The human in the
The central thrust of the Connected by Data campaign is that the use of data-driven technologies affects us collectively, as groups of people, as communities, and so must be governed democratically. But, it’s well established that when trying to tell a powerful story about complex concepts like the datafied society, you need an identifiable ‘human in the story’ – to corrupt an AI policy phrase – that can connect with the public, journalists, and politicians on an emotional and personal level.
This has been my work over the past couple of weeks. A task that a contact at a UK trade union described as “the elusive human stories. The holy grail no one has yet nailed”. Finding these stories is tough, but important for bringing to life – and down to earth – an area that is too often marked with dystopian hyperbole or the sort of technocratic boosterism that Harold Wilson described in his historic speech as the “blind imposition of technological advance”. Both versions lose sight of the human.
As well as a more rounded and accurate story, it can also serve to elevate the voices of people who are both data and ‘decision subjects’ – people who will be affected by decisions, whether their personal data is involved or not.
Starting with a focus on how datafication is affecting workers, I’ve been speaking with trade unionists and organisers across various sectors from universities, creative industries and parcel logistics.
When it comes to finding a human to feature in a story, it can often feel extractive for someone who gives a piece of their life and time for an unclear outcome – to feature in a flash-in-the-pan news story or buried in a report. To avoid this, I’m committed to making the relationships reciprocal, working to make sure that credit and opportunities are properly attributed, and impact is maximised.
This also feeds into the key work of building trusting relationships with individuals and organisations. This hopefully builds towards a powerful and cross-sectoral coalition for a positive and progressive future for data and AI in service to our communal needs.