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Designing a Physical Boundary Object to Invite Dialogue about Power Relations Behind AI Systems

Format: Papers, RSD12, RSD12 Papers Pre-release

Tiwanee Van der Horst, Anja Overdiek and Maaike Harbers
Throughout society, dialogues about Artificial Intelligence (AI) are currently dominated by a wide range of technophobic or techno solutionist narratives. Both these popular narratives share a technological focus. To develop responsible AI, however, it is important to also look at the systemic ecological and societal underpinnings and repercussions of this technology. These underpinnings easily go unnoticed by decisionmakers because of their invisible and intangible character. In addition, a narrow focus on technology distracts from the humans who are responsible for designing the AI systems and the power these AI systems have over both humans and the more-than-human. Hence, one challenge in developing AI responsibly is moving from the current popular narratives towards more relational ‘power-narratives’. One way to turn towards power-narratives starts by reframing dialogues in a multi-stakeholder setting. Systemic Design and the research-through-design practice offer several methods for this purpose. One of them is to work with a physical boundary object (PBO). This paper describes the design and use of the PBO ‘Who pulls the strings’. The PBO was used in a quadruple-helix co-creative setting, where each participant could physicalize and vocalize their position within a power system. Through intra-action, participants became aware of the influence of each stakeholder within the power system and were able to develop an ongoing dialogue about the existing power relations and ways to reshape these collaboratively. The contributions of this paper include creating novel insight about: 1) what design principles can be used to design a PBO when employing entanglement theory , 2) how a PBO can invite dialogue about the invisible and intangible power relations behind AI systems, and 3) how popular narratives can be transformed with a PBO as a tool.
Keywords: AI ethics
boundary object
social design
New Materialism




Citation Data

Author(s): Tiwanee Van der Horst, Anja Overdiek and Maaike Harbers
Year: 2023
Title: Designing a Physical Boundary Object to Invite Dialogue about Power Relations Behind AI Systems
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD12

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