Here is a video of my presentation at the New York Review of Books conference “Workplace Systems: The Panopticon Unleashed?”
In 2016, Microsoft launched Tay, an experimental artificial intelligence chat bot. Learning from interactions with Twitter users, Tay was shut down after one day because of its obscene and inflammatory tweets. This article uses the case of Tay to re-examine theories of agency. How did users view the personality and actions of an artificial intelligence chat bot when interacting with Tay on Twitter? Using phenomenological research methods and pragmatic approaches to agency, we look at what people said about Tay to study how they imagine and interact with emerging technologies and to show the limitations of our current theories of agency for describing communication in these settings. We show how different qualities of agency, different expectations for technologies, and different capacities for affordance emerge in the interactions between people and artificial intelligence. We argue that a perspective of “symbiotic agency”— informed by the imagined affordances of emerging technology—is required to really understand the collapse of Tay.
Neff, Gina, and Peter Nagy. “Talking to Bots: Symbiotic Agency and the Case of Tay.” Edited by Samuel Woolley and Philip N. Howard. International Journal of Communication 10, no. Special Issue (2016): 20.
The study and analysis of large and complex data sets offer a wealth of insights in a variety of applications. Computational approaches provide researchers access to broad assemblages of data, but the insights extracted may lack the rich detail that qualitative approaches have brought to the understanding of sociotechnical phenomena. How do we preserve the richness associated with traditional qualitative methods while utilizing the power of large data sets? How do we uncover social nuances or consider ethics and values in data use?