Ethical Tech, Museums of Remembrance | UCSB

When Ana Cárdenas Gasca began collaborating with the Colombian National Center for Historical Memory in Bogota, where she is from, she set out to adapt existing interactive software to enable new forms of storytelling in the memorial space.

Working directly with the museum staff, she made sure that the design was relevant to the viewer and sensitive to the victims.

Using mobile apps like Instagram camera filters, she was able to weave narratives of trauma into multi-layered virtual and hybrid viewing experiences.

Cárdenas Gasca’s background in developing augmented reality (AR) — which can range from interactive smartphone apps like Pokémon Go to Google Glass and real-time 3D holograms — to address human rights abuses directly inspired a new study on the ethical co- AR design in museums of memory.

The project was recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Cárdenas Gasca, a graduate student in media arts and technology at UC Santa Barbara, is a graduate student in the study, which is being led by faculty and co-principal researchers Jennifer Jacobs, Tobias Höllerer, and Kai Thaler along with Emilia Yang of the University of Michigan as an employee.

To conduct such a study, the research team draws from across the disciplinary spectrum – engineering, arts, design and social sciences.

“Tobias and I are aligned in building technology, but we recognized that we needed to study communities and engage with this broader human rights issue,” said Jacobs, an assistant professor of media arts and technology who leads the Expressive Computation Lab.

“My lab hadn’t done extensive AR research until Ana’s arrival, but we were excited about her research,” said Jacobs. “We are investigating how AR technology can be developed in collaboration with subject matter experts and practitioners.

“In this case, our immediate focus is on understanding how museum staff can be supported when working with AR, but this research will also allow us to examine broader socio-technical questions, such as:

“How should we approach AR development when the technology is used to map real people’s experiences? How do we develop value-sensitive AR technology? What role should victims play in design and construction decisions when the technology represents their personal experience?”

Researchers will consider AR apps in the context of commemoration, with a focus on collaborations with human rights museums and organizations in Southern California and beyond that intersect with the cultural makeup of UCSB’s student body as Hispanic and Asian, Native American institution and serving the Pacific Islanders.

The goal is twofold: to support the development of AR applications for memorial museums and to further our understanding of the limitations of this technology in telling the stories of real people.

Central to the researchers’ approach is the concept of co-development: developing new technologies in direct collaboration with the individuals or community who use or are influenced by that technology.

By incorporating knowledge directly from practitioners embedded in a given community, engineers can create more responsible technologies for the people who will use them.

Jacobs and Höllerer, who lead the Four Eyes Lab, which has a long history in augmented reality research, said a model for ethical and responsible AR is essential as AR has the potential to become a widespread technological platform develop.

“We have reason to be very cautious about what the widespread adoption of new technologies can do,” said Höllerer, a professor of computer science. “An overarching focus in my lab beyond augmented reality is exploring novel human-computer interaction technologies that can highlight and enhance human qualities.”

Unlike technology, which is no longer useful once it’s gone, Höllerer posits that AR’s effects have the ability to continue after all devices are turned off.

“This grant will be used for technology that enhances users’ inherently human abilities — awareness, new skills, new attitudes, new ways of thinking — so that even if the technology disappears, only through people who have experienced it, the technology of humanity who can help people,” he said.

As an assistant professor at the Department of Global Studies with a focus on conflict, authoritarian settings and research methods, Thaler will bring a critical social science perspective to the ethics of technologically enhanced memorialization. In his work, he frequently confronts questions of ethical practice by writing and portraying sensitive subjects.

“We’re talking about some of the worst moments in people’s lives,” he noted. “How can we tell these kinds of stories and be sensitive to victims and their families while still fulfilling our educational mission of getting a wider population to understand what happened and rejecting the kind of politics that happened in the past.” led to human rights violations? ?”

Technology is often developed and deployed from the top down without giving enough thought to the social context and who will use it, he stressed. As a result, technology made in a bubble can fail users, minimizing its effectiveness, or even potentially causing harm.

In addition to the experience of Cárdenas Gasca in Colombia, the study builds on the first-person experience of Emilia Yang, an assistant professor of art and design specializing in anti-racism through design, in responding to the government’s brutal repression in Nicaragua – which has killed more than 325 people after the protests erupted in 2018.

Working with families of repression victims and activists, Yang founded Ama y No Olvida, the Nicaraguan Museum of Remembrance Against Impunity, to tell their stories and challenge the climate of impunity fostered by the Nicaraguan government.

Consisting of a physical and virtual exhibition, the transmedia project used AR to present digital altars, victims’ testimonies and maps of events, keeping the digital museum online even after repression made physical exhibitions impossible in Nicaragua.

“With this research opportunity,” Yang said, “I’m focused on thinking together with the group how we can create AR experiences to create spaces of grief, healing, and preservation of diverse community memories, while reducing harm and empowering people Certainty to be built in relation to the use of technology.”

The fellowship also provides an opportunity to further explore some of the initial possibilities of AR co-development uncovered by Cárdenas Gasca in her previous work in Colombia.

“By working with the Museum of Memory in Colombia, I learned that facing these stories is a cognitive and emotional effort for the audience,” said Cardenas Gasca.

“The curators of these exhibitions not only want to give a lecture, but also to think and connect. We don’t usually think of hearing a victim’s story as a lecture, but when we listen to them, those stories change our minds,” said Cárdenas Gasca.