The Contestation Manifesto v.1.0

Let us shape our algorithms, before they shape us1Kluttz, D., Kohli, N., & Mulligan, D. (2020). Shaping Our Tools: Contestability as a Means to Promote Responsible Algorithmic Decision Making in the Professions. In K. Werbach (Ed.), After the Digital Tornado: Networks, Algorithms, Humanity (pp. 137-152). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press!

Algorithmic Decision Systems are making assumptions2 judgements3 us based on minimal and often incomplete data about our lives4 actions. These systems are becoming more and more entangled within our day-to-day existence and have the potential to affect our futures in fundamental, unexpected and far-reaching ways5Henrietta Lyons, Eduardo Velloso, and Tim Miller. 2021. Conceptualising Contestability: Perspectives on Contesting Algorithmic Decisions. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 5, CSCW1, Article 106 (April 2021), 26 pages.

As with any technological advance, Algorithmic Systems have the potential to bring great benefits to both the human and the non-human world, but only if it is ethically applied, negotiated and has the ability for those that it affects to contest its methods and decisions. Just because a product is designed in response to a problem does not mean that it is an effective solution to that problem, or that it does not create other problems in other areas. Question motivations, power structures, stakeholders, ambitions and histories!

Look past facades dressed as innovation!

 It is up to us – the bleeding edge – to take responsibility for the future, the world and the tools that shape us.

Question technology, maintain what is working, repair6Perzanowski, A. (2022). The Right to Repair: Reclaiming the Things We Own. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. is broken and become Fixers of our artificial and our natural worlds.

– Contest – Repair – Maintain –

  1. The Artificial Is Natural: The artificial world and the natural world are not separate. We need to leave this outdated view behind. This is the environment where we live, breathe and navigate through. What happens to us in the artificial world is real and we need to treat it and contest it as such7Dilnot, C (2020) Designing in the World of the Naturalised Artificial, in: Fry, T., & Nocek, A. (Eds.). (2020). Design in Crisis: New Worlds, Philosophies and Practices (1st ed.). Routledge.
  2. Shape Our Tools8Culkin , J.M., (1967). A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan. [online] Available at: Accessed 22 March 2022: One of the greatest dangers to our future isn’t malign forces trying to control and coerce us – it is a lack of care, responsibility and accountability. Without an active attitude towards contestation, these malign values may grow, become embedded and normalised in these essential systems. We must hold designers and systems to account and ensure that they provide intuitive ways for us to continuously contest and redesign them for our benefit.
  3. Own Our Interactions: As the artificial becomes natural, we must change our orientation towards, and perceptions of, technology. Just as we live in the city or the countryside, so too do we live in these systems to some degree or another. As we ‘walk’ through these systems, share our data and have decisions imposed on us, we need to feel these interactions as physically as those we feel in our interactions with other people, the city and the country. Inappropriate actions are as real and as damaging wherever they occur.
  4. POSIWID9Beer, S. (2002), “What is cybernetics?”, Kybernetes, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 209-219. The purpose of a system is what it does. If a system treats you badly, then that is what it does and it should be contested and repaired. If the harms outweigh the benefits, then it is a broken system and it should be contested and repaired. Apply this to all systems, put yourself in other peoples’ shoes and imagine how the system looks to them, and never let a system tell you what it does.
  5. Don’t Justify, Contest: Justification10Henin, Clément, and Daniel Le Métayer. (2021). ‘Beyond Explainability: Justifiability and Contestability of Algorithmic Decision Systems a system and its decisions is what the designers should be providing. Contestation is our – the users’ – duty. If a justification succeeds in putting your mind at rest, then contest it on behalf of those who may not have the agency – minorities, the stateless, other socio-economic backgrounds, genders and the unempowered. 
  6. Open Things Up: Just because the black box is opaque doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to look inside and map the interior. The well-designed and simple interfaces of these systems make it easy for us to process and interact, but also hide more and more mechanisms and networks11Hauser, S., Redström, J. & Wiltse, H. The widening rift between aesthetics and ethics in the design of computational things. AI & Soc (2021). Everything can be opened, explored and explained – we just need to take the time to find the appropriate means.
  7. Find The Right Tools: To open, assess and repair our physical appliances and devices we have a set of tools – screwdrivers, spanners, etc. To contest our applications and interactions, we also require a set of tools – email addresses, search engines, questions, OSINT (Open Source Intelligence), FoI (Freedom of Information) requests, etc. At times we will need specialised tools, to seek advice from others and to borrow. Find communities of like-minded people to share tools, methods and experiences. Gather your tools and build a toolbox. Construct publics12Carl DiSalvo; Design and the Construction of Publics. Design Issues 2009; 25 (1): 48–63. doi: your concerns.
  8. Be Critical Of Language: The Cloud is just someone else’s computers. Ambient Sensing Networks have also been the goal of totalitarian states. When was the last time you traded information about yourself for a ‘Richer User Experience’? Ignore the marketing language and buzzwords – seek the truth of the system, what it may be trying to obscure about itself and why.
  9. Fixers, Take Action. To be a Fixer13Jackson, S. J. 2014. Rethinking repair. In T. Gillespie, P. J. Boczkowski, & K. A. Foot (Eds.), Media technologies: Essays on communication, materiality and society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press to care for contestation by helping people to take active part in repairing and maintaining the systems they live in. Fixers take action in the space between design and use, between the systems and the ones who use them, maintaining our right to repair.
  10. Not Everyone Needs To Be A Fixer: You do not need to understand the inner workings of a system to recognise that something is broken. If your experience feels wrong, then it should be able to be contested by anyone. The Fixers exist in the space between designer and user – you are the expert of your own interactions and they are waiting for you to bring your broken experiences. The Fixer can guide you.
  11. Anyone Can Become a Fixer. You do not need to understand the technological workings of a system to help repair it. Mapping, interpreting and repairing systems that are complex assemblages of code, machines, people and more will require many forms of expertise and experience, ranging from legal and financial issues, via human resources and organisations, to processes of technological design and deployment. The problems that arise do not abide by established professional roles, but we can all become Fixers.
  12. This Is Not The Last Point…

– Agency – Dignity – Autonomy –

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