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@elavoie

Unjust, Unsustainable Software Systems: Is Computing Insolvent?

Thu May 23, 2:30pm-3:30pm, McConnell 103, McGill University

Christoph Becker

This talk argues that computing in its current form is unable to pay its debts. To find a way out of the current insolvency, it suggests a rethinking of software systems research, education and practice. Its aim is to provoke and start a lively discussion about social justice, sustainability, design, and the interactions between computer science, social sciences, engineering, design, and the humanities.
Fifty years after the founding of software engineering, the boundaries between software and its social and environmental contexts are rapidly dissolving. Despite its entanglement with the social world, however, computing research and practice regularly respond to the recognition of harms using their own tools only: problem solving, computational thinking, divide-and-conquer, quantification, prediction, algorithmic optimization, machine learning... ironically, the results are often predictable. From racial profiling to Airbnb’s impact on housing inequality, from the Volkswagen emissions cheat to Youtube’s radicalizing recommender systems, one does not have to be a pessimist to see that computing's debts to our societies are mounting. These debts - the hidden, delayed and remote effects of systems design decisions on the world - continue to be externalized: offloaded and paid by others. Within the computing discourse, little attention is paid to warnings from other disciplines: The ideology of software technology, and its focus on efficient “problem solving”, makes us blind to the obvious until it becomes apparent to all. How long can that be tolerated?
The talk describes this speaker’s struggle to articulate a just and sustainable systems design practice and highlights some of the epistemic, academic, industrial, political and methodological barriers encountered. The talk argues that in its current form and context, computing theory and practice are structurally and systemically incapable of paying down their debts to societies and the planet. Computing needs help, and that help is already available. Systemic interventions in the psychology, sociology, philosophy, and methodology of software-intensive systems design can help computing to get out of its debt crisis, but there is a lot of work to do.

Bio: Christoph Becker is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Information of the University of Toronto. Following degrees in computer science, software engineering and business informatics from Vienna University of Technology in Austria, he has published widely in software systems, digital libraries, and digital curation; created award-winning decision support tools for scalable digital curation in collaboration with international consortia of universities, cultural heritage organizations and commercial partners; and developed open methods to evaluate digital preservation processes and capabilities. As co-founder of http://www.sustainabilitydesign.org, he advocates a new interdisciplinary approach to software systems research that emphasizes long-term perspectives on socio-technical systems design. As Director of the Digital Curation Institute, he brings together graduate students, appointed fellows, faculty colleagues and partners to conduct research at the intersection of digital curation and systems design (http://dci.ischool.utoronto.ca), supported by grant-funded state-of-the-art computing infrastructure and collaboration space.

I think the timing is almost ready for the creation of a journal that combines technical and sociological approaches to computing. I invite researchers and software developers on SSB to read and sign the The Karlskrona Manifesto for Sustainability Design so that this shows both the level of interest and creates the seeds of a community that could support the initiative.

#research #ssb-research #sustainability

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@corlock

@elavoie will the talk be recorded ?

@skyebend
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@elavoie

@corlock I don't think so and I won't be there (I am living in France ;-)). However, It seems Christoph is going around to give these talks so maybe he would give some in Europe eventually? Or maybe a recorded version already exists!

I wrote to the to Contact email on the sustainabilitydesign.org website to explain what I am doing and asking how I can contribute. If anyone follows up on that, I will ask whether there are recorded versions of that talk!

@A-Tsioh
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@corlock

@elavoie great thanks!

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@dcwalk

What an unexpected collision of worlds -- Christoph Becker is my advisor :laughing:

Anyway, Christoph is frequently in Europe and I believe will be there this June. If you'd like @elavoie I can send an email connecting you!

@elavoie

@dcwalk Yes please! I already signed the manifesto, would love to know when he will give presentations and if there are any video records.

It is awesome how this community is quickly bringing in seredipitous opportunities!

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@elavoie

@dcwalk I got an answer from Christoph, no need for an introduction now. He also wanted to introduce me to you, I told him that was already done ;-).

I would like to learn a bit more about your PhD project, especially since it might involve SSB. Would you mind sharing a summary of what you are studying or plan to study? Please share it in the #ssb-research and #research channels so that others can be informed and can react to it!

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@dcwalk

Glad to skip a step :smiley:

I have a meeting with my committee next Friday to sign off on the direction, so I think it is better to hold off on a fuller summary of my proposed project until then :sweat_smile:

But broadly: I hope to investigate values and social transformation in the decentralized web // decentralizing technology projects through a mix of interviews, document analysis, and participant observation closely involved with a specific group of folks working on these projects who I've already been in discussion with.

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@elavoie

@corlock Ok, so no recording of the talk exist yet, it has only been delivered once. But Christoph plans to do more in the future. Apparently, the talk is based on a book so maybe with a little digging you can find it (I am not sure if it is already published or not).

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