Augmenting, interacting, reflecting

Helping with a shoe lace

I have revisited Douglas Engelbart’s 1962 paper Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (link). I did so after Mark Upton shared links with me to Dan McQuillan’s Towards an anti-fascist AI (link) and Joi Ito’s (2018) Resisting Reduction manifesto (link).

Joi’s manifesto includes reference to Norbert Wiener’s 1950 The Human Use of Human Beings (link). (By coincidence, I have been researching Norbert’s work in cybernetics for a paper I have been writing about computer science in sport developments in Russia.)

Another nudge in this direction came from an alert to Ben Shneiderman’s (2019) Encounters with HCI Pioneers (link). It is Ben’s personal history of the intellectual arguments and people he encountered.

The final impetus for this post came from a Stephen Downes post today (link) that concludes “We can discuss ethics, we can refer to them – but you can’t make people ethical – at least, not in the sense that everybody is ethical in exactly the same way everyone else is ethical. And if you depend on this in order to succeed, you won’t succeed.” (Original emphasis)

I see all of these links as important prompts to explore our taken-for-grantedness views of the world. Joi points out “the paradigms that set our goals and drive the evolution of society today have set us on a dangerous course”. This would include, I think, a consideration of how the discipline Douglas envisaged aimed at understanding and harnessing “neural power” might be sufficiently reflective to pose questions about it own paradigmatic certainty.

I take this to be the essence of Dan McQuillan’s argument about artificial intelligence (AI):

AI is political. Not only because of the question of what is to be done with it, but because of the political tendecies of the technology itself. The possibilities of AI arise from the resonances between its concrete operations and the surrounding political conditions. By influencing our understanding of what is both possible and desirable it acts in the space between what is and what ought to be.

He concludes:

Real AI matters not because it heralds machine intelligence but because it confronts us with the unresolved injustices of our current system. An antifascist AI is a project based on solidarity, mutual aid and collective care. We don’t need autonomous machines but a technics that is part of a movement for social autonomy.

These are profound issues for us. Sport has to be part of this debate about how we might all flourish in changing times. I take Stephen’s point about different ethical views of the world that inform our practices. I am hopeful that the ‘collective care’ Dan mentions can give us a shared journey embedded in the harmony discussed by Joi.

Photo Credit

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

Data intensive sport

Stephen Downes posted about the mutating metric machinery of higher education this morning.

His post contained links to Ben Williamson’s discussion of the mutating metric machinery and David Berry’s post the data-intensive university.

Ben and David have insights to share with us as we deal with the use of data in sport contexts.

David starts his post with this observation about data-intensive society:

we now live within a horizon of interpretability determined in large part by the capture of data and its articulation in and through algorithms.

He defines data-intensive science as the fourth paradigm in scientific enquiry (the others are: experimental; theoretical; and computational). David suggests:

we are on the verge of a new challenge for the university under the conditions of a society that is based increasingly upon digital knowledge and its economic valorisation.

David’s conclusion led me to think about the transformation of sport and the digital skills required. He argued:

a data-intensive university supports efforts to ensure a new spirit of discovery and the promotion of research through the use of computational techniques and practices which will transform the culture of departments in a university.

Ben noted that contemporary culture is increasingly defined by metrics. He discusses the emergence of a narrative in higher education that it has “been made to resemble a market in which institutions, staff and students are all positioned competitively, with measurement techniques required to assess, compare and rank their various performances”.

Ben links his discussion to David Beer’s (2016) concept of metric power that “accounts for the long-growing intensification of measurement over the last two centuries to the current mobilization of digital or ‘big’ data across diverse domains of societies”.

Ben concludes “A form of mobile, networked fast policy is propelling metrics across the sector, and increasingly prompting changes in organizational and individual behaviours that will transform the higher education sector to see and act upon itself as a market”.

David and Ben’s observations and arguments have a resonance for me in the context of sport. As sport acquires more data in training and competition environments, it is a good time to reflect in a second order way on data intensivity and behavioural change. David and Ben use their insights to investigate higher education but my reading of their posts had me interchanging sport with their higher education contexts and thinking about performance and performativity.

Photo Credits

Photo by ev on Unsplash

Photo by Jovan on Unsplash


This is the first time I have used Unsplash photographs in a post. The Unsplash website has this statement:

All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.

Even though credit isn’t required, Unsplash photographers appreciate a credit as it provides exposure to their work and encourages them to continue sharing. A credit can be as simple as adding their name with a link to their profile or photo.

Forums and Agency

A photograph taken of a sign advertising Australia's largest living hedge maze in Bright, Victoria.

I have had a number of conversations in the last month about how online communities share ideas and practices.

My thoughts about sharing responsibility in online communities were forged in my experiences of the open, online course CCK08 and extended by the publication of Digital Habitats (2009).

In Digital Habitats, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith discuss technology stewardship and propose this definition:

Technology stewards are people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs and enough experience with or interest in technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewarding typically includes selecting and configuring technology as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community. (2009:25)

The keyword for me in this definition is ‘leadership’. I have tried to provide this leadership in a number of open, online courses I have facilitated. My aim has been to create an invitational environment that inducts participants into open sharing. I understand that this open sharing is not for everyone but the role of stewarding and driving a community is too important to be left to chance.

My current interests in online communities is being extended by a University’s use of Basecamp and a group of sport coaches using Edufii. Both communities appear to be flourishing with a wide range of contributors and sensitive responses to others. Both groups have peripheral participants who benefit from these exchanges.

One of the topics for conversation about forums in the last month has involved two separate organisations who point to the limited number of volunteers available to act as stewards and drivers in their online communities.

These conversations were brought into focus today in a Stephen Downes alert to a revision to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on shared agency.

The entry starts with these lines:

Sometimes individuals act together, and sometimes they act independently of one another. It’s a distinction that matters. You are likely to make more headway in a difficult task working with others; and even if little progress is made, there’s at least the comfort and solidarity that comes with a collective undertaking.

I think this relates to ideas and practices as well as tasks.

The Stanford entry encouraged me to think about shared responsibilities in forums and how an energised community might develop a ‘plural self-awareness’ that “is and is not analogous to the self-awareness each of us as individuals exhibit”.

CCK08 helped me to understand that an unequivocal commitment to a community’s flourishing is a cooperative enterprise. This commitment can be intense and needs to be shared.

I do try to contribute to community forums and believe that each of us can model a practice of engagement that peripheral participants might find appealing. I sense that stewardship is a profoundly nurturing activity that can encourage others to accept leadership as well as followership.

Each of us who has made that first step in an online community understands just how big a step it is. I am keen to promote those first steps to a ‘plural self-awareness’.

Photo Credit

The Maze (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)


Heather Hankinson has alerted me to the SWARM Conference at the University of Sydney on 30 and 31 August 2017. Link. (“Australia’s only online community management conference connects established experts with new talent for a jam packed gathering of ideas, inspiration, insights, best practices, networking and collaboration.”)