Show cover of The Good Robot

The Good Robot

Join University of Cambridge Christina Gaw postdoctoral researchers Eleanor Drage and Kerry Mackereth as they ask the experts: what is good technology? Is ‘good’ technology even possible? And how can feminism help us work towards it? Each week, they invite scholars, industry practitioners, activists, and more to provide their unique perspective on what feminism can bring to the tech industry and the way that we think about technology. With each conversation, The Good Robot asks how feminism can provide new perspectives on technology’s biggest problems.


Sarah Franklin on Reproductive Technologies and Feminist Research Ethics
In this episode we talk to Sarah Franklin, a leading figure in feminist science studies and the sociology of reproduction. In this tour de force of IVF ethics and feminism through the ages, Sarah discusses ethical issues in reproductive technologies, how they compare to AI ethics, how feminism through the ages can help us, Shulamith Firestone’s techno-feminist revolution, and the violence of anti-trans movement across the world. 
38:41 09/20/2022
Michelle N. Huang on anti-Asian Racism across Time and Space
In this episode we chat to Michelle N. Huang, Assistant Professor of English and Asian American literature at Northwestern University. Chatting with Michelle is bittersweet, as we think collectively together about anti-Asian racism and how it intersects with histories and representations of technological development in the context of intensified violence against Asian American and Asian diaspora communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We discuss why the humanities really matter when thinking about technology and the sciences, Michelle’s amazing film essay Inhuman Figures which examines and subverts racist tropes and stereotypes about Asian Americans; why the central idea of looking at what's been discarded, devalued, and finding different values and ways of doing things defines the power of feminist science studies; and what it means to think about race on a molecular level.
33:42 09/06/2022
Sareeta Amrute on Understanding Tech Ethics from the Ground Up
In this episode we talk to Sareeta Amrute, Affiliate Associate Professor at the University of Washington who studies race, labour, and class in global tech economies. Sareeta discusses happened when Rihanna and Greta Thunberg got involved in the Indian farmers protests; how race has wound up in algorithms as an indicator of what products you might want to buy; how companies get out of being responsible for white supremacist material sold across their platforms; why all people who make technology have an ethic, though they might not know it; and what the effects are of power in tech companies lying primarily with product teams. 
36:19 08/23/2022
Sophie Lewis on Techno-Feminisms and Why Nature is Far Stranger Than We Think
In this episode Sophie, author of Full Surrogacy Now and self-defined wayward Marxist, talks about defining good technology for the whole of the biosphere, why the purity of the human species has always been contaminated by our animal and technological origins, why nature is much, much stranger than we think, what that means for the lambs that are now being grown in artificial wombs, and why technologies like birth control and IVF can never liberate women within the power dynamics of our capitalist present.
34:21 08/03/2022
Karen Hao on AI Colonialism and Changing the Stories We Tell About Tech
In this episode we chat to Karen Hao, a prominent tech journalist who focuses on the intersections of AI, data, politics and society. Right now she’s based in Hong Kong as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal on China, tech and society; before this, she conducted a number of high profile investigations for the MIT tech review. In our interview we chat about her series on AI colonialism and how tech companies reproduce older colonial patterns of violence and extraction; why both insiders and outside specialists in AI ethics struggle to make AI more ethical when they’re competing with Big Tech’s bottom line; why companies engaging user attitudes isn’t enough, since we can’t really ever ‘opt out’ of certain products and systems; and her hopes for changing up the stories we tell about the Chinese tech industry. 
30:58 07/26/2022
Margaret Mitchell on Large Language Models and Misogyny in Tech
In the race to produce the biggest language model yet, Google has now overtaken Open AI’s GPT-3 and Microsoft’s T-NLG with a 1.6 trillion parameter model. In 2021, Meg Mitchell was fired from Google, where she was co-founder of their Ethical AI branch, in the aftermath of a paper she co-wrote about why language models can be harmful if they’re too big. In this episode Meg sets the record straight. She explains what large language models are and what they do, why they’re so important to Google. She tells us why it's a problem that these models don’t understand the significance or meaning of the data that they are trained on, which means that wikipedia data can influence what these models take to be historical fact. She also tells us about how some white men are gatekeeping knowledge about large language models, as well as the culture, politics, power and misogyny at Google that led to her firing.
34:21 07/12/2022
Soraj Hongladarom on Machine Enlightenment
In this episode, we speak to Soraj Hongladarom, a professor of philosophy and Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Soraj explains what makes Buddhism a unique and yet appropriate intervention in AI ethics, why we need to aim for enlightenment with machines, and whether there is common ground for different religions to work together in making AI more inclusive. 
23:48 06/28/2022
Os Keyes on Avoiding Universalism and 'Silver Bullets' in Tech Design
In this episode we chat to Os Keyes, an Ada Lovelace fellow and adjunct professor at Seattle University, and a PhD student at the University of Washington in the department of Human Centered Design & Engineering. We discuss everything from avoiding universalism and silver bullets in AI ethics to how feminism underlies Os’s work on autism and AI and automatic gender recognition technologies.
44:57 06/14/2022
Alex Hanna on Vague AI Ethics Principles and why Automatic Gender Recognition is Nonsense
In this episode, we talk to Dr Alex Hanna, Director of Research at the Distributed AI Research Institute which was founded and directed by her ex-boss at Google Dr Timnit Gebru. Previously a sociologist working on ethical AI at Google and now a superstar in her own right, she tells us why Google’s attempt to be neutral is nonsense, how the word good in ‘good tech’ allows people to dodge getting political when orienting technology towards justice, and why technology may not actually take on the biases of its individual creators but probably will take on the biases of its organisation.
37:39 05/31/2022
Virginia Dignum on Engineers, Values, and Giving the Public a Voice
In this episode we chat to Virginia Dignum, Professor of Responsible Artificial Intelligence at the University of Umeå where she leads the Social and Ethical Artificial Intelligence research group. We draw on Dignum’s experience as an engineer and legislator to discuss how any given technology might not be good or bad, but is never valueless; how the public can participate in conversations around AI; how to combat evasions of responsibility among creators and deployers of technology, when they say ‘sorry, the system says so’; and why throwing data at a problem might not make it better. 
23:57 05/17/2022
Blaise Agüera y Arcas on Debunking Myths in Technology: Intelligence, Survival, Sexuality
In this episode, we talk to Blaise Agüera y Arcas, a Fellow and Vice President at Google research and an authority in computer vision, machine intelligence, and computational photography. In this wide ranging episode, we explore why it is important that the AI industry reconsider what intelligence means and who possesses it, how humans and technology have co-evolved with and through one another, the limits of using evolution as a way of thinking about AI, and why we shouldn’t just be optimising AI for survival. We also chat about Blaise’s research on gender and sexuality, from his huge crowdsourced surveys on how people self-identify through to debunking the idea that you can discern someone’s sexuality from their face using facial recognition technology. 
33:30 05/03/2022
Kate Chandler on Drone Warfare and Undoing Everyday Militarism
In this episode, we talk to Dr. Kate Chandler, Assistant Professor at Georgetown and a specialist on drone warfare. We recorded this interview the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, which reminded us of just how urgent a task it is to rethink the relationship between tech innovation and warfare. As Kate explains, drones are more than just tools, they’re also intimately tied to political, economic and social systems. In this episode we discuss the historical development of drones - a history which is both commercial and military - and then explore a better future for these kinds of technologies, one where AI innovation money comes from nonviolent sources, and AI can be used for the prevention of violence.  
31:18 04/26/2022
Meryl Alper on 'Craptions', Assistive Technologies, and the Real Meaning of Accessible Technology
In this episode, we chat to Meryl Alper, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. We discuss histories of technological invention by disabled communities, the backlash against poor algorithmically transcribed captions or ‘craptions’, what it actually means for a place or a technology to be accessible to disabled communities with additional socio-economic constraints, and the kinds of assistive augmented communication devices (AAC), like the one used by Stephen Hawking, that are being built by non-speaking people to represent different kinds of voices. 
37:43 04/05/2022
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun on Facebook ‘Friendship’ and Predicting the Future
In this episode, we chat with Professor Wendy Chun, who is Simon Fraser University's Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media. As both an expert in Systems Design Engineering and English Literature, her extraordinary analysis of contemporary digital media bridges the humanities and STEM sciences to think through some of the most pressing technical and conceptual issues in technology today.  Wendy discusses her most recent book, Discriminating Data, where she explains what is actually happening in AI systems that people claim can predict the future, why facebook friendship has forced the idea that friendship is bidirectional, and how technology is being built on the principle of homophily, the idea that similarity breeds connection.  
29:34 03/08/2022
Leonie Tanczer on Gender, Security, and Technology
In this episode, we chat to Dr Leonie Tanczer, a Lecturer in International Security and Emerging Technologies at UCL and Principle Investigator on the Gender and IoT project.  Leonie discusses why online safety and security are not the same when it comes to protection online; how to identify bad actors while protecting people’s privacy; how we can use ‘threat modelling’ to account for and envision harmful unintended uses of technologies, and how to tackle bad behaviour online that is not yet illegal. 
27:19 02/01/2022
Jason Edward Lewis on Indigenous Work in AI
In this episode we chat to Professor Jason Edward Lewis, the University Research Chair in Computational Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary at Concordia University in Montreal. Jason is Cherokee, Hawaiian and Samoan and an expert in indigenous design in AI. He’s the founder of Obx Labs for Experimental Media and the co-director of a number of research groups such as Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design, and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures. In this episode we discuss how indigenous communities think about what it means for humans and AI to co-exist, why we need to rethink what it means to be an intelligent machine, and why mainstream Western modes of building technology might actually land us with Skynet. 
48:53 01/18/2022
Neema Iyer on Afrofeminist Approaches to AI Governance and Policy
In this episode, we chat to Neema Iyer, a technologist, artist and founder of Pollicy, a civic technology organisation based in Kampala, Uganda. We discuss feminism and building AI for the world's fastest growing population, what feminism means in African contexts, and the challenges of working with different governments and regional bodies like the African Union.
23:53 01/04/2022
Frances Negron-Mutaner on Repurposing an ATM, Joy and Decolonial Politics in Puerto Rico
In this episode, we talk to Frances Negron-Mutaner, an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and scholar and Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, New York City. We discuss her Valor y Cambio or Value and Change project that brought a disused ATM to the streets of Puerto Rico filled with special banknotes. On the banknotes were the faces of Black educators, abolitionists and visionaries of a Caribbean Confederacy - people who are meaningful and inspirational to Puerto Ricans today. The machine asked the person retrieving bills what they valued, and in doing so, sparked what Frances calls decolonial joy. Together, we explore the unintended repurposing of technologies for decolonial and anti-capitalist purposes.
39:04 12/21/2021
Maya Indira Ganesh on the Myth of Autonomy
In this episode, we chat to Maya Indira Ganesh, the course lead for the University of Cambridge Master of Studies programme in AI Ethics and Society. She transitioned to academia after working as a feminist researcher with international NGOs and cultural organisations on gender justice, technology, and freedom of expression. We discuss the human labour that is obscured when we say a machine is autonomous, the YouTube phenomenon of ‘Unboxing’ Apple products, and why AV ethics isn’t just about trolley problems.  
33:25 12/07/2021
Jess Smith on Slowing Down and Teaching AI Ethics
In this episode, we chat to Jess Smith, a PhD student at the University of Colorado in Information Science and co-host of the Radical AI podcast who specialises in the intersections of artificial intelligence, machine learning and ethics. We discuss the tensions between Silicon Valley’s move fast and break stuff mantra and the slower pace of ethics work. She also tells us how we can be mindful users of technology and how we can develop computer science programs that foster a new generation of ethically-minded technologists. 
28:45 11/23/2021
Ranjit Singh on India’s Biometric Identification System, Representation and Governance
In this episode we chat to Ranjit Singh, a postdoctoral scholar for the AI On The Ground team at the New York-based Data & Society Research Institute. We discuss India’s Biometric Identification System, the problems with verifying a population of a billion people, and the difficulties in having to check whether beneficiaries of state pensions are still alive. We also talk about the problems with classification systems, and how we can better understand the risks posed by biometrics through looking at the world from the perspective of a biometric system, in high and low resolution. 
33:20 11/09/2021
Dylan Doyle-Burke on AI, Religious Studies, and Liberation Theology
In this episode, we talk to Dylan Doyle-Burke, a PhD student at the University of Colorado Boulder and host of the Radical AI podcast, previously a PhD student at the University of Denver in religious studies and a minister at the Unitarian Universalist church, an inclusive and liberal US-based congregation. We discuss the challenges and advantages of thinking through ethical issues in AI using Christian spiritual traditions, particularly approaches from liberation theology. 
26:00 10/26/2021
Anne Anlin Cheng on Gender, Technology, and Racial Embodiment
In this episode, we chat to Anne Anlin Cheng, Professor in the Department of English at Princeton University and author of Ornamentalism. We discuss how Asiatic femininity has historically been associated with ornamental extravagance and objecthood, and why we see so many of these stereotypes in visions of the future, like Ghost in the Shell, Bladerunner and Ex Machina, which are populated with geishas and concubines. [We would like to apologise for the sound quality on this episode, we had technical difficulties]
28:32 10/12/2021
Rosi Braidotti on Posthuman Knowledge and Technology
In this episode, Eleanor chats to Rosi Braidotti, one of the leading philosophers of our time and a Distinguished Professor at Utrecht University. Her pioneering theory of posthumanism is a way of thinking that she believes is key to understanding the posthuman condition within which we all exist. We are releasing this conversation in two parts. In this first part, she explains how to embrace the crises and possibilities of advanced capitalism, what it means for NASA to choose Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man as one of its logos, and why colonising outer space risks repeating the worst features of terrestrial capitalism. Look out for the bonus episode for the second half of this interview, which will be released very soon.
28:32 09/07/2021
Rosi Braidotti: Bonus Episode!
This bonus episode is the second half of our conversation with Rosi Braidotti. In this part, Braidotti discusses the culture wars, genealogies of Black feminisms, the relationship between gender and capitalism, the rise of neoliberal feminism and the effect that has had on solidarities between generations of feminists, and of course, the feminist posthuman project. She takes us from Virginia Woolf to Alice Walker, Paul Preciado to Shulamith Firestone. She explains why Firestone predicted some of reproductive possibilities we now had on offer, but failed to see that capitalism, not revolution, would be the source of these reproductive freedoms. She explains why corporations like IBM that have been thinking about gender as a spectrum, inherit these ideas from John Money and the gender reassignment clinics back in the 60s, and why most good predictions about capitalism can be attributed to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. We hope you enjoy the show. 
22:41 09/07/2021
Jennifer Lee on Privacy, Surveillance and Civil Rights
In this episode we chat to Jennifer Lee, the technology and liberty project manager at the American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU of Washington, a non-profit organisation that fights for racial and gender equality and has been one of the leading voices in opposing facial recognition technology. Jen explains why we need to underscore the power dynamics in any decision to build, design, and use a technology, and why Microsoft’s new $22 billion contract to provide the military with technology affects how the tech industry defines good technology. Whether its the NYPD using automated license plate readers to track Muslim communities, or the 400,000 Michigan residents having their unemployment checks wrongfully withheld due to false fraud determinations, Jen tells us what can be done about the wrongful use of powerful technologies. We hope you enjoy the show. 
25:03 09/07/2021
Cynthia Bennett on AI, Disability, and Accessibility
In this episode we chat to Cynthia Bennett, one of the leading voices in AI and Accessibility and Disability Studies. She’s currently a researcher at Apple and a postdoctoral scholar at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. We discuss combatting the model of disability as deficit, how feminism and disability approaches can help democratise whose knowledge about AI is taken into consideration when we build technology, and why the people who make technology need to be representative of the people who use it. We also discuss the things that go wrong with AI that helps disabled users navigate their environment, particularly what can go wrong when using images labelled by humans. 
36:56 08/24/2021
Kanta Dihal on Decolonising AI Narratives
In this episode, we chat to Kanta Dihal, Senior Research Fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence who leads the Decolonising AI project. We discuss the stories that are being told about AI, why these stories need to be decolonised, what that means, and how we should go about it. We discuss the need to examine a plurality of local stories about AI and Kanta recommends us her favourite science fiction narratives from around the globe that are challenging the supremacy of science fiction from the Anglophone West. 
23:28 08/10/2021
Neda Atanasoski on AI, Racial Capitalism, and Labour
In this episode, we chat to Neda Atanasoski, Professor and Chair of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz, about the relationship between technology, racial capitalism, and histories of gendered and racialised labour.  
27:08 07/27/2021
David Adelani on Datasets for African Languages
In this episode, we chat to David Adelani, a computer scientist, PhD candidate at Saarland University in Germany, and active member of Masakhane. Masakhane is a grassroots organisation whose mission is to strengthen and support natural language processing research in African languages. There are over 2000 African languages, so David and the Masakhane team have their work cut out for them. We also discuss how to build technology with few resources and the challenges and joys of participatory research. 
19:41 07/13/2021