Refiguring the Human-IPA Relationship Through a Participatory ‘Idiotic Speculative Kit’

Conference: The European Conference on Arts & Humanities (ECAH2022)
Title: Refiguring the Human-IPA Relationship Through a Participatory ‘Idiotic Speculative Kit’
Stream: Other Humanities
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Maria Tsilogianni, Coventry University, United Kingdom


Intelligent Personal Assistants (IPAs), like Amazon’s Alexa, are voice-enabled virtual agents handling mundane domestic tasks. They interact with humans in very specific ways structured around their embedded intelligence and their role in achieving automated functionality. However, concerns related to privacy invasion and data extraction, along with users’ frustration over limitedness in interactions, have rendered them controversial. Their ‘intelligence’ is the main control point through which tech companies turn human life into quantifiable data sold to advertisers. Hence, users are instrumentalised and IPAs become passive tools promoting efficiency or enemies trespassing on users’ privacy. What if IPAs operated on the opposite of controlled intelligence or exhibited agency beyond limited automation? To challenge interaction protocols that IPAs are programmed to follow, I unpack ‘idiocy’ as that which lies outside the norms and is able to act from a non-deterministic stance. I explore more inclusive interactions, ones where the ‘user’ is an idiosyncratic human with unquantifiable peculiarities, and the IPA manifests diverse agential capacities. Utilising participatory design methods, I create a speculative kit of open-ended playful tasks and a customizable prototype, asking designers from diverse disciplines to engage creatively and speculate on potential interactions with ‘idiotic agents’ within their homes. Their feedback is processed according to the ‘idiotic framework’ which is developed and informed by contextual review in speculative design, post-structuralist theories and agential realism. The aim is to expand human-IPA entanglements through prioritising creativity and diversity, over tech expertise, of designers involved in Human-Computer-Interaction design, by adopting a post-human approach.

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