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Living in the shadow of the Reference Man

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the concept of the "Reference Man" and how it has influenced the design of our built environment, digital technologies, and AI systems, leading to biases and inequalities. It highlights the importance of incorporating diverse perspectives, including Indigenous knowledge, to create more inclusive and responsible innovations.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] Living in the shadow of the Reference Man

1. What is the "Reference Man" and how has it influenced the design of our built environment and digital technologies?

  • The "Reference Man" is a concept developed by Le Corbusier, which aimed to create a single human form as a universal mathematical, aesthetic, and design reference.
  • This concept has become a standard in architecture, medicine, anatomy, and even the dimension reference for furniture and seat design, ensuring the comfort of the "Reference Man".
  • However, the "Reference Man" represents an ideology of inequality and the supremacy of a single expression of what it means to be human, which has dominated our built and natural environment, as well as digital models and technologies.

2. How does the "Reference Man" concept contribute to gender bias in cities?

  • According to the "Cities Alive: Designing Cities that Work for Women" report, the way cities are planned, built, and managed can significantly restrict women's ability to move around, be economically active, feel safe, or be represented (only 2-3% of statues are of women).
  • The "Reference Man" concept has influenced the design of cities, leading to gender bias in the built environment.

3. How does the "coded gaze" of the "Reference Man" influence the bias in digital technologies and AI systems?

  • The "coded gaze" of the "Reference Man" influences the bias in the selection of training data and the algorithmic bias in some Generative AI tools.
  • Research has shown that these AI systems tend to perpetuate stereotypes, with women being rarely depicted as doctors, lawyers, or judges, and men with dark skin being associated with crime, while women with dark skin are depicted as flipping burgers.

[02] Embracing Diversity and Indigenous Knowledge

1. How can incorporating diverse perspectives and Indigenous knowledge help create more inclusive and responsible innovations?

  • The article highlights examples of AI platforms and conservation projects that have successfully blended Indigenous knowledge, satellite data, and scientific research to create meaningful and responsible solutions.
  • PolArctic, an AI platform, uses a blend of Indigenous knowledge, satellite data, and scientific research to train its model, demonstrating the benefits of combining Western knowledge and Indigenous wisdom.
  • In French Polynesia, an indigenous-led conservation project uses AI-mediated acoustic environment data to inform local restoration efforts, showcasing the power of mutual learning and partnership between local wisdom and technology.

2. What is the importance of acknowledging the social, political, and ideological origins of data and digital structures?

  • The article emphasizes that to claim the neutrality of data within our digital and physical structures, we must first consider their social, political, and ideological origins.
  • Recognizing the situated knowledge and acknowledging the origins of data can help create meaningful, diverse, and impactful solutions, moving beyond the limitations of the "Reference Man" concept.

3. What is the key message conveyed by the Japanese proverb mentioned in the article?

  • The Japanese proverb "Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass" suggests that the universal truth sought by Le Corbusier may not reside in a single universal form or AI platform, but rather in embracing the diversity of shapes and shades that hold the secret to solving universal challenges.
  • This requires the knowledge and wisdom that expands beyond that of the "Reference Man", calling for a diversity of scientific disciplines and human and non-human stakeholders to inform both training data and algorithms.
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