolution of game media starting with magazines and then shifting to the web.
I presented a paper co-written with Miki Okabe and Keiji Amano. We started with the demographic challenges faced by Japan as its population shrinks. We then looked at what Japanese Game Companies are doing to attract and support women and families. There is a work ethics that puts men and women in a bind where they are expected to work such long hours that there really isn’t any time left for “work-life balance.”
The conference was held in person at Nagoya Zokei University and brilliantly organized by Keiji Amano and Jean-Marc Pelletier. We limited online interventions to short lightning talks so there was good attendance.
I gave a talk on “The Knowledge We Bear” that looked at four of the main structures that discipline the ways we bear knowledge in the university as institution. I also moderated a dialogue between Kevin Kee and Jacques Beauvais.
The three days were extraordinary thanks to the leadership of my co-organizer Natalie Loveless. I learned a lot about the weaving of research and creation together.
In many ways this was my last major initiative as Director of KIAS. On July 1st Michael O’Driscoll will take over. It was a way of reflecting on institutes and what they can do with others. I’m grateful to all those who participated.
University of Alberta is home to 18 faculties and dozens of research centres and institutes.
Institutions like the University of Alberta are typically divided into colleges, faculties and then departments. The U of Alberta has recently reorganized around three major Colleges that correspond to the three major granting councils in Canada. See Colleges + Faculties | University of Alberta. We then have centres and institutes that attempt to bridge the gaps created between units. The Kule Institute for Advanced Study, for example, supports interdisciplinary research and intersectoral research in an attempt to span the gaps between departments.
What are the institutional structures that guide and constrain knowledge creation and sharing at a University? Here is a rough list:
The annual faculty performance assessment process has a major impact on the knowledge created by faculty. University processes and standards for assessment influence what we do or not. Typically research is what is valued and that sets the tone. The tenure-track process does free one eventually to be able to do research that isn’t understood, but one still gets regular feedback that can influence directions one takes.
The particular division of a University into departments structures what knowledge one is expected to create and teach. The divisions are a topology of what is considered important fields of knowledge even if there are centres and institutes that cross boundaries. These divisions into departments and faculties have history; they are not fixed, but neither are they fluid. They come and go. A university is too large to manage without divisions, but divisions can lead to silos that don’t communicate as much.
What one can teach and is assigned to teach has a dramatic effect on the knowledge one shares and thinks about. Even if one supposedly knows what one teaches, teaching, especially at the graduate level, encourages sustained reflection on some issues. Teaching is also one of the most important ways knowledge is replicated and shared.
Knowledge infrastructure like the library and available labs make possible or constrain what one can do. If one doesn’t have access to publications in a field it limits one’s ability to study it. This is why libraries are so important to research in some fields. Likewise, if you don’t have access to the right sort of lab and research equipment you can’t do research. The ongoing competition for infrastructure resources from space to book is part of the shifting politics of knowledge.
Universities will also have different incentives and support for research from small grants to grant writing staff. Research services has programs, staff and so on that can support new knowledge creation or not.
Then there are structures that are outside the university like the granting councils, but that is for another blog post.
U of A computing scientists work with Japanese researchers to refine a virtual and mixed reality video game that can improve motor skills for older adults and sedentary people.
The Folio of the University of Alberta published a story about a trip to Japan that I and others embarked on, U of A computing scientists work with Japanese researchers on virtual reality game to get people out of their seats. Ritsumeikan invited us to develop research collaborations around gaming, language and artificial intelligence. Our visit was a chance to further the collaborations, like the one my colleagues Eleni Stroulia and Victor Fernandez Cervantes are developing with Thawmas Ruck around games for older adults. This inter-university set of collaborations build on projects I was involved in going back to 2011, including a conference (Replaying Japan) and a journal, the Journal of Replaying Japan.
The highlight was the signing of a Memorandum Of Understanding by the two presidents (of U of A and Ritsumeikan). I was also involved as was Professor Nakamura. May the collaboration thrive.
Whatever the literary strengths of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the book has done much to harm both the mentally ill and their communities.
This May the Kule Institute is organizing a hybrid exhibit/symposium on the Institution of Knowledge. We are bringing together a group of artists and thinkers to raise and address questions about institutional structures and knowledge. One question that the small group I’m part of discussed this week as the question of deinstitutionalization and the view, best captured by Ken Kesey in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that asylums as institutions were sites that did more harm than good. Stephen Eide has a nice article about this, Ken Kesey and the Rush to Deinstitutionalization (Quilette, Nov. 14, 2022).
There are a number of aspects to the issue. The first thing to note is that the deinstitutionalization of people with serious mental health issues didn’t work as imagined. It was not the freeing of an oppressed constituency back to the community where the new drugs could help them integrate and get on with their lives. There wasn’t really a community that wanted them other than the street and many ended up in the very institutions asylums were meant to replace – prisons. Stephen Eide’s book Homelessness in America traces the effects of deinstitutionalization, changes in vagrancy laws, and the “cleaning” up of slums on homelessness leading to the problem as we see it today.
But what about the idea of deinstitutionalization? Important to this idea would be Foucault, changes in psychiatry and how the discipline conceives of the role of medicine (and its institutions), and changes in public policy and what jurisdictions try to do with institutions.
One aspect of the issues that we forget if we think of institutions as bureaucracy is the built presence of institutions. From Jefferson’s design of the campus of the University of Virginia to Olmstead’s asylum landscapes, architects have shaped our imagination and the literal structures of certain types of institutions. This raises the question of what new types of institutions might be in being designed?
AI: I am an AI created by OpenAI. How can I help you today?Human: What do you think about the use of the Chinese room argument to defend the claim that a chatbot can never really understand what it is saying?AI: The Chinese room argument is a thought experiment that was first proposed by John Searle.
I can’t help imagining how this could be used by a smart student to write a paper dialogically. One could ask questions, edit the responses, concatenate them, and write some bridging text to get a decent paper. Of course, it might be less work to just write the paper yourself.
What should be done about this? Obviously I’m not the best to suggest remedies, but here are some of the ideas that show up:
We need to commit to take the time to look at the works we read on a subject or for a project and to ask whose voice is missing. This shouldn’t be done at the end as a last minute fix, but during the ideation phase.
We should gather and confront data on our citational patterns from our publications. Knowing what you have done is better than not knowing.
We need to do the archaeological work to find and recover marginalized thinkers who have been left out and reflect on why they were left out. Then we need to promote them in teaching and research.
We should be willing to call out grants, articles, and proposals we review when it could make a difference.
We need to support work to translate thinkers whose work is not in English to balance the distribution of influence.
We need to be willing to view our field and its questions very differently.
The article talks about the carbon cost of flying and the advantages of econferencing, that we have all learned about in this pandemic. It asks about after the pandemic.
As we move into the post-pandemic future, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Once travel restrictions are lifted, will we return to face-to-face conferences and double-down on travel requirements? Or will we continue to explore more sustainable, virtual alternatives, like econferences?
Today was the third day of a symposium I helped organize on Ethics in the Age of Smart Systems. For this we experimented with first organizing a “dialogue” or informal paper and discussion on a topic around AI ethics once a month. These led into the symposium that ran over three days. We allowed for an ongoing conversation after the formal part of the event each day. We were also lucky that the keynotes were excellent.
Veena Dubal talked about Proposition 22 and how it has created a new employment category of those managed by algorithm (gig workers.) She talked about how this is a new racial wage code as most of the Uber/Lyft workers are people of colour or immigrants.
Virginia Dignum talked about how everyone is announcing their principles, but these principles are enough. She talked about how we need standards; advisory panels and ethics officers; assessment lists (checklists); public awareness; and participation.
Rafael Capurro gave a philosophical paper about the smart in smart living. He talked about metis (the Greek for cunning) and different forms of intelligence. He called for hesitation in the sense of taking time to think about smart systems. His point was that there are time regimes of hype and determinism around AI and we need to resist them and take time to think freely about technology.