Category Archives: ifttt

Tweet! Nudging, shoving and smacking

Predictive analytics – will it be used for nudging?

Bradbury et al declare the project of behavioural economics is

to model the essential irrationality of choosers, and in so doing to render the flaws in their choosing predictable … then be used to make claims as to how social and economic systems might be designed to counteract individuals’ tendencies to make ‘bad’ decisions and to stimulate ‘good’ decisions.
(Bradbury, McGimpsey and Santori, 2012, p.250)

The Educause article similarly relates the concept of the nudge as a

theory which centers on prompting individuals to modify their behavior in a predictable way (usually to make wiser decisions) without coercing them, forbidding actions, or changing consequences.

These descriptions point to how ‘irrational’ student behaviour may emerge from learning analytics data to be met with helpful and gentle attempts at ‘correction’ in the students’ best interests.

It sounds plausible and paternalistic, yet whilst making a point of neither forbidding nor coercing the individual, the ‘choice architect’ or ‘policy maker’ is concerned with constructing a situation in which the ‘correct’ course of action is not only implicit, but foundational and pervasive. It is a dynamic bias-in-action under the guise of neutrality and provision of choice. Disingenuous too, because it advertises human irrationality as undesirable whilst sloping the ground towards the one choice it deems appropriate.

Bradbury et al describe this ‘liberal paternalism’ as ‘the co-option of behavioural economics for the continuity of the neoliberal project’ (p.255), with economic reasons for adoption in education settings being cited by the Educause article,

The combination of automation and nudges is alluring to higher education institutions because it requires minimal human intervention. This means that there are greater possibilities for more interventions and nudges, which are likely to be much more cost- and time-effective.

Nudging and its more coercive or punitive variations, ‘shoving’ and ‘smacking’, carry the risk of inappropriate application through, for example, misinterpreting data or disregarding contextual detail excluded from it. Worse, the attempt to correct or eliminate irrationality is dangerous when the long-term effects of doing so are unknown, when what is considered ‘irrational’ is up for question and when it is subject to the substitution of only one option by a determinedly non-neutral party. An attempt to curb our freedom to choose what is regarded by one political project as ‘incorrect’ is an incursion of human rights and those rights, particularly as they belong to students already dominated by institutional or commercialised powers, should be protected. As the article concludes,

with new technologies, we need to know more about the intentions and remain vigilant so that the resulting practices don’t become abusive. The unintended consequences of automating, depersonalizing, and behavioral exploitation are real. We must think critically about what is most important: the means or the end.

Bradbury, A., McGimpsey, I., and Santori, D. (2012). Revising rationality: the use of ‘Nudge’ approaches in neoliberal education policy. Journal of Education Policy 28 (2), pp. 247-267.

Pocket! Algorithm lets confused robots ask questions

Robot disambiguation! Learning is all about asking questions.

A new algorithm lets robots ask for clarification when they’re not sure what a person wants. “Fetching objects is an important task that we want collaborative robots to be able to do,” says Stefanie Tellex, professor of computer science at Brown University.

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Reading List! Identity and Identification

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Puppet on a string

By Jim McDougall from Glasgow, Scotland (Puppets on a String Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This journal article by Nishant Shah describes the Data Subject and Quantified Self as incarnations of the individual in networked societies, exploring the themes of his podcast on the Disconnected Self and with the aim of “rethink[ing] the political and social landscape” (2015, notes, p.25) of the posthuman.

Shah paints a portrait of the individual as she is constructed through datasets, where identity is conflated with identification, the result of a

crucial shift where the identity of a person is ontologically defined through the logics and logistics of networked computation

He unpacks the abiguity in whether

the data subject is the individual whose identity becomes the basis of validating the data, or whether the data subject is the identity of the individual as it gets constructed through the data sets (p.23).

Shah states that the individual

comes into being through predictive and self-correcting algorithms that develop correlations, curations and connections between disparate individuated transactions to produce a new understanding of the individual

and describes how, in an attempt to keep pace with this technological reinterpretation of the human (posthuman),

legal theories and regulatory mechanisms have already started facing the crisis of post-human action, trying to bridge the gap between the acting avatar and the culpable body. … Structures of law, governance, care and control have all been facing challenges as the individual becomes greater than and lesser than the human that has always been at the centre of our discourse and practice (p.25)

Shah’s description of the Aadhaar system and the protocols exacted by the database resonate with my current role as a system administrator in which, to me, the student has lost her affective, narrative and iterative personalities and become a unique id. Data integrity is paramount; it must be clean, finite, discrete, unique without individuality.

  • Students with the same name are frowned upon until blessed with the award of a unique number.
  • Students whose names are marked out by diacriticals are not tolerated, such blots on their identifiers removed to make them worthy records for the set.
  • Twins are a nuisance.
  • Double-barreled surnames are approached with caution.

Rendered database-fit, these non-beings have scattered articulations of additional information in discrete tables which are pulled together contingently to dance as puppets of themselves as demanded by censuses, government requests for information, organisational need or to number among the irrefutable statistics marshalled to support the argument of the day.

What relationship do these metonymic dolls have with the girls and boys I pass in the corridors, full of life and irreplicable irregularity?

I am wondering what I will make of my self as she is constructed by my own choices, ifttt algorithms, the requirements of EDC and the architecture of the WordPress platform?

Shah, N. (2015). Identity and Identification: The Individual in the Time of Networked Governance Socio-Legal Review, 11:2, pp.22-40