EU-funded project VIRTeu is creating tools and activities to help Internet of Things developers take a deeper look into the ethical considerations of their creations. Their latest exploit, an immersive experience called Bear & Co, was showcased at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems between 4-9 May.
Bear & Co is an immersive experience that plunges participants into the world of a fictitious Internet of Things (IoT) start-up. Inspired by the real-life CloudPets — a “smart” teddy bear company whose product famously recorded and stored millions of easily-hacked conversations between parents and children online — Bear & Co invites participants to become an “employee” of the company and see how seemingly innocuous decisions can lead to ethical difficulties.
Participants are first asked to state their values – what they will bring to the company and care most about. Then, their values are tested through different scenarios and problems. After they finish, their decisions are compared with their initial set of core values – often showing a misalignment between the two.
Bear & Co is the brainchild of the VIRTeu project, which is creating tools and activities that help IoT developers bring ethics into their own conversations. It was showcased at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, the premier international conference of human-computer interaction.
CHI – pronounced ‘kai’ – is a place where researchers and practitioners gather from across the world to discuss the latest in interactive technology. It is a multicultural community from highly diverse backgrounds who together investigate new and creative ways for people to interact. This will be the first time that CHI has taken place in the UK and it will be hosted at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow.
“Bear & Co is designed to make people think more deeply about the decisions that have to be made when developing an IoT product,” says project coordinator Irina Shklovski. “On the surface, it is easy to think of these decisions as purely technical, but often there are these underlying repercussions which may conflict with the values of the developers.
“We’ve run events where we’ve asked the founders of start-ups to think about a world in which their product is in every household. The vast majority of the time, they end up with some wildly dystopian future because they’ve never considered what would happen at this scale. There are no easy answers to these issues, but it’s important for people to think about them properly, even though it can be quite uncomfortable for them.”
Bear & Co was created by the VIRTeu partner CIID Research in collaboration with Irina Shklovski from the IT University of Copenhagen and Javier Ruiz from the Open Rights Group. The CIID Research design team is Annelie Berner, Monika Seyfried, Calle Nordenskjöld and Peter Kuhberg (indsigt design). CIID Research is a future-facing research group working at the intersections of interaction design, art, science and technology, from within the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.
Click here for more information on Bear & Co.
If you would like to speak to VIRTeu project members about this research, please contact Annelie Berner or Irina Shklovski