National Communication Association Pre-Conference on Agency in Honor of Carolyn R. Miller. Las Vegas, Nevada, November 18, 2015.
Panel: Automation and Agency
Author: Candice Lanius, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, PhD Student in Dept of Communication & Media
Title: Finding Agency in the Data Science Machine: Understanding Emerging Climate Change Arguments from Automated Data Modeling
Abstract: Carolyn Miller’s piece “What can automation tell us about agency?” is groundbreaking for its contribution to understanding agency and responsibility when humans rely on automated systems. Miller’s insights are increasingly relevant in the context of data science, a new field that has expanded rapidly over the course of five years. In data science, particularly “big data”, much of the analytical process is beyond the conceptual power of human agents, so interpretation and processing has become automated. Miller’s conceptualization of agency as a property of the event (analytic process), not something found exclusively in human analysts, opens a door to important questions about the algorithm and code’s role in constructing arguments about human behavior in conjunction with the analyst. In one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today—climate change—modeling the interaction between human behavior and the environment is foundational to understanding and intervening. I will use Miller’s contribution for understanding agency to investigate the ideology and rhetorical impact of a series of big data projects: Google’s Earth Engine, Microsoft Research’s Madingley Model, and Data.gov’s Climate data resource. Each of these projects automates their inquiries in distinct ways to address the climate change crisis, and it is important to understand what the rhetorical and political implications of automation are for the global community.
[PDF Version] Finding Agency in the Data Science Machine