Julie Carpenter, Ph.D.

People + Technology + Culture

About-ish

My work has taken a path from film and media theory study at university to years of industry practice in human-centered research focusing on peoples' interactions with a variety of technologies, usually AI in some form, such as software, robots, voice user interfaces (VUI), or autonomous cars. All of these areas of interest are rooted in ideas about communication systems —and their deconstruction — and technology as a medium for storytelling.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to have access to a Commodore VIC-20 home computer, and immediately took to teaching myself BASIC so I could code and create. Meanwhile, my world was also shaped by my sociologost father's personal library of everything from fiction to academic books, where I was encouraged to read anything that I wanted. A science fiction author that influenced me from an early age was Zenna Henderson, whose short stories often centered on children, women, and the idea of othering.

In one of my earliest jobs in Web development, part of my role was working on Y2K preparation and response for an organization in the banking sector. My responsibilities included everything from coding the sites to acting as a Y2k expert and taking calls from bank owners, media, and the general public who had conerns about the safety of their financial holdings. This was an era that clearly demonstrated to me the user-centered design and development challenges connected to emotion-centered aspects of how people interacted via information we presented to them or that they read from other sources on the Web. Certainly, I began to think about factors like the importance of building and maintaining (or repairing) user trust in their experiences online.

My interdisciplinary background in film theory and learning sciences influence my view of AI as a communication medium not dissimilar to other forms of storytelling in its theoretical and practical contructs. Thus, my work explores the cultural influences and narratives that influence people who make technology, everyday peoples' lived experiences with technology, and the popular cultural narratives around that technology. Therefore, the methods and strategies I use to explore these topics are human-centered, often ethnographic in nature, and rooted in social science ways of understanding individuals and their relationships to others and to the world around them. In other words, I am interested in who gets to make decisions about developing technologies, what narratives they craft to serve their purposes, and the stories people actually have about living with that technology.

The current state of AI development is moving quickly, yet sociocultural human-centered research in the field is still nascent. This void in research and practice will have an enormous impact on peoples' safety as technology is increasingly enmeshed in our everyday communication, social, medical, defense, space exploration, energy, agricultural, and humanitarian aid systems and infrastructures. Developing AI without attending to the human factors will have a heavy ethical cost given the roles AI plays, and how it will continue to influence the human experience.


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