After the Copenhagen Tax Riots in 2023, the cover ups of deaths associated with AI diagnostics in Sweden, and the civil unrest and government resignations around the Dutch Childcare Benefits Scandal and Australia’s Robodebt scheme, publics began to form around the need to push back against biassed and broken algorithmic decision systems. Some groups took it upon themselves to attack data centres and burn cell phone towers. Others targeted AI research centres, politicians and prominent computer scientists. Fringe personalities and political groups began to incorporate AI scare-mongering into their rhetoric in the wake of the Covid pandemic – further undermining public trust in technology, academia and democracy.

After personally witnessing the ramming of a traffic monitoring camera pole, a small group of researchers and activists began to look for more constructive ways to address the public’s real concerns. Taking inspiration from the Right To Repair movement, the repair café model, and Stephen Jackson’s essay Rethinking Repair, the group rented a space over a sewing machine repair shop in Dublin’s North inner city and began to plan the first Contestation Café.

Over time, the Contestation Café became the meeting place for an emerging group of activists and practitioners. We took on the title of ‘Fixers’ in honour of the mechanical do-it-all fixers that would help repair and maintain things in ways that their original manufacturers would not care to.

As the word spread, others started coming into the café. At first out of frustration and desperation with broken systems and unfair treatment, and increasingly with an empowering feeling that things could be different. Exploring and mapping the spaces between the individual and the system, this became a place where others could help and support each other negotiate this new territory.

In the places between designing and using these systems, there is space where another kind of action is possible…

Our first contestation: Mapping the hidden stakeholders, automated decisions and points of contestation behind the Irish traffic monitoring system.