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Hot Take: The Good Robot Book!

In this very special Good Robot hot take we talk about our new book, The Good Robot: Why Technology Needs Feminism. It's a beautiful new illustrated book where the top scholars, activists, artists, writers, technologists, all come together to respond to the prompt: good technology is... Kerry and I chat about getting its illustrations as tattoos, and you can vote for which one you think we should get tattooed. And then we have some more serious conversations about why good technology is always complicit, whether that be a blood glucose monitor, the Dyson Air Wrap, a Tangle Teezer, a water purifier or Kerry's option: knitting needles.

The book has just launched online and in stores. So you can find it at your local bookshop. We know that it's stocked in Waterstones, Heffers, Blackwells, Pages of Hackney... and of course this wouldn't be an episode on the complicities of good technology without saying that you can also find it on Amazon.


Hot takes with the good robot. Hot takes with the good robot.


 Welcome to another episode of the good robot hot takes. Every two weeks, Kerry and I will be giving our hot take on some of the biggest issues in tech. But today we're particularly excited to tell you about our new book: the good robot, why technology needs feminism. It's a beautiful new illustrated book where the top scholars, activists, artists, writers, technologists, all come together to respond to the prompt: good technology is dot dot dot. Kerry and I chat about getting its illustrations as tattoos, and you can vote for which one you think we should get tattooed. And then we have some more serious conversations about why good technology is always complicit, whether that be a blood glucose monitor, the Dyson Air Wrap, a Tangle Teezer, a water purifier or Kerry's option: knitting needles.

The book has just launched online and in stores. So you can find it at your local bookshop. We know that it stocked in Waterstones, heifers. Blackwells, Pages of Hackney... and of course this wouldn't be an episode on the complicities of good technology without saying that you can also find it on Amazon. We hope you enjoy the show.


 Hello to all of our wonderful listeners over here on The Good Robot. Today, Eleanor and I have something very close to our hearts that we want to be talking about, which is the release of our new book, The Good Robot, Why Technology Needs Feminism. And so it is a book that very much was born out of our podcast.

And so we are so grateful to all for coming along this journey with us. And being part of the whole process and for those of you who like to read as well as listen to all your feminist tech insights, you can now find this book available to buy at the Bloomsbury website, and Amazon, and even in your local bookstores.

So on that note, Eleanor, can you tell me a little bit about what you were doing at lunchtime today?


 So I went to my college to get some food and then in a moment of madness, I went to Waterstones. To see if they had a copy. And they did! It was in the gender studies section. And so in a second moment of madness, I took it and moved it into the smart thinking section, but it was like a table, where people can actually see it, rather than just being slotted in somewhere.

And then I also went to Heffer's, which is another bookstore, and they had three copies. And so now there's one copy where it's supposed to be and then there's two other copies on tables around the bookstore. So if you're listening, I'm really sorry. , I just got over excited because over the weekend a friend of mine said that it was in his local bookstore in Hackney, which apparently is an amazing bookstore so chuffed and also in Portobello in a bookstore there, it's just mad that someone other than my mum and Amazon is stocking it.


Yeah, the fact that it's literally in bookstores is wildly exciting to me. My mother in law bought four copies, which is very sweet of her. So they're making their way out to North Carolina, or they might have already arrived.

But yeah, thank you so much to everyone who actually pre ordered a copy. We're really thrilled to announce that actually the first print run has already sold out, which like, may be very exciting, or maybe they printed like three copies. So it's actually not that exciting. But. We're very excited about it, so thank you, but for those of you who have not pre ordered, who don't know much about the book, we want to use this as an opportunity just to chat about it and to let you know a little bit about what this book is doing, why we wrote it, who we think it's for, and many other little juicy tidbits along the way.

And also if you have bought it, sometimes I like with the books that I bought to have someone else explain to me what it's about and give me a little commentary, like a review almost. So we have some questions for each other.

Yeah. Do you want to ask me something first? Should I ask you? What's


I'll go first. Okay. Kerry, why did we write this book? What's it about? Who's in it? How is it divided?


Yeah, sure. This book came about on the basis that, we've been working on this podcast, I think for at least two years, maybe longer, maybe it's three now. So Eleanor and I started the podcast in 2021 during COVID.

And so after a year or so of doing this podcast successfully, we started thinking what would it mean actually to try and publish this as a book, but not like a very standard academic book, because we also wrote a book like this called Feminist AI, which, we love it, but she's dense. And so we were like, what would it mean to create something that actually anyone could pick up, dip in and dip out of this book?

So that was the broad story behind it. And in terms of what the book itself actually looks like, it's a collection of 2000 word essays that respond to the prompt 'what is good technology?' So if you're a long time listener to this podcast, you're probably pretty familiar with our good robot questions.

What is good technology? Is it even possible? And how can feminism help us work towards that? And so we asked every author to title their essay, good technology. Dot. And so we have essays like, good technology is free, at least for a moment, or good technology challenges power, good technology is earthly.

And they've caption distilled one idea from their podcast episode and made it into this short, punchy, really exciting little essay that might help you think a little bit differently about technology. So in terms of how we've organized the book, we've created lots of different little infrastructural layers which I think is also really fun.

So the book is divided into five sections that capture a different way where we can think about goodness and technology, or what it means for tech to be good. So for example, the first section is good relations, and this section's a bit more philosophical. It's people like Rosi Braidotti and N. Katherine Hayles, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, Jason Edward Lewis, who are all thinking about what it means to live with technology, but also with each other in good ways. Then we have a section called good systems, which is more thinking about the infrastructures, the legislation, the kinds of industry changes we might need, all the way through to thinking about good visions. So this is what kinds of stories we need to tell about technology.

And then we actually have a closing section, which is good rebellions. So this is people who are really maybe not at all bought into different kinds of tech projects and they're trying to think about what it would mean to change it from the outside. And so we hope that by stepping people through these different layers of thinking about goodness, it creates further bridges between feminist thinkers and critical thinkers who are all really concerned with the same question, which is trying to make tech better. But might be approaching it in very different ways. So that's a kind of very quick snapshot of the book. But Eleanor, what are your thoughts then? What kind of, why did you want to write this book? Why was it important to you? What have I missed crucially about the book?


This book is definitely it's my baby.

I guess it's ours. I told my mom that it was being stocked in local bookstores and that my friend had found it and I was so excited that she thought I was pregnant and then afterwards I had to be like I'm not pregnant she looks so disappointed and then she had to try and pretend she was excited for me about this book.

The whole thing was very sad. But this is just a combination of all the amazing conversations we've had, the incredible people we've met. Our heroines, our heroes, the people who have made it possible for feminism and technology not to be these two completely different things. And what we wanted to do was bring together older voices, younger voices across industries, people who work in tech, who've been fired from big tech, people who campaign, who are part of civil society, who are artists, writers, this whole diverse range of voices.

And show that what makes good technology is not just people building it, not just engineers, but ideas.


Can I jump on that really quickly as well? In terms of like how we selected the participants in the volume, like there were pretty much all people who had been on the podcast. There were also mainly our earlier guests.

So we roughly think of The Good Robot as seasons. This probably isn't super clear as a listener. This is more the way that we group the episodes, because for those of you who want to peek into the production process, we record like a big batch of episodes and then we release them slowly. So that's why pretty much everyone in this volume was from that sort of first batch we were just kicking off the podcast and these are people who were really generous with their time and their thoughts and ideas when we were just a little fledgling baby podcast. So we're very grateful to them, but that's why by our book, everyone, because I desperately want to do a second volume.

Like we've had so many incredible people on the podcast since then that I'm like, I want to keep telling the stories. I want to keep being able to put together these essays because I think they're really exciting and impactful. ,


Kerry, what's one idea from the book that you carry around with you?


Just also for anyone who's Watching on the YouTube we are in a one person soundproof pod at work, which is very much not meant for two people.


It's really hot.


We're like crammed in and it's, yeah, it's really hot.

And so Eleanor keeps like opening the door to try and let in some air, but then obviously that lets the sound in, which is like not the point of a soundproof pod. So yes, the struggle is real here in the Leverhulme Center offices.

What I really like about the book as a whole is it looks a lot at what we might think of as different temporalities of change, this idea that change can happen in very slow and very incremental ways, it can happen from within, sometimes it can happen in these very fast and transformative ways from the outside and what I really love about this final section is that people like Jack Halberstam asking like what more radical forms of change might look like.

So what would it mean, for example, for us to just fully get Off social media. And this is something I think about a lot as someone who is very complicit in social media use and various other kinds of tech use that I might actually think socially on the bigger scale aren't the best thing, but personally and individually bring me a lot of joy and I think that's really complicated and so what I like about these sections when they think about the good rebellion is that they're not only quite provocative in the way that they encourage us to be like, no, actually, maybe this is just a bad thing. We want to try at least opt out, but I think they're all also quite compassionate. And so I think one of the chapters in this book that sticks with me the most is this incredible one by Frances Negron Montaner, who is a professor at Columbia and a filmmaker.

And in her essay, she talks about this amazing art project she did in Puerto Rico. And she talks about this a lot on her episode, I'm going to link it in the show notes and on the transcript of this episode, so you can go back and listen to it. But she talks about this art project where she asks people, what do they value?

And her chapter is all about how we think about what it means for something to be valuable, the kinds of things we associate with profit and with having this. important place in our economies and in our lives, and asking us to revalue that. And that's something that I definitely find really provocative and really interesting.

And so she hijacks this ATM and turns it into the site of community value as part of the art project. And there's, I think, something It's really beautiful and transformative about that kind of rebellion, which takes something that can be quite ugly and a symbol of capitalism or a symbol of colonialism and try to reforge it into something else.

So that's something that sticks with me, but it's honestly pretty hard to choose because each of these chapters I think is really pointed and interesting in its own ways. But yeah, what ideas stick with you? What have you been like? That's really interesting.


Also on Frances's story, what I love about Frances is that she's a great storyteller and she tells the story of the ATM that was delivered to her in the middle of the night in a parking lot because it was an ATM that was, decommissioned, back of the lorry stuff, and she was afraid for her life.

And I love that she's just prepared to really go all out for the sake of these incredibly cool activist art projects, even put herself in near death experiences. So yeah, good on Frances.

There's so many ideas and actually I'm going to cheat and look at the list of illustrations because we had the book illustrated by this incredible artist called Sinjin Lee, who I met at a science fiction conference at the University of Birkbeck, where I also met my first cousin for the first time since we were really little because of, parental disputes. I found his name on the register and they were like, do you know that Matthew Drage is here?

I was like, oh my god, no way! And through this now beloved cousin of mine, who has loads of stuff in common with me I guess the kind of stuff we're interested in, hence the science fiction conference, I met this amazing illustrator. And what's so nice about her is that she read all the essays and she picked out ideas that really spoke to her.

So we have, for example, an image what N. Katherine Hayles, who's this incredible feminist philosopher and literary critic calls a biophilic relationship with a natural environment. And that just means like, biophilic, loving of the organic. So good technology is technology that reaches beyond humans to the non human realm.

Not in an extractive way, but in a loving way. And I think that's a really beautiful thought. Equally, I really love the way that Blaise Aguera y Arcas breaks down the idea of competitiveness, because he hears a lot about- being based in Google- a survival of the fittest metaphors used to talk about AI, or this idea that intelligence is located in a single computer or a single human mind when actually intelligence is distributed. And there are long racialized and gendered histories of intelligence testing that he also seeks to break down.

There's two really amazing illustrations of non binary ways of exploring technology.

And I really want to get a tattoo. I'm a little bit worried I'm gonna emerge with 20 tattoos on my body that are about this book.


So what we're saying basically, if you're listening, vote, which one we should get as a tattoo.


Yeah. If there's enough people voting, I'll get it. And also let me know where I should get it.

Not on my face. Definitely not my face.


A fun unrelated fact is that Ed Sheeran is an amazing musician that has the worst tattoos in the world. I got shown a photo of them yesterday and I was like, Nope, they are quite bad.


Of what?


He has a lot of tattoos. He has a lot of just like squares on his back, and then he has a huge lion on his chest, but it's not it's like too lifelike, but also looks like it's quite horse- like as well.

Yeah, in some ways I find it quite wholesome, because I'm the kind of person I'm not very cool. If I got tattoos, they probably would also look Extremely bizarre. But yeah, he's also very wealthy. So I'm like you could pay for the top tattoo artist. Why do they look like that?


I think it's nice to have that kind of like jokey atmosphere with a tattoo.

Like I know two guys that have, one has a massive pike, the fish, on his thigh, and the other one has some old Czech, traditional drawing that he claims is part of his ancestry, he's Canadian that he saw in a book. Anyway, I think these are better, if anyone else wants to take one of these as a tattoo, you're so welcome.


Yes, I think what's really lovely about the illustrations as well, apart from the fact that Sing just did the most incredible job with them at capturing these concepts, is, I think, a big thing. To do with the podcast is that we want to try and create information about gender and tech in ways that is accessible to people with lots of different styles of learning.

That's why we do audio podcasts and video podcasts, because for some people reading is really challenging, but listening is super easy. For some people it's vice versa, which is why we try and publish the transcripts of every episode on our website, but also want to make this book. But some people like me are super visual, like I find it amazingly easy to remember these beautiful illustrations and the ideas that go along with it much more easily than I can remember. A quote to the point where I'm currently being shamed very extensively on a group chat for my lack of knowledge of British writers and poets, but my memory for images is fantastic.

So I hope that for anyone else for whom they have a very visual way of processing information, these illustrations will like spark lots of ideas.


Yeah, it's embarrassing. I feel like Kerry's going to be fired soon because of having not read anything that we're supposed to have read.


It's like actually quite bad.


They were just like, everyone now keeps like quietly being aghast, especially a colleague of ours who has a PhD in English literature. And I guess Your degree is English Literature Centre. We're always on our high horse. Literature students are the best. We're just like, really full of ourselves. We think we've read everything.


Yeah, but the problem is, though, is that I have an arts PhD as well, not in literature. But it's not like I did a PhD in engineering and then could be like, yeah, but I can like code stuff or build stuff or whatever like I also did an arts PhD. I just haven't read anything.


If you're listening she's really brilliant. She has read a lot ..


No, I'm a serial hobbyist So I do everything for one year and then stop so I have a very low level amount of knowledge about a lot of things, just not books.


Yes, to turn us back onto the topic what I do in lots of workshops is ask people, what is good technology to you? And the question has two facets. One is what does good technology mean to you? What is its politics? What does it look like? What does it do and not do? And this is a big, quite abstract question. And then the second thing is, can you think of an example of a good technology? So some of our more recent episodes, we've been asking people more specifically, what is a good technology?

And for some people that's, they have type one diabetes and it's their blood glucose monitor. And when it's working well and has the cap on, it hasn't fallen off and keeps them alive. And I think those two ways of looking at good technology are both super important because the abstract ideas are what we need to propel ourselves into the future.

But we also are complicit. in technologies that have good and bad aspects our colleague who also has diabetes, she notes that the kinds of technologies that keep her alive are made by companies that build stuff that she's really against because they encourage people to count calories and promote eating disorders.

And so it's really important for us to reckon with the complicity of good technology. There is no perfect technology. There are only ideas and compromises and politics.


I know Eleanor, usually when I ask the question of what do you think is a good technology, I know you tend to reply the whisk, but in the interest of diversifying the good technology pool then, what is a technology that you perceive to be good in some way in your life?

And I guess, yeah, what are the different kinds of complicities or struggles or questions you have about that technology, despite the fact that you still find it good or beneficial in some way.


All right. Tangle teaser, as I have it.




I totally wasn't. So when we arrived at our center, it was a very, I think probably more of a serious research center than it is now that we're here.


Yeah, I really, we really brought the tone down by like several hundred degrees.


I think we've ruined it. And now people swap clothes in the office. So it's just, yeah.


Someone did ask both of us. They were like, are you a student? We were like, No. I think we are technically employees, but emotionally students.


Exactly. So I said when we arrived, for the CFI which is the center's newsletter, they asked you what are the two most important technologies in the last decade. And I think I was either drunk or taking the piss or something because I wrote the Tangle Teaser and then the Dyson Airwrap. And both of these I think are emblematic of this kind of complicity because, Dyson is ..Just a nightmare and moved to Singapore and voted for Brexit and yeah, not a huge fan. Love my Airwrap. I don't know what I'd do without it. It was horrifically expensive and I paid in 15 a month installments on Klarna, the kinds of ways of paying that make people go broke over time.

But it's a really beautiful piece of engineering because it doesn't overheat the hair because of the way that it, the direction in which it moves the air and the coolness, whatever. The Tangle Teaser couldn't get funding for a long time because no one, no, no board of male investors thought it was worth investing in a plastic hairbrush.

Little did they know that it solves many problems. However, as far as I can tell first of all, mine is disgusting, so I'm really sorry for showing this but it's made of plastic, plastic not renowned for being particularly sustainable. I've also bought like a million cause I keep losing them. So my use of it is not sustainable, a complicated technological artifact. Is that okay? I love whisks, by the way can I just give the whisk a minute? It looks beautiful! I can't really think of any negative effects of its use what is this the bad dual use?

Write in. Write in and burst my bubble.


I've already burst your bubble, I think, with my story about the whisk field trip.


Someone got bullied with a whisk. Yeah no fair enough.


Although to be fair though, a good whisk is a good technology because I have broken so many whisks because I think I whisk very violently and I also bake a lot, like more than the average person does.


It's also a prime example of a good prosthetic because it's a nice extension of your wrist and it works well, it's a bit like a kind of, Edward Scissorhands moment when you and the whisk need to be one, you need to be in sync in order to make your egg whites fluffy.


Eleanor Whiskhands, it's going to be your new go to.


I'm going to delete that bit from there.


If we had an editorial team, I'd be like, keep that in, but Eleanor is the editorial team.


Also for those of you who aren't watching on video, Kerry made me the most beautiful sleeves made out of Like stunning kind of tighty.


It's literally a pair of my old tights. I'm just really overselling it, but it's got a little shim ish with like little bows on it. Yeah. So if you're not watching us on YouTube, what are you doing? I know this is the kind of high quality content you could get. And you can also see us both crammed into this pod.

But yeah, I guess for me, I think the Tangle Teaser is a good one. I. did get converted onto Tangle Teasers by Eleanor when we first started working together. Because I like that you can wash the whole thing as well. I think knitting needles is a strong one for me. I like it because it's very low tech.

Like it's like very simple. But also there's something quite magical about knitting. Like I think when Just using two sticks and some thread and you turn it into a garment like that still always feels quite magnificent. And yet at the same time, it's also complicated. Hand knitting takes all the time.

Wool is now very expensive. Like I don't eat a lot of animal products. And then using animal products to make clothing is also complicated. This is a big debate around that, whether it's better to use synthetic fibers or not. I think environmentally it's not, but then ethically, if you don't. eat animals, then you might not want to wear or use wool.

And so yeah, again, even something as simple as like knitting needles or the practice of crafting itself can be very complicated, even as it's incredibly joyful and and I think there's so many kinds of layers of the world that open up to you with a good technology, because I feel like when I knit or learn how to knit with knitting needles is not just the joy of the knitting in that moment, but it's also like now I can look at a garment someone wears and understand how it was made, which is something I just couldn't have done before. I can't sew very well at all, but I can imagine sewing your own clothes is like this as well.

So yeah, I like to think of knitting needles as one of those examples of the technology that is good even if people are really desperate to confiscate it when you go on an airplane, which is very sad.


, like where?


People used to always confiscate knitting needles and I think crochet hooks you could get away with, but like sometimes, I feel like that I do see people knitting on the plane now though, so maybe they've stopped doing that, but to be fair, like a knitting needle made from metal is quite like, oh yeah, if they're going to take away your little like dental toothpicks or whatever, if they let someone take on like a 45 centimeter long metal knitting needle.

It would be a bit cheeky, but


Maybe my good technology is Kerry.


Yeah, no, Eleanor and I are like an inbuilt Google docs or hard drive where I'm like, what am I doing today? You're doing this. And I'm like, cool. I gotta go on Google Calendar. Actually, Google Calendar is a good technology. I'm very reliant on Google Cal. I know there's probably heaps of complicities and bad things, namely Google, namely online tracking of a calendar. But my whole life is on Google Cal, please don't hack me.

But genuinely, I'm so reliant on it to remember everything.


Yeah, that's a great one. I think the classic example is WhatsApp and Facebook for activist organizing and being in touch with friends and family. And all the complicities that involves... being dependent on social media infrastructure.

And there's a great essay in here by Jack Halberstam. And they also wrote this incredible manifesto called 'Get Off' in all the senses of getting off. What their point was their point was that it's not worth being on social media because you are there as data, the old chestnut that if it's free then you are the product.

So they said, just get off. It's not worth it. Leave it behind. It's really fun, upbeat, spunky, and we're so lucky to have, we have the most famous, in inverted commas, people that are part of this edited collection, like the real stars of feminism and technology philosophy, art, activism, like just the most incredible group of people.

And I cannot quite believe that we managed to get them to do it. I don't know why they did. I'm so grateful, I'm so grateful that Rosi Braidotti, who's this also very famous feminist philosopher, that actually I wrote my PhD on, can you imagine, wanted our book to be in her Bloomsbury series. That is an amazing thing, and just having it out, and having all these very different good ideas in one place as your repository of ideas about what constitutes good technology in a feminist frame. That's what this book is for.


Amazing. So final question. We know who's in the book, what it's trying to do, but who is it for? So who would you recommend go out and buy it, share it, and the like?


So I've edited this book within an inch of its life. That means I've taken out every ology, so ontology, epistemology, and replaced it with 'forms of being', 'forms of knowing'.

I've been this like, thesaurus, for a year now, and every good idea can be expressed in simple terms or complex terms, I really believe that, and this book is an amazing way of accessing people who are actually quite difficult to read, and this is the easiest thing you'll ever read by them.

If you've had any of these names flung your way from, who are the most complex people, probably Braidotti and N. Katherine Hayles, maybe even Halberstam um, Anne Cheng just a nod. People who are amazing, but quite hard to access, this is your chance to sound clever.

And it's so nice to put them alongside people who work in tech, like Meg Mitchell, Margaret Mitchell, who's head ethicist at Hugging Face, this amazing AI company that's doing it right. And to have them talk side by side. So I think this book is for people who work in tech, interested in tech, worry about tech interested in feminism, interested in justice, prefer reading a short essay to a whole book like a book with pictures cause there are pictures, really beautiful ones, want a tattoo want to know about what indigenous scholars think about technology, and what to think about Buddhism in technology. It's really a one stop shop for multiple ways of thinking about what good tech is. Needless to say, if you're a student, this is the book for you as well.


Yeah, absolutely. I think this was really one of our goals with the volume as well, is we want it to be broadly accessible, but particularly we think it's going to be good for students because it just has a breadth to it and also dip in, dip out.

It's a kind of structure with these short essays that you could read, one before you go to bed. And when you get up in the morning, on your lunch break, just eat in little bite sized pieces, which is really nice and a lot of books aren't really designed that way and so we wanted to be super intentional with it.

If you're interested in The Good Robot, Why Technology Needs Feminism, we highly encourage you to check it out on the Bloomsbury website. We actually have a 20 percent discount. Maybe 10 percent off discount, I'm very bad at math. So we have a discount code that I think is still valid.

And we'll put that on the website slash the show notes, if you would like a small discount off your volume copy, but you can also get it on Amazon. And yet again, as I mentioned at the beginning, hopefully at your local bookstore, but yeah, thanks for listening. And we hope that you love it as much as we do.

And if it's in your local bookstore, it may not be at the place where they say it is at reception, cause I might have moved it. Yeah. Send us a picture on Instagram if you see it at a local bookstore. We love hearing from listeners. You can also reach out to us at the Good Robot website. Please do subscribe as well to the Good Robot newsletter.

That is a very important announcement for this week, where we will round up all the little bits and pieces every month that are happening at the Good Robot, what's happening in AI and AI ethics. We have a fantastic newsletter writer, Oscar Kavanagh, who is. Doing incredible work to put together and use it every month.

So if you're a one stop shop, all things, good robot, highly recommend that you sign up to that at our website, www. thegoodrobot. co. uk.



 Hot takes with the good robot.

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