New Adventures 2020 – Cennydd Bowles on Building Better Worlds

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What a strong start to a strong conference. In this gripping and thought provoking talk, Cennydd looked at the potential futures and how our work affects it. He argued that as good Human Centred Design is, we need to look further. How does design affect non-users (friends, family of the user maybe), how does it affect the animals or the planet as a whole. The choices we make can affect things a lot further than we currently realise. Even more importantly maybe, we can purposely decide to affect these things in a good way instead of just ignoring them.

Here are the notes I took:

  • “We can’t go on like this”
  • We are reaching the end of things continuing the same
  • “Money now out earns money faster than work earns money”
  • Makes people question the systems, challenge government. Question capitalism and democracy
  • “If you see no future why would you continue to support the status quo”
  • Harder to reverse inequality if we loose faith in democracy
  • We don’t know how AI will change the world but we are certain it will
  • Gives us a new form of automation: cognitive automation
  • Now any job comprised of tasks such as pattern can now be automated, previously thought to be the most intellectual tasks
  • Evidence will collapse with fake audio/video
  • Knowing data means they know “which buttons to push” on an individual basis
  • This is all possible now or soon. All bets are off if general AI is achieved
  • A super intelligence would probably consume any social economic system that gives birth to it
  • AI is worrying. Climate change punishment is guaranteed.
  • Scientists have had to tip toe, avoiding alarmism.
  • “Climate crisis is no longer an issue. It is an era. The backdrop for all possible futures”
  • Question to self: what can we do as developers? Any way to automatically work out how much energy is used etc
  • “There will never again be a time like the present”
  • We have to grieve for our familiar ways of life.
  • Appreciate the gravity of the situation
  • Grief is a process
  • “A world on the brink demands fresh approaches”
  • User centred design has two notable blind spots. Too much about consuming/hoarding wealth. Needless products all in the name of progress
  • It’s rarely we consider the months years and decades
  • “We make design choices that have unintended consequences, then try to design it all away”
  • Who do we design for? “The user”
  • At internet scale technology is never just technology, it all has social moral and political consequences
  • Everything else suffers externalities
  • User cantered design just wants more for users now. Misses the future and everything else on Earth
  • Design beyond the user
  • Radical inclusion beats empathy
  • We have to find the way to give the many and not the few a stake in the future.
  • Human centric isn’t enough. Forests raised. Edison electrocuting animals to prove the danger
  • Design for better life cycles of our technicals
  • Focus on end of life not on boarding
  • It’s true we will never know all consequences, but we should still try to mitigate. The agile methodologies focus far too much on being in flux and not on thinking forward
  • “Design the future not just the things of the future”
  • “Designers can make futures visible”
  • Prototype the world to come
  • Design can reinforce social inequality (such as the transparent charger that would prioritise doctors over probation)
  • "Utopias are brutal places for deviants" Frank Böhmert
  • We need realistic flawed compelling future visions
  • Positive visions can inspire people through that grief process
  • Is it possible to change a system?
  • Beliefs in climate change move if close families and friends believe in it
  • Individual change snowballs into collective change which snowballs into system change
  • The first step above designing for users is designing for other people. Makes me think of how putting stuff on Facebook affects other people who don’t even have an account
  • There will be resistance
  • Design roots are in industrial revolution
  • People who benefit from the status quo will do anything they can to prevent it changing
  • Better worlds are not inevitable but they are possible