Under the palm trees: reflections of first CHI experience in Hawaii by Yuning Chen

My first CHI conference was a whirlwind of excitement and discovery. Honolulu itself was a feast for the senses – wild roosters chilling on grass patches, diverse bird species everywhere, and palm trees that seemed to take over even the airport. The city’s juxtaposition of metropolitan structure and local island lifestyles added an intriguing backdrop to the intellectual stimulation that awaited me.

The convention centre was a great substrate for excitement, with its semi-open design and towering indoor palm trees. I loved how the glass rooftop transformed into a massive dance floor for raindrops during storms, reminding me of the familiar climate shifts back home – a strange comfort in the middle of the Pacific.

As a student volunteer, I got to dive deep into the CHI experience. It was eye-opening to see the sheer breadth of Human-Computer Interaction beyond my designerly perspective. From AI ethics to human-food interactions to animal computer interactions, the topics were as diverse as they were fascinating. Kate Crawford’s opening keynote really struck a chord with me, highlighting the hidden costs of AI development – water usage, unfair labour, mineral trade wars – aspects often overshadowed by debates on AI consciousness and authorship.

I found myself drawn into the world of data and AI ethics research, feeling a strong connection to others working on the ethics of technology. It was like building new roads between fields via common methods and theoretical frameworks. The conference really drove home the importance of holding emerging technologies accountable, especially in the face of what Crawford called the traps of “deification and distraction.”

One of the really fun parts was discovering the “Easter eggs” of CHI – those invitation-only regional parties. It became an interesting game to network and snag invites to gatherings hosted by different countries and universities. These social events, along with the poster sessions and informal chats, helped me find my research community. I met fascinating researchers working on bio-HCI and more-than-human design, approaching these topics from angles I was not familiar with before.

As a student volunteer, I sometimes ended up in sessions I hadn’t planned to attend, but these surprise detours often led to unexpected insights. Witnessing discussions at the lifetime award ceremony and steering committee meeting gave me a peek behind the curtain of how this massive organisation operates.

In the end, my CHI experience was hard to reduce to simple descriptions. It was intellectually stimulating, sure, but also deeply human. I left with a renewed passion for research, fresh perspectives on my own work, and a stronger sense of where I fit in this vibrant field. The conference showed me the exciting future of HCI while also emphasising the need for responsible oversight as technology’s impact grows. It was a reminder that in our quest for innovation, we mustn’t lose sight of the ethical, environmental, and human dimensions of our work. CHI 2024 wasn’t just about absorbing new knowledge – it was about connecting, reflecting, and finding my place in this dynamic research community.