Algorithms of Late-Capitalism Board Game Workshop #4

Adriaan Odendaal
Oct 1 · 8 min read

Workshop #4: Imagining Better Digital Futures

Date: 13 August 2021

In this workshop series participants come together in online sessions and help co-design a game that promotes more inclusive and open perspectives on the future of digital technology. Each workshop in this series corresponds to a specific phase of the game design process and will build on the knowledge generated by previous participants.

Workshop #4 was conducted online using Zoom and Miro with a guest presentation from Daisy Kidd and Louise Hisayasu from the What the Future Wants team at Tactical Tech.

During this session, participants had to create SM4RT C1TY cards that represented technologies that could be added to the play world.

Workshop Report

During this session, participants had to create sets of SM4RT C1TY cards in groups of 2. These cards represent new technologies that are introduced into the fictional play world. They can represent the existing system — a probable future based on Algorithms of Late-Capitalism — or they can present a preferable future that is based on more just and inclusive visions of digital technologies.

The idea is that players can profit from introducing these technologies into the world. But preferable technologies are only possible once players have started unlocking Transboxes (see Workshop 3), in other words: once players have started to change the rules of the game to be more inclusive and collaborative and less competitive.

“[Speculative design] thrives on imagination and aims to open up new perspectives on what are sometimes called wicked problems, to create spaces for discussion and debate about alternative ways of being, and to inspire and encourage people’s imaginations to flow freely. Design speculations can act as a catalyst for collectively redefining our relationship to reality.”
— Anthony Dunne & Fionna Rabby

Activities

Group 1:

Group 1 had to create a SM4RT C1TY card set that contained speculative Communication & Language Technology, prompted by the following example: Persuasive personal advertising

Underlying values identified:

Future tech created for the Sentient Robot Cult:

  • Technology that keeps you in-line / keeps you from seeing the truth
  • Fear
  • Social media
  • Conformity
  • Filter/glasses that distort our view of others or ourselves to fit with a standard model)
  • Narrowing lens that keeps us focused on ourselves only
  • Blinkers to stop you from seeing others
  • ‘Evil twin’ mirror that only shows us how to be like everyone else

Alternative future tech created:

  • Veritas mirror: Mirror of Erised (from Harry Potter)
  • Connection -> “Nature connector” — connect with others in more truthful ways
  • Self-awareness translator -> helps you express the real underlying need in a more pure and healthy way (‘truth mirror’)

SM4RT C1TY card set:

  • EXIGUUS: Reflections and distortions that keep making us into smaller / lesser versions of ourselves. AR glasses/blinkers.
  • NEXUM: Helps you connect and communicate more truthfully / honestly / openly to see clearly (Mirror plug/connector). It is shiny and magical!

Group 2: Introducing Disorder

Group 2 had to create a SM4RT C1TY card set that contained speculative Work & Education Technology, prompted by the following example: Facebook’s Workplace Tool Suppresses Words like ‘Unionize’

Underlying values identified:

  • Focused activities
  • High productivity
  • Work = personal privacy
  • Time = money

Future tech created for the Sentient Robot Cult:

  • Eye-tracking on screens to see what you are doing
  • Tracking devices create geo-fence at desk-space so that you don’t move away from your desk and waste time
  • Smart wearables to check health / blood pressure / levels of stress to makes sure you are working and not doing nothing (lots of stress = good?)

Alternative future tech created:

  • Eye-tracking tool to monitor eye strain & tiredness (we don’t care what you are looking at)
  • Geo-fence that fines company if you do overtime / long working hours (too long hours at the office)
  • Smart wearables that remind you to take a break / re-hydrate / eat something / relax

SM4RT C1TY card set:

  • Cute I’s: Fashionable & cute, tech glasses to track eye movement at work and screens
  • Cutie pamper time: “Let’s Take a Break Y’All” — Smart wearables to remind you to take a break / eat something / take care of yourself

Group 2 created an additional SM4RT C1TY card set that contained speculative Internet of Things Technology, prompted by the following example: Smart locks that lock you out if rent is late

Underlying values identified:

  • Money = king
  • Punctuality of payments
  • Automated lives
  • Machine decided the fate of humans

Future tech created for the Sentient Robot Cult:

  • Only digital money counts (controlled by centralized digital financial systems, not physically by you)
  • Wallet control device that prevents spending when your bills are due (make sure you pay your bills instead of buying groceries!)
  • Internet of things your entire house so that its functions are automated and controlled

Alternative future tech created:

  • Value the person and not their money
  • Everyone has a home — no matter their circumstances
  • Financial support bots (make sure you are supported)

SM4RT C1TY card set:

  • Smart Wallet: Don’t ever worry about finances again — we do it for cuties!
  • Home sweet home: We’re all sheltered and all warm and have a safe space to go.

Group 2 created an additional SM4RT C1TY card set that contained speculative Justice & Security Technology, prompted by the following example: China’s social credit system used to publicly shame people who break petty traffic laws

Underlying values identified:

  • Big brother
  • Loss of privacy
  • State persecution
  • No place to hide

Future tech created for the Sentient Robot Cult:

  • Facial recognition
  • Automated enforcement (fines / arrests / warrants)
  • Record of transgressions on a public system

Alternative future tech created:

  • Community values drive behavior
  • Rewarding good behavior and initiatives
  • We take care of each other

SM4RT C1TY card set:

  • 24/7 Cutie Watch: You’re safe, cutie, we’re keeping an eye on you 24/7
  • Community Watch: Your community watch sends you rewards for good behaviour

Group 3:

Group 3 had to create a SM4RT C1TY card set that contained speculative Privacy & Surveillance Technology, prompted by the following example: IBM Used NYPD Surveillance Footage to Develop Technology That Lets Police Search by Skin Color

Underlying values identified:

  • Humanity, human measure (intervention) — the datasets are too big to oversee
  • Prejudice / bias
  • Massive datasets
  • Call for accountability of the designers/company
  • Pausing/banning sale of facial recognition software
  • ownership of surveillance camera footage
  • Ethics
  • Power structures (who holds the power)

Future tech created for the Sentient Robot Cult:

  • Footage is uploaded to surveillance server which everyone can access (crowd-source so people can give feedback)
  • Footage is used by the algorithms to decide who is accepted/refused (E.g. owners of restaurants can refuse access)
  • Increase wealth inequality

Alternative future tech created:

  • Algorithms are scored / tested for bias / prejudice by independent parties / auditors
  • Original footage is not allowed to be thrown away, so that in case of appeal the evidence is still there
  • Sometimes you don’t need technology — no tech / cameras (know your neighbours / communities know each other)
  • Camera surveillance data is owned by the ones in the image. Tracking tech identifies cyborgs and asks their permission before passing it to the algorithm

SM4RT C1TY card set:

  • Brain Surveillance Implants: “Upload Your Toughts to Our Server”. This is how we keep the world a safer place! (Requires Global Surveillance Server to be Installed)
  • Tech != Smart: The smart city with no tech. Know your community, live happier (the city is not a computer)

Group 3:

Group 3 had to create a SM4RT C1TY card set that contained speculative Privacy & Surveillance Technology, prompted by the following example: IBM Used NYPD Surveillance Footage to Develop Technology That Lets Police Search by Skin Color

Underlying values identified:

  • Humanity, human measure (intervention) — the datasets are too big to oversee
  • Prejudice / bias
  • Massive datasets
  • Call for accountability of the designers/company
  • Pausing/banning sale of facial recognition software
  • ownership of surveillance camera footage
  • Ethics
  • Power structures (who holds the power)

Future tech created for the Sentient Robot Cult:

  • Footage is uploaded to surveillance server which everyone can access (crowd-source so people can give feedback)
  • Footage is used by the algorithms to decide who is accepted/refused (E.g. owners of restaurants can refuse access)
  • Increase wealth inequality

Alternative future tech created:

  • Algorithms are scored / tested for bias / prejudice by independent parties / auditors
  • Original footage is not allowed to be thrown away, so that in case of appeal the evidence is still there
  • Sometimes you don’t need technology — no tech / cameras (know your neighbours / communities know each other)
  • Camera surveillance data is owned by the ones in the image. Tracking tech identifies cyborgs and asks their permission before passing it to the algorithm

SM4RT C1TY card set:

  • Brain Surveillance Implants: “Upload Your Toughts to Our Server”. This is how we keep the world a safer place! (Requires Global Surveillance Server to be Installed)
  • Tech != Smart: The smart city with no tech. Know your community, live happier (the city is not a computer)

Outcome: Technologies for ‘dystopias’ and ‘utopias’

Following Workshop 4, all the primary components of the game were complete. We could thus conduct our first play-test of the game. What we realized, in regards to the SM4RT C1TY cards, is that the distinction between ‘dystopian’ or ‘utopian’ technologies are not always clear. Much like in the real-world, the values that went into creating a certain technology are inherently opaque and it is not always clear for whose benefit these technologies were created and whose interests they are meant to serve. Though the more malevolent technologies are distinct in their almost satirical descriptions of sinister intents, the socially responsible technologies are also perceived with a degree of skepticism as we are often sold on the idea of new technology through market speech extolling its seemingly universal benefits (e.g. “Faceebook was built to bring people closer together and build relationships” instead of politically polarizing people and spreading hate-speech).

The aim of the SM4RT C1TY cards is not to promote binary visions of the future (either ‘dystopian’ or ‘utopian’) but rather to spark reflection in players about what kind of technologies they want to add to their (play) world. In this we hope that the SM4RT C1TY cards elicit discussion and critical discernment when encountering the technologies contained within them. After all, the purpose of this game is to promote a vision of the future in which the public has a primary role in shaping and deciding their own technological realities — instead of living in a world where powerful tech oligopolies can simply impose their interests on the public.

Relay

With all the core game mechanics and components complete, we plan a final workshop were we bring all our co-creators together to refine some elements of the game and finally pick an official name for the Algorithms of Late-Capitalism board game.

This project is made possible through the New New Fellowship supported by SuperrrLab, Bertelsmann Stiftung, and Allianz Kulturstiftung.

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