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GEARS - Preparing Future Professionals: Autonomy and sociality: What we might learn from cars

April 11, 2016 - 3:00pm to 4:30pm

Autonomy and sociality: What we might learn from cars

Self-driving cars are among the most visible instantiations of a broader trend, to make technologies of all kinds autonomous.  The aim is to make the technological object self-acting, or able to operate without outside control — vehicles moving down the road without human control.

In my research I explore the relationship between the autonomy of the object and the autonomy of the people for whom it is designed. Human-computer (and machine) interaction typically focuses on the direct relationship between user and the computer / machine. Collaborative and social computing widen this to include collectives of people interacting with a computer application or system.

As an anthropologist I am interested in the impact of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems on the social and relational dimensions of society more broadly. As an applied researcher developing autonomous vehicles, I am actively aware that what I create will impact not just the human-machine interaction but human-human interactions as autonomous vehicles make their way further onto the roads. Investigations of the culture of the street and road use practices, which I’ll share in this talk, provide great fodder for thinking through autonomy and sociality.


Melissa Cefkin, Ph.D.  (Nissan Research Center)
Melissa Cefkin (PhD Anthropology, Rice) leads a social and human centered research team at Nissan Research Center-Silicon Valley. Her group focuses on exploring the potential future of having autonomous vehicles as interactive agents in the world and their potential impact on the future of mobility.  She joined Nissan in 2015 from IBM Research where her research focused on work and organization. She also has experience in design and consulting, and was previously a Director of Advance Research and User Experience at Sapient Corporation, and a senior research scientist at the Institute for Research on Learning. Melissa served on the Board of Directors and conference co-organizer for the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC). She is the editor of Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter (Berghahn Books 2009) and numerous other publications.  A Fulbright award grantee, she enjoys frequent presentations at conferences, and has served a committee for the National Academies of Science and on a number of editorial boards.

Light refreshments will be served.



KL 232 (Chancellor's Conference Room)