Nicola Bidwell, Translating Time


DI Webinar – Nicola Bidwell, International University of Management, Namibia

Translating Time: How Exploring Predictive Logics in the Kalahari Reminded us of some Temporal Illusions in AI

We consider designing AI in indigenous contexts in a collaboration between Ju|’hoansi people (contributors: Charlie Nqeisji and /Kun Kunta) and researchers associated with the International University of Management (contributors: Nicola J Bidwell and Martin Ujakapa) and Namibia and Cambridge (contributors: Helen Arnold and Alan Blackwell).

Probabilistic programming languages offer potential for new predictive tools to suit settings where big data is not available because of ethics, practicalities or its rarity. Scientists have included indigenous people’s knowledge in models that apply Bayesian inference to predict animal and plant patterns. Our aim, however, is for local inhabitants’ own knowledge practices to drive the creation and use of such tools.

So far our work has situated discussions of mathematics in everyday reasoning about social, ecological, and other phenomena in the Kalahari. Our conversations, observations, games and stories about probability draw attention to how we inhabit time in lived experience and imagination. Thus, my talk will discuss our ongoing reflections on translating temporal phenomena in predictive practices when we communicate about probability and encode mathematical statements in programming tools.

Nic Bidwell has researched at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and social informatics with a focus on the Global Souths for 17 years. This encompasses working with Aboriginal people in far north Australia and inhabitants of rural Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Indonesia, Argentina, Mexico and India. She initiated the first panel on Indigenous Led Digital Enterprise at a leading HCI forum in 2008, co-founded the African HCI Conference in 2016 and her ethnographically informed design work with rural collaborators in South Africa received an award for its contribution to social and economic development and set the stage for South Africa’s first community owned ISP. Nic’s analyses of relations between spectrum regulation and involvement in designing and deploying technologies for community networks (CNs) and community radio have also informed policy debate. Her recent studies include experiences of conditional programming in philanthropic donations, interactions with algorithms in ride-sharing platforms, and onto-epistemic translations in designing probabilistic programming languages for marginalised knowledge practices. Nic has taught in universities around the world and, for the past twelve years, lived in southern Africa where she is an adjunct Professor at the International University of Management, Namibia.

Twitter: @nomadnico