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Bear & Co

Bear & Co

Bear & Co. is a fictitious immersion into the world of being part of an IOT start-up. We invite visitors to join the company, and put them through various ethical approaches as they become part of the company. First they must state their values - what they will bring to the company and care most about. Then, we test those values through different scenarios and problems that are unexpected and don’t have easy answers. 

After a “worker” finishes, our software program compares the values they stated on their punchcard - the things they think make Bear & Co. a Good Company, with the decisions they actually made. Sometimes there will be a misalignment - a tension - between the values they stated and the choices they made. That’s fine - but we should be aware! So that tomorrow when they come back to work at Bear & Co., they keep an eye out for those possible issues.

Bear & Co. is part of VIRTEU - a bigger, 3 year research project, funded by the E.U., where we are working with ethicists, lawyers and anthropologists as well as policy makers to try to figure out how to integrate ethical thinking into the process of creating connected devices. We are interested especially in startups who are making connected devices oriented towards individual users, where the environment of the connected device might be workplace, home, hospital, your car. So it’s about technology being pushed to instrument various environments that people traverse.

Why? Because as more and more things are being made with data storage, data processing, data being sent to the cloud - and as more and more technology is being pushed into our entire surroundings in a systemic way rather than contained locally - this data can carelessly reveal and push upon security and privacy, exposing data in unforeseen ways. But even more than that - there are larger systemic problems that IOT device creators face, but have no practice or training for dealing with those problems. We at CIID Research are designing a series of tools to integrate this practice, training and understanding of ethical decision-making and reflection into the design process while making connected Things.

The series of stages of working at Bear & Co. are the following:

We invite visitors to take on the role of working at a semi-fictitious company  "Bear & Co" with a welcoming letter. However, in order to start work, they first have to record their values - by punching up to 4 holes in a card they will have received in their welcome envelope.

Once they punch their card, they should continue to the Operator’s Station on Wall 2. Here they should see that there is a small screen with instructions for them to follow. It starts with “Please insert your punchcard.” They insert their punchcard of values [in the left-most slot titled “Card Reader”]. This is their “sign in” to the company experience.

You can’t start work without registering your values / design priorities - your version of Good.

After they insert their punchcard, the screen prompts them to go to Page X. They should go to this page in their Operator’s Manual - the black binder in front of them. On that page, there is a dilemma for them to consider and choose an option (A or B). They should choose this option with the switch. 

Here we are bringing them into a structured speculation process of imagining possible situations they might have to consider while working at Bear and co. 

We have both system-level pressures as well as on-the-ground stories related to the choices they might have to make. 

When they finish the tree of dilemmas, the printer will print a receipt based on the work they have done [this is represented as A or B and the number of the dilemma - for ex. 1A2B3B] and if they had any “misalignment” between their decisions and their values. 

If they had misalignment, they should take their punchcard and receipt to “The Manager” about this. If they are all good, they should take their punchcard and receipt to Wall 3.

If the visitor had a misalignment between their values and their decisions, they will have a message to go see The Manager. The Manager reviews their work [this is in the list of 1A2B etc] and the values that have been listed as in “tension” based on their decisions. Then, they should have a discussion about why this misalignment might have happened. The Manager should place a googley eye on the values that were “misaligned” and very simply talk through: 

  • the different decisions the person took 

  • and why they took those decisions

  • how things could go differently

  • if they have ever confronted anything like this before

  • if they want to help make the manual better / share their experiences — they should join for a “co-creation” workshop on the sign up form

then after placing the googley eyes on the punchcard, they give it back to the visitor.

The visitor should then put their card on Wall 3 to punch out. We invite them to take a look at the ethics wall that explains how their experience connects to various ethical approaches.

The ethics wall shows the three different ethical approaches we are considering as we work towards the goal of integrating ethics into the design process. These approaches have been defined by philosophers and ethicists for many years. What they will see is our interpretation of the approaches and our “slice” of how they can related to the designed of connected devices.

Bear & Co. is a way to rehearse, to practice ethical thinking and decision-making for a product that’s not even yours - a role-play, if you will. In that way, when confronted with actual major and systemic problems when working on your own product or project, you might be better equipped to solve the issue - or at least to try to solve, and then try again.


What's going on?

Bear+co is an exhibition to immerse visitors in stating, reflecting upon and integrating ethics into their design process as they build new connected devices.

Where does this come from?

This is a prototype of an experience of integrating ethical reflection into parts of the design process when creating connecting things (IOT). The prototype is for a 3 year project called VIRTEU - an EU-funded research project on integrating ethics into the design process of connected devices (IOT).

Who made this exhibition?

CIID Research - a partner of VIRTEU - as we proceed towards designing tools for ethical reflection when making connected devices. 

Is this experience an ethical tool?

Yes, in that it is a rehearsal for situations that may occur in your life when working on new devices. 

What stage are the designers of this experience in?

We have conducted co-creation workshops in Amsterdam and London and now are in the stage of ideation and prototyping tools for ethical reflection. This is just one experience that may go towards a full tool set.

When will the ethical tools be done?

June 2018

Is this related to the GDPR?

Yes, but the experience you have at Bear and co is engaging a softer side of ethical reflection. The overall research project will also deliver a checklist related to GDPR and IOT.

Is this a real product?

No, Bear and co is a fictitious company and product based on a real-life story of a product/company that went under because of major security / data protection problems.

Why are these values already printed?

We are exploring the idea that individuals and products often express their values in relation to those of their community - thus the values you see here are ones that come from the overlap between community values expressed and observed by our partners at LSE as they conducted anthropological research with dozens of IOT companies - and the values that are actually questioned by the scenarios you will be considering in the Operator’s Manual.

But none of this is real, so why should I work on it at all?

Ethics is work, and it is about practicing and trying out and rehearsing your ethical viewpoints such that when a dilemma actually comes your way, you are more prepared to handle it. While none of these dilemmas are themselves true, they are based on realistic facts and pressures that could be applied to many IOT start-ups.

Who is this experience for?

It’s for creators of IOT, specifically designers and developers in IOT start-ups - and meant to be a warming up kind of tool to start thinking about ethics in relation to creating connected devices. While the Bear and co story is especially hitting upon big system structural constraints (political, economic, social, ecological, legal), our VIRTEU team will be developing other experiences around more nuanced material problems (networks, platforms, etc.).

Some consider ethics to be the realm of the CEO or the lawyers. Yet in VIRTEU, we are specifically designing for small companies and start-ups where the CEO might be the developer and the designer, or where the developer and the designer are often in charge of decisions that would in fact impact the product’s development on a systemic level. We designed the Bear and co experience to try to pull creators out of the detailed weeds that they are dealing with on a day to day basis and begin to exercise their speculative muscles about what kind of situations might occur.

What’s up with the Googley Eyes?

The eye references the Spanish expression of “Ojo” - which means eye - and is used to tell someone to pay attention.

Where do these dilemmas and stories come from? 

We wrote them together with our legal and policy expert partners at the Open Rights Group in the UK - specifically Javier Ruiz. 

Co-design Workshops: A Moral Algorithm?

Co-design Workshops: A Moral Algorithm?

Ethical Things: Workshop v1, Amsterdam

Ethical Things: Workshop v1, Amsterdam