On the clock, In the Home: An Interrogation of the Social Responsibility of Time Constructs in Algorithms

Julian Vido and Mina Henein
School of Cybernetics, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

NOTE: The presentation for this abstract is available only to attendees of SRA22, and is password protected. Attendees will have received the password.

The First Industrial Revolution was a time of great innovation and new ways of thinking, including the development of standardised time. Standardised time transformed the way people thought about and related to time, reshaping it into a quantifiable commodity to meet the needs of the industrialising economy [1].

The ubiquity of standardised time is such that, in the age of artificial intelligence, little regard is had to the way it is embedded into algorithms that now mediate many aspects of human experience. The ugly side to this is well documented in examples of warehouse employees being surveilled by algorithms based on rigid logics of standardised time [2]. This pervasive form of Taylorism highlights the need to scrutinise the ways standardised time is embedded into algorithms and the social implications that flow from such design choices. As these algorithms creep into private spaces, serious questions arise with regard to their social responsibility. To explore this issue, we have designed Bundy, a satirical, hacked, virtual home assistant. Bundy is built in the form of a punch-card time clock from the 1970s, and takes its name from the person credited with inventing the punch-card time clock, Willard Bundy [3]. It has been programmed to operate strictly in accordance with regulated working hours mandated by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) [4], Australia’s national employment legislation.

Through interviews with householders and observations of their encounters with Bundy, we will explore how the logics of time built into algorithms, affect their experience of time in the domestic space. Bundy introduces the concept of a regulated, time-bound worker into the domestic labour of the household. The protections afforded to Bundy, sit in contrast with the lack of protections afforded to workers in the household, whose work is often unpaid, unappreciated and unbounded by time. Ultimately, our goal is to identify lessons for the socially responsible design of algorithms, such that they can allow for diverse experiences of time in the home.

[1] Jimena Canales. 2011. A Tenth of a Second: A History (1st. Ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
[2] Jessica Bruder. 2017. Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century. New York, NY: Norton.
[3] Seth Godin. 2019. Leader’s Don’t Hide Behind Data. MIT Sloan Management Review 61, 1 (Oct. 2019), Cambridge, 1-3.
[4] Australian Government, 2009. Fair Work Act 2009. Commonwealth Government Printer, Australia, pp. no. 28 no.73.