Emotional Interpretation & Materiality of Biosensing

Noura Howell, School of Information, UC Berkeley

Boston 2017: Open

Biosensory data is being linked with emotion, with claims that particular data patterns indicate discrete categories of universal fundamental emotions. Drawing from such claims, many approaches in affective computing and consumer biosensing devices foreground machine-driven emotional interpretation or categorization, which neglects the socioculturally embedded, emergent, and performative nature of emotion. In contrast, my design research seeks to foreground biosensing’s entanglements with self and others, body and environment, and support human-driven emotional interpretation from within this apparatus. Drawing from approaches such as critical technical practice and critical making, I probe alternative relations and reconfigurations involving humans and biosensing technology. For the Making & Doing session, I would like to show some material artifacts, as a complement to my presentation in the panel Sensing Subjectivities: Biosensing and Human/Machine Entanglements. I design ambiguous displays made of “unstable” materials, such as thermochromic fabric clothing. This material is unstable as a biosensing display in the sense that it changes color both in response to the biosensory data of the wearer and in response to environmental temperature. While leveraging ambiguity is a known design tactic for supporting open-ended reflection, and these projects have contributed reflections around ambiguity for biosensing displays at other venues, here I would like to reflect on the materiality of biosensory data/display. Specific to these designs, how do sensing on skin and displaying on clothing enact or breach agential cuts between self, body, clothing, and environment? More broadly, how can unstable materials help shift designs away from biosensing displays as representationalist toward biosensing displays as performative?

Published: 01/30/2023