I have attended my first academic conference; the Association of Internet Researchers Conference in Brisbane, Australia. The theme was "Trust in the System". It was hosted by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) at their Gardens Point Campus. I have to say the campus is really nice, set next the Botanic Gardens and the amenities are first-rate.
It was an absolutely awesome experience and I certainly felt a fair bit of topic envy with some of the absolutely fascinating research being conducted by some brilliant minds. I met so many friendly and frankly almost scarily intelligent people. It was such a vibrant and positive experience being in a place with so many other academics who are plainly passionate about ethical, digital research. I heard speakers ranging from Microsoft, to University of Sheffield, with some U.S. universities and select Asian universities well represented.
A solid 8 hours of listening, processing and talking about some cutting edge research does take it out of you. At the end of those days I did just want to crash and rest. I generally just binge watch some trashy tv, read some science fiction/fantasy to decompress from the intensive days.
I think my highlight talk would be by Luke Stark from Microsoft who presented on the Ethics of Emotion in A.I., as well as the presentation on confessional data selfies by Brady Robards, Claire Moran and Ben Lyall from Monash.
Stark's presentation was super interesting and as we increasingly rely on machine learning, deep learning to power our mediated technologies, the ethics of quantifying emotion is an incredibly research topic. Recently, Amazon announced that their Alexa devices would be able to determine the emotional state of their users. Changing voice output and dialogue to accommodate and minimise frustration. The general problems with Amazon having access to vast troves of emotion data is a common one in todays data rich society. Though more worryingly making a device that is submissive to aggressive language has it's serious ethical implications to shaping human behaviour.
The confessional data selfies research by Robards, Moran an Lyall is definitely expanding what our notion of a selfie is, and truly as our ability to measure every aspect of our lives increases paired with our propensity to share means that the future may be full of confessional data selfies. This presentation also had some of the best slides at the conference (shout out Monash's Ben Lyall).
I generally don't do too well in big crowds and I do feel that attending an event like this with some friends and/or close colleagues would heighten my enjoyment. I did connect with some incredible people, that I am sure I will come across again over the next few years of my PhD journey.
I would certainly attend an AoIR conference again, so many topics that are of interest to me. I do genuinely feel the research topics that were presented over the course of this conference go to the very heart of our relationship with technology both good and bad. It was a thoroughly positive experience that definitely makes me excited for the next few years when I will be able to present at similar conferences.