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Colloquium – report

Colloquium on Understanding Digital Events

The Colloquium on our experience of digital events brought together people from several very different fields: three philosophers – one a philosopher of technology, the other two specialists on Bergson and Whitehead; two practitioner papers – from the world of digital design, and from the world of user experience; and finally a computer ethicist, describing his work with neuroscientific research into the construction of a digital brain.

The day began with an introduction to the project by David Kreps, and proceeded with the President of the Society for Philosophy of Technology, Mark Coeckelbergh, speaking to us about how Latour and Goffman and Riceour can inform an understanding of the performative narrative of our experience of technology.  Then Malcolm Garrett walked us through reminiscences about his engagement with designing album covers for the music business – by imagining the 2D cover as a 3D space approachable from any direction – and then how this work evolved into imagery for CD-ROMS, and on into the design of wayfinding systems for the UK Border Agency, London Transport, and the City of Dublin.  This was followed by Yasushi Hirai introducing us to the four-dimensional geometry of Bergson’s Matter and Memory,showing us the mapping of how the speed of our apprehension of duration, compared with the speed of sub-atomic vibrations and the relative speed of the consciousness of other living beings, grants us a key to understanding the nature of consciousness.  I was struck by how the mapping of the city in Malcolm Garrett’s design process – focussed upon the aspects of how people get from A to B – seemed to chime with the mapping of relative speeds of time awareness in Yasushi Hirai’s depiction of consciousness.  The ‘if this then that’ diagrams of data-driven schematics in the process of digital wayfinding seemed to carry a new resonance when mapped against how differences in time awareness produce choices and thereby consciousness.

Our next practitioner paper from Chris Bush and Elizabeth Buie gave us a window into the world of Dark and Light patterns in UX – how the design of a user experience pathway through an online service, using the tricks of psychology and feedback, can lead us into unwanted purchases and addictive behaviour, in one direction, or potentially toward bright and even transcendent experiences, in another.  Bernd Stahl then gave us a whirlwind tour of the Human Brain Project – an enormous EU project involving hundreds of academics and practitioners – for which he and his colleagues run an Ethics sub-project, designed to ask the awkward questions regarding consent.  Neuroscience and the wing of philosophy of mind working closely with it are here pitted against an understanding of the human person with rights whose consent must be given – whether that person’s consciousness is explained away as mere effervescent vibrations from the brain – or not.  The day’s talks concluded with Tina Rock’s clear and inspiring depiction of what she calls ‘engaged experience’ – how Bergson and Whitehead arrived at an understanding of reality as processual and dynamic, and conceived of reality as alive.

During the course of the rest of the Summer the presenters will reformulate their papers, in light of each other’s contributions, and an edited book will be published by Routledge in the New Year.

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