• ETHOS lab at the IT University of Copenhagen is an experimental space that creates value with IT by exploring data and data landscapes in contemporary society. Critical Systems supports ETHOS and its contribution toward offering more options for students interested in big data, algorithms, privacy and ethics. See more.

  • The Critical Systems Strategic Research area is an interdisciplinary network of computer scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars focused on the core components of critical systems that we define as big data, algorithms, privacy, security and ethics. See more about us here.

  • Since autumn 2014 we have organized many very well attended events under the banner of Critical Systems. Presenters touched upon issues of privacy, smart cities, democracy, artificial agencies. All events generated lively discussions and developed relationships with international faculty. Scroll down to read more.

Critical Systems Lecture: The Insides and the Outsides of Parliamentary Democracy

This talk will attend to two democratic technologies in practice, the parliament as a building and the regulation of drug use. 

One of the central promises of parliamentary democracy as a model of governance is that it can deal with any problem that concerns a political community. In a way, it is possible to think of parliament buildings as material manifestations of this promise. They can be thought of as complex political technologies that in Europe and North America gained a more-or-less standardised form by the end of the nineteenth century. The Hungarian parliament building is no exception. Drawing on ethnographic and historical research conducted in Budapest between 2008 and 2010, the first part of this presentation will provide a material-semiotic analysis of parliaments as problem-solving machines, the smooth operation of which relies upon predefined and preformatted problems. But where do problems come from? The second part of the presentation aims to address this question by shifting focus from parliaments as problem-solving machines to different modes of problematisation. Using the regulation of drug use in Hungary as a specific example, it will outline how a European statistics office, policy networks and civil activist groups collectively constitute the outsides of parliamentary democracy, engaging in politics on the level of problem-formation. 

Dr. Endre Dányi is postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Sociology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. Influenced by Science and Technology Studies (STS), he wrote his PhD thesis at the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University about the Hungarian Parliament as a complex political technology. In his postdoctoral research he traces the limits of this technology by examining how statistics, policy worlds and civil organisations constitute the outsides of parliamentary politics.

This talk is hosted by the Technologies in Practice Research Group at IT University of Copenhagen. 




3A07, IT University of Copenhagen

Critical Systems Lecture Series: Brokerage: Mediating Datafication, Citizenship and the City

Datafication is transforming citizenship in cities around the world by introducing new relationships between citizens and governments. This paper examines how the emergence of various forms of data brokerage by companies as well as civic entities recasts notions of citizenship and institutional responsibility. In a data city, the relationship between government, individuals and corporate entities is transformed through production, exchange, and brokerage of data. Citizens can become consumer-producers of data, creating value for governments and for the companies that provide brokerage of that data. Governments become consumers of analytics that help them to rationally manage resources that are deemed scarce. These relationships are mediated by brokers ­ companies, organizations or other entities - who can negotiate the relationships between government and individuals, positioning them both as consumers, but of different packages of analytic data. This talk compares and contrasts different forms of commercial and ³civic² data brokers, identifying how each kind of brokerage leverages analytic resources and contributes to the construction, imagination, and valuation of data in the city. It identifies brokerage as a form of heterarchical power, and clarifies the possibilities and limits of seeking to challenge the consumer framework of citizenship by changing brokerage arrangements.

Presenter Alison Powell is Assistant Professor in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics. Her research examines the ways that value decisions are negotiated within the design of new ICTs. She is writing a book on good governance and the Internet of Things, and working on several projects related to citizenship, cities, data and ethics. She recently published “Big Data From the Bottom Up” in Big Data and Society with Nick Couldry, along with several recent publications discussing information policy, activism, and open source culture. She is regularly invited to deliver lectures on the social and political consequences of IoT and Smart Cities projects.




3A08, IT University of Copenhagen

Critical Systems Lecture: Internet Surveillance after Snowden: Mapping personal communication through NSA interception points

There have long been well-founded suspicions that state security agencies, notably the US National Security Agency (NSA), have secretly been conducting surveillance of internet communications, but the revelations from documents Edward Snowden leaked in June 2013 have surprised everyone in terms the global scope and fine grained detail of internet interception. This surveillance, and the related weakening of encryption standards as well as more targeted injection of spyware into thousands of computers around the world, has provoked widespread concern. This talk will provide an overview of the various forms of recently revealed mass state surveillance, highlighting the interception of communication at internet choke points and the risk this poses for domestic traffic that is routed via the US and its Five Eyes partners. 


Presenter Andrew Clement is a Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, where he coordinates the Information Policy Research Program and co-founded the Identity Privacy and Security Institute. With a PhD in Computer Science, he has had longstanding research and teaching interests in the social implications of information/communication technologies and participatory design. Among his recent privacy/surveillance research projects, are IXmaps.ca an internet mapping tool that helps make more visible NSA warrantless wiretapping activities; SurveillanceRights.ca, which crowd-sources the documentation of video surveillance installations and their (non)compliance with privacy regulations; and Proportionate ID, which demonstrates through overlays for conventional ID cards and a smartphone app privacy protective alternatives to prevailing full disclosure norms. Clement is a co-investigator in The New Transparency: Surveillance and Social Sorting research collaboration - see it here.

Andrew Clement's slides are publicly available here.



3A08, IT University of Copenhagen

Critical Systems Debate: Big Data, Algorithms, Research and the Question of Ethics

The digital world now generates more than 1.7 billion bytes per minute and computational power is exploding, ushering in the age of big data. No matter the debates about the value of personal data and privacy, big data are here to stay and it is crucial that the ethical dilemmas around the uses of data are addressed. In this interdisciplinary debate we will discuss the ethics of research in collaboration with industry and reliance on industry data management practices, the possibilities of transparency of algorithms in data-driven decision-making and the implications of these questions for the future of big data in research and practice. 

Jeff Hancock (Presenter): The Facebook Study: A Personal Account of Big Social Data and Ethics

Abstract: Big social data, such as that produced by Facebook and Twitter, have the potential to transform the social sciences and lead to advances in understanding human behavior. At the same time, novel large-scale methods and forms of collaboration between academia and industry raise new ethical questions. I will discuss the Facebook Emotion study and step through several aspects of the study that involve important ethical decision points, and provide some insights on why the study generated such massive attention and criticism. Lastly, I will discuss some of the personal costs, opportunities and lessons associated with this level and kind of controversy.

Jeff Hancock is a Professor in the Departments of Communication and Information Science at Cornell University. Professor Hancock works on questions concerned with psychological and interpersonal processes that take place online. He specializes in using in using computational linguistic analysis to understand how the words we use can reveal psychological and social dynamics, such as deception and credibility, emotional dynamics, intimacy and relationships, and social support.


Rasmus Pagh (Presenter): Big Data: Fairness and TransparencyAbstract: How can we make sure that decisions made based on big data analysis are fair? For example, that they do not indirectly discriminate based on race or gender? And more generally, how do we ensure the transparency that makes people trust that big data is being used in a fair and ethical way? The talk will discuss these questions and some (very) partial attempts at answers.

Rasmus Pagh is a Professor in the Theoretical Computer Science section at the IT University of Copenhagen. Professor Pagh is part of the Copenhagen Algorithms community and his scientific interests are within algorithms and data structures, with an emphasis on big data. He has worked extensively on basic questions in information retrieval and the role of randomness in computing, on problems with applications in databases and knowledge discovery, and on the exploitation of parallelism in modern computer architectures.


Rachel Douglas Jones (Discussant) is an Assistant Professor in the Inter Section at the IT University of Copenhagen. She was trained as an anthropologist and STS scholar at the University of Cambridge, Harvard University and Durham University. Ethics procedures and ethics reviews of research as mode of governance are topics central to her research. She is also interested in the notion of ethics in Big Data research, decision-making practices that rely on big data and the attendant algorithms charged with making it usable.



2A12, IT University of Copenhagen