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However, as DiSalvo argues, spectacle alone is not enough. Speculative design should provoke discussion and debate, pushing us beyond our current ways of knowing, understanding, and intervening in the world. Ranging from manufactured prototypes to mere descriptions, the intention is not to develop tangible design solutions. Instead, speculative design can be mobilized to help us critically reflect on the broader relationship between technological development and social change. Ultimate Witness comes factory-installed on every mobile device and cannot be disabled or removed. This app records and permanently stores a complete repository of detectable data within a 10 foot radius of the device, including the device user and anyone else within this range.

Imaging and auditory technologies capture sound, still, and moving images based on XSC3 heat and light filament sensors. All data is stored in an encrypted raw file format. Several copies of the data are sent through high-performance filtering and processing software programs. The most crucial filtration process is the Protect 2 End software program. This software uses a state of the art prevention algorithm that was initially based on , actual sexual violence cases brought to Canadian courts over the last few decades, focusing particularly on the evidence given to describe the events preceding the crime.

Alongside this data, the algorithm is always adapting due to its machine learning capabilities, which permits the category of sexual violence to achieve maximum malleability. Protect 2 End analyzes audio and images for misogynistic language and incidences of rape culture, making links to an algorithmically curated rendering of expected attitudes, behaviours, and biomedical shifts that signal future perpetration of sexual violence.

This data is continuously checked against historical data about the individual in question.

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Later on, he casually objectifies a woman in a private conversation to a friend: another flag is raised. If he then approaches the woman, a sedative will be delivered, rendering him unconscious within 2 minutes.

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Any identity-related mobility access devices vehicles, doors, passports and currency-related access bank accounts, credit cards associated with the individual become instantly inoperable. Authorities will be alerted and the immobilized would-be perp will be taken in for questioning at a local law enforcement facility. The flagged actions that led to his sedation would be revealed and a facilitator would take him through the appropriate unlearning exercises and isolation procedures.

I am using Ultimate Witness to extend and magnify elements of our contemporary cultures surrounding sexual violence prevention. I considered a wide range of prevention efforts and broader technocultural contexts, including the intensification of datafication, surveillance, and computation-driven policing.

Contemporary discourses that have taken shape on university and college campuses relating to sexual violence and rape culture have also influenced my thinking. Ultimate Witness is also modeled as an extension of the field of design that Hasinoff and I encountered in our sample of existing apps. Like those technological interventions that came before it, Ultimate Witness is not designed to reprogram attitudes, beliefs, norms, or values that function at the individual, interpersonal, community, or societal level to perpetuate sexual violence.

There is no serious effort to reprogram the systems that generate and sustain the power relationships that enable perpetrators to commit sexual violence and escape sanctions. Instead, the strategy is to intensify surveillance, datafication, and extreme policing measures to improve apprehension rates as a preventative measure in and of itself, while covertly accumulating profit by selling data and identity profiles. Sexual violence remains inevitable with Ultimate Witness, but there is a shift from interrupting sexual violence to avoiding it altogether.

Ultimate Witness attempts to turn the social antecedents of sexual violence perpetration into measurable indicators. In this way, the app moves from the measurement of sexual violence that has occurred to the measurement of future perpetration.

The future of sexual violence becomes the technologically-manufactured, premature capture of the presumed antecedents of sexual violence. This approach echoes preventative policing strategies that have disproportionately targeted marginalized groups, reifying implicit biases in the process. Predictive measures are prone to the possibility of generating the very identities in this case, perpetrator or abuser that the categorization seeks to observe, merely through categorization and measurement Cheney-Lippold, While everyone becomes an active user of Ultimate Witness by definition, it is perpetrators who are the intended user.

This design choice explicitly reverses the outcome of our earlier study where victims were the primary target of design. On the surface, Ultimate Witness presents an open and non-discriminating orientation towards perpetrators. Underneath that surface, however, are the mechanisms that Ultimate Witness deploys to recognize and identify perpetrators.

Relying on data about sexual violence from court cases is limited by the disciplinary, cultural, and structural domains of power that function to influence who reports, who is arrested, and who faces trial. Biases are already baked into these legal and judicial systems, and experiences of sexual violence in Ultimate Witness only appear if they are read as legible by these systems.

This is intended to mimic the erasure of experiences of sexual violence that are not reported or otherwise made invisible to authorities and thereby have less capacity to influence policy. While most people do not report, those who do may also find their case to be deemed unfounded by the police that is, dismissed as baseless. According to a recent study, one in every five sexual assault allegations in Canada is unfounded, which is twice as high as the unfounded rate for physical assault and much higher than other crimes Doolittle, The impulse towards translating the social world into data informed Ultimate Witness.

Collecting, storing, and processing data is a common strategy to track and manage social problems. Governments and practitioners often advocate for a data-driven strategy since numbers are legible to both the public and funders, despite the downfalls that collection entails. An interesting aspect of the speculative design approach is the capacity to play with temporal dimensions of a social problem.

In this way, the history, present, and future of sexual violence can be reconfigured or alternatively arranged. For example, many in the anti-violence field champion the necessity of always believing survivors. This makes sense given the historical memory of anti-violence experts who can easily recall why the voices and experiences of survivors of sexual violence ought to be centered.

Decades of anti-violence work were required to raise awareness and achieve legal reforms because survivors were not believed, or they were blamed for their own assault. Yet these are not the only histories and present-day realities. When we focus on issues like racialized criminalization practices and the relationship between anti-Black terrorism and the specter of Black rape — that is accusations against Black men, particularly by or in defense of white women — we find another reality: due process for the accused.

At times, these perspectives — survivor-centered approaches and close attention to due process — appear to be in conflict. Instead of co-existing, they take up different amounts of space in the material-discursive practices surrounding anti-violence work.

Ultimate Witness aims to provoke a sense of fear and anxiety that may be productive in bringing some of these tensions and temporal relations to the surface. As a future-oriented speculative design that is explicitly although only temporarily detached from the present, there is potential to open up space for difficult conversations regarding how to navigate survivor-centric approaches and due process for the accused.

By design, Ultimate Witness invites us to think of anyone — including ourselves and loved ones — as possible targets of a machine-driven accusatory mechanism.

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At the same time, the example included in the description closes off this possibility. While anyone can theoretically become a perpetrator in this future-world, the victim-perpetrator relationship is intentionally gendered in the explanation of how the app works. This echoes the dominance of the female victim — male perpetrator dyad within mainstream conversations about sexual violence, and was highly visible among the set of apps we studied.

Yet scholars have pointed out that continuing to rely on this dyad invisibilizes other forms of sexual violence, such as lesbian and gay experiences Edwards et al. Ultimate Witness is thereby designed to simultaneously conceal and open up these difficult discussions, permitting multiple pathways for engagement. Finally, Ultimate Witness is designed to create a flexible and adaptable category of sexual violence. The description intended to surface this anxiety, only identifying sexual violence after the far-reaching data collection capacities had been unveiled.


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Here I am gesturing towards the concerns — currently voiced only by a few scholars — regarding expanding terms. Since we are already engaging in critical debate about predictive policing, racial profiling, and algorithmic biases, Ultimate Witness extends these discussions to the realm of sexual violence to encourage deliberation on our contemporary conceptualization of the category of sexual violence. It is a dystopic future world that is constructed here; a world that we would wish to avoid.

If my use of speculative design is intended to disrupt the ways in which we think and talk about sexual violence, a dystopic design tends towards extending those aspects of our discourses and technocultures that are potentially problematic, making them more visible. By merely exposing these elements, the assumption is that we will be more aware of them and eager to discuss and dismiss any assumptions and ideas that we now wish to avoid.

Could a dystopic speculative design be artfully deployed in a way that would shift our understanding of sexual violence as fundamentally sociotechnical and compel us to resist such a future?

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Or, perhaps, would a utopic app better perform this work? A utopic vision could similarly conjure up a world without sexual violence, but actively build one that we would actually want to inhabit. We would then be forced to distill which ideas about prevention are essential for this future world and therefore which ideas we ought to focus on in the present. If there is, perhaps we could explore how to think differently about issues such as justice, victimhood, reduction, and recovery, and how to implement our future renderings into present-day action.

Balsamo, A.