Ethical Tech, Museums of Memory

When Ana Cárdenas Gasca began working with the National Center for Historical Memory in Bogotá, Colombia, she decided to prepare existing interactive software to engage new forms of storytelling in memorial spaces. Working directly with museum staff, she focused on designing a design that would be relevant to viewers and, above all, sensitive to victims. By using mobile phone applications such as Instagram camera filters, she was able to weave narratives of trauma into layered virtual and hybrid viewer experiences.

Cárdenas Gasca’s background in developing augmented reality (AR), from interactive smartphone apps like Pokemon Go Google Glass and live 3D holograms that can directly engage with human rights abuses, inspired a new study of the ethical co-design of AR. In memory museums. The project recently received a National Science Foundation grant.

A doctoral student in media arts and technology at UC Santa Barbara, is a graduate student researcher on the study led by faculty and co-principal investigators Jennifer Jacobs, Tobias Hollerer, and Kai Thaler, along with Emilia Yang of the University of California, Berkeley. Michigan became a partner. To conduct such a study, the team of researchers is drawn from across the disciplinary spectrum – engineering, art, design and social science.

“Tobias and I were focused on building tech, but we also understood the need for communities to learn and engage with this larger topic of human rights,” said Jacobs, assistant professor of media arts and technology who directs the Expressive Computation Lab. ”My lab had not done extensive research in AR until Ana arrived, but we were excited by her research. We are looking at how to engineer AR technology in collaboration with domain experts and practitioners.

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“In this case,” Jacobs continued, “our immediate focus is on how to support museum staff in working with AR, but this research will allow us to examine broader socio-technical questions such as: How should we approach AR development? Is the technology being used to depict real people’s experiences? Value-sensitive.” How do we develop AR technology?What role do victims have in design and engineering decisions when the technology presents their personal experience?

Focusing on collaborations with human rights museums and organizations in Southern California, researchers will examine AR applications in the context of memorialization to blend with the cultural makeup of UC Santa Barbara’s student body, which is Hispanic-served and Asian. -American, Native American, and Pacific Islander-serving organization. The goal is twofold: to help develop AR applications for museums of memory, and to better understand the limitations of this technology when telling the stories of real people.

Central to the researchers’ approach is the concept of co-development: engineering new technologies in direct collaboration with the individuals or communities that use or are affected by that technology. By incorporating knowledge directly from practitioners embedded in a specific community, engineers can develop technology that is more accountable to the people who use it.

Jacobs and Holler, who lead the Four Eyes Lab, which has a long history in augmented reality research, said a model for ethical and responsible AR is essential because AR has the potential to develop as a widespread technology platform.

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“We have reason to be very cautious about what the widespread adoption of new technologies can do,” said Hollerer, a professor of computer science. “My lab’s focus beyond augmented reality is on research into advanced human-computer interaction technologies that can bring out and enhance human qualities.”

Unlike technology, which isn’t useful when it’s unavailable, Hollerer notes, AR’s effects have the potential to persist even after all devices are turned off.

“This grant will be used for technology that enhances users’ inherent human capabilities – awareness, new skills, new attitudes, new mindsets, so that even when the technology is gone, if people experience it, the technology will help humanity,” he said.

As an assistant professor in the Department of Global Studies, Thaler will contribute a critical social science perspective on the ethics of technology-supported commemoration, focusing on conflict, authoritarian settings, and research methods. In his work, he often confronts questions of ethical practices in writing and illustrating sensitive subjects.

“We’re talking about the worst moments in people’s lives,” he noted. “How do we tell these kinds of stories and be sensitive to the victims and their families, and fulfill our educational mission of reaching a wider population to understand what happened and reject the politics that led to human rights abuses in the past? “

He pointed out that technology is developed and deployed from the top down based on the social context and who is going to use it. As a result, the technology built in a bubble can spread among users, reducing its effectiveness or causing harm.

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In addition to Cárdenas Gasca’s experience in Colombia, the study builds on the first-person experience of Emilia Yang, assistant professor of art and design, focusing on anti-racism through design, responding to severe government repression in Nicaragua. In 2018, more than 325 people protested. Working with relatives and activists of victims of repression, Yang created the Nicaraguan Museum of Memory Against Ama y No Olvida to tell their stories and challenge the climate of impunity that Nicaraguans have fostered. The government A transmedia project that incorporates physical and virtual exhibitions, using AR to present digital altars, victim testimonies and maps of events, the digital museum remains online even after the crackdown has made physical exhibitions in Nicaragua impossible.

“In this research opportunity,” Yang said, “I am invested in thinking with the group about how to create AR experiences to sustain spaces of grief, to heal, to preserve diverse community memories, to reduce harm, and to increase responsibility and safety. Toward the use of technology.”

The grant also provides an opportunity to further explore some of the initial opportunities for AR co-development uncovered by Cárdenas Gasca in his previous work at Columbia.

“From working with the Museum of Memory in Colombia, I learned that encountering these stories is a cognitive and emotional endeavor for the audience,” said Cárdenas Gasca. “The curators of these exhibitions don’t want to lecture, but they want you to reflect and connect. We don’t usually think of hearing a victim’s story as a lecture, but these stories change our minds when we hear them.


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