Toward an affirmative biopolitics: Reimagining biodata with feeling and fabulation
Event is hybrid. Participants may attend in person (T2, Computer Science Building, Aalto University) or online on Zoom.
Noura Howell, PhD
Sensor technologies--from smart watches and other wearables, to sensors hidden in walls or furniture--produce biodata about human bodies and behaviors, and even claim to offer insights into human emotions. Although such approaches can offer benefits to health and wellbeing, they can also pose serious ethical risks and amplify surveillance. After introducing this problem space, this talk outlines design research tactics for reconfiguring biodata to support more ethical and emotionally rich interactions: (1) We'll examine how realtime, tangible, embodied biodata displays, such as color-changing garments or sonic furniture, can invite more emotionally nuanced forms of biodata analysis. (2) We'll also discuss how fabulation may offer a way for designers to radically reimagine biodata and futures. Finally, we’ll discuss what role design research can play in imagining and striving for more hopeful, just, and affirmative biopolitical possibilities with biodata.
My design research explores emotion recognition technologies, which claim to infer insights about emotional experience based on biosensory data, data about people’s bodies, thoughts, and behaviors. What can (and can’t) this data say about how we feel? How might this data shape the way we feel, and shape how we relate to ourselves and others? I explore these questions by building sensing technologies that produce biosensory data, such as heart rate or skin conductance, and display it a creative way, such as color-changing fabric or sound. I set up situations where people interact with these sensor-and-data-display technologies in an open-ended way, often with mundane but real social consequences, such as pairs of friends talking about their feelings. The highly varied and often surprising social and emotional experiences of people with these designs offer provocative yet experientially grounded speculative directions for designing with data.
I am an assistant professor in Digital Media at Georgia Tech. I completed my PhD at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a member of the BioSENSE lab. Previously I have worked as a human centered designer and engineer in Singapore, Morocco, and China, as well as at the MIT Media Lab, Intel Labs, Microsoft, and The Echo Nest.