launching 'syllabus as essay', some questions about big data, trust in robots and the threat of drones
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Ethnozine: June '12 edition

We are launching a couple of new efforts this month. The first a 'Syllabus as Essay' blog series, the brainchild of our contributor Tricia Wang. We are pleased to have guest contributor Barry Brown to get this series off to a phenomenal start! Our second new effort is an ethnographic monograph reading group. Anyone who is interested is invited to join on Mendeley (sign up here)...more details in coming weeks. Also this month, Rachelle Annechino takes up the issue of drones and considers the trust invested in robots. I ask some questions about 'big data' and out myself as a 'small data' person. - Jenna

The god in small things: Ethnomethodology takes ethnography to the details [Syllabus as Essay Series]

by Barry Brown

I work with ethnography and the design of technology - a not uncommon role for contributors to this blog.  It's something of a truism to say that, when working with computer systems, the details matter.  Not just in the case of a semi colon versus a full stop, your 'p's and 'q's all in the right place, but in the ways in which the right font here or a well designed feature can turn a computer system from useless to must have.  This attention to detail - 'sweating the small stuff' is based on the assumption that what we see as 'big things' naturally and unavoidably rest upon the small.

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Small Data People in a Big Data World (Part 1 of 2)

by Jenna Burrell

Part I: Questions

Research is hard to do. Much of it is left to the specialists who carry on in school 4-10 more years after completing a first degree to acquire the proper training. It’s not only hard to do, it’s also hard to read and understand and extrapolate from. Mass media coverage of science and social research is rife with misinterpretations - overgeneralizations, glossing over research limitations, failing to adequately consider the characteristics of subject populations. Does more data or “big data” in any way, shape, or form alter this state of affairs? Is it the case, as Wired magazine (provocatively…arrogantly…and ignorantly) suggests that “the data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete” and “with enough data, the numbers speak for themselves?”

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DataEdge Conference
ISchool UC-Berkeley
May 31 - June 1st

DIS 2012
Newcastle, UK
June 11 - 15

Trusting Machines

by Rachelle Annechino

The Wall Street Journal did a piece last week on drones that decide whether to fire on a target, provocatively titled "Could We Trust an Army of Killer Robots?"

Although the title goes for the sci-fi jugular, the article balances questions about robot decision making with concerns like those of Georgia Tech's Mobile Robot Lab director Ronald Arkin:

His work has been motivated in large part by his concerns about the failures of human decision-makers in the heat of battle, especially in attacking targets that aren't a threat. The robots "will not have the full moral reasoning capabilities of humans," he explains, "but I believe they can—and this is a hypothesis—perform better than humans"

In other words: Do we trust an army of people? 

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