Mozilla/BBC Ethical Dilemma Cafe Manchester

Ethical Dilemma Cafe Manchester through the window

The Ethical Dilemma Cafe Manchester happened last week on Tuesday 26-Wednesday 27th April. It was quite something to build, prepare and experience.

Building on the ethical dilemma cafe in Mozfest 2014, we took the idea into a real working cafe complete with the public coming and going, but experiencing the dilemma.

When I say the dilemma, what do I mean? In 2014…

The café offered popcorn, juice, and smoothies not found anywhere else at the festival, but to enter the café, you had to cross a boundary that required a ridiculous data user agreement. As part of this agreement, your personal information would be plastered through the festival’s halls hours later. This experience was about getting out of a chair and experiencing the dilemma in a real, tangible way. Would you read the agreement in order to obtain a glass of juice? Ignore the agreement and quench your thirst in ignorant bliss? Or read the agreement and walk away, and try to find snacks elsewhere because the agreement was unacceptable?

While in 2022 with the changes in how mobile phones are less leaky about data and a ton of frankly new challenges (some are explored in our virtual mozfest 2022 session), we decided to explore both the QR code and personal data sharing problems.

People scanned a QR code, signed up to a fake cafe ordering system with their email or social media login. After that, they are forced to answer a question before being presented with a QR code which can be scanned for a hot drink (or looking at the very very long receipt, cold drinks). If you went for a second, third, etc drink you will get more and much more personal questions. We had 5 levels of questions and the single 5th question was deeply personal. Is the coffee really worth it

The Digital Skills Education did a very nice video explaining the concept in a short video.

Sometimes almost by random, the QR code would switch to a public rick roll (making clear you should be careful what you scan) but most of the time you get the webapp which will use any data used.

The biggest output being the questions and answers on a screen right on the cafe bar. Of course there were some intriguing answers to our questions.

I’m still wondering who wrote the answer with my name in it?

Coffee with strings screen in cafe
What do you value in a friendship? When Ian Forrester gives chocolate 😉

The Dilemma is just the start, as there was a whole number of talks, workshops and exhibits/interventions.

The reverse metaverse in action

On the exhibits end we had everything from the human values postcards by BBC R&D and is everybody happy by Open Data Manchester to Presence robots (reverse metaverse) to the Caravan of the future.

ICO talk designing the internet for children

Talks included Designing the Internet for Children with the ICO, Keeping Trusted News Safe Online with BBC R&D, Trustworthy AI – what do we mean when we say with Mozilla.

Northumblia workshop

Talks were kept to 15mins as it went out to the whole cafe and people were encouraged to take a table to keep the conversation going afterwards. In typical Mozfest style.

ICO workshop

Finally the workshops included Materialising the Immaterial with Northumbria University, Designing the Internet for Children with the ICO, Why might you personalise your news with BBC R&D, Common Voice / Contribute-a-ton with Mozilla.

On the first day we went long with our partners Open Data Manchester as we hosted their first meetup since the start of the pandemic. Mozilla’s VP Bob added a excellent talk to the meetup which was very well received.

Open Data Manchester meetup in the Ethical Dilemma Cafe

In the usual Mozfest style there was plenty of great moments for example when the traffic warden came to check out the Caravan of the Future.

The Caravan of the future attracts a traffic warden

There was plenty of interest in the reverse metaverse (presence bots), which was one of the projects which run through out the 2 days. Like the original ethical dilemma cafe, we wanted to expose people to work in progress rather than a museum, where everything is perfectly working. When they worked it really worked well.

The reverse metaverse

To get a real sense of the reverse metaverse / presence bot, I recorded Jasmine for a short while with a remote person.

The number of algorithm bias projects was also of much interest including  The Shape of Trust, The Entoptic field camera and Does it really understand me?

Does it understand me?

Does it understand me, is a speech to text system trained using the similar/same algorithms as the Amazon Alexa. It was so weird to see how when it got the wrong word, it guessed with something so strange. Like Deliveroo and Kindle?

Having the public come into the space was a positive, as many of the regulars popped in and end up going to a workshop or checking out a few of the interventions. Even better was having the staff of the feel good cafe joining in and enjoying the event. There’s a few times, when I overheard people asking what was going on and then the staff suggesting checking out the loom, human values postcards, etc.

The concept really came together well over the two days. Its something which will come back in other forms. Keep an eye out for future iterations of the ethical dilemma cafe soon.

Coffee and Dilemmas in Manchester

Massive thanks to everyone involved in the Ethical Dilemma Cafe, so many people from the Mozilla Foundation, who took over a hotel in the northern quarter (it was so strange seeing people I usually see on Zoom or in London only 10mins away from my home), all the partners who took a leap of faith with the concept bringing their research and passion to the cafe. The cafe and the amazing woman (can’t remember her name) who really went with the concept. All the people who helped promote it and encourage others to join us over the 2 days. My colleagues who pulled out a number of stops to make things like the coffee with strings, reverse metaverse bots, etc. All amazing along with the talks and workshops, which nicely fitted with our partners. Thanks to the security guard who worked 2 full days and his presence was just right. Finally thank you to all the people who traveled sometimes from quite far to make the event, because without you there would be no ethical dilemma cafe.

There is likely people I have forgotten and I have deliberately not named anyone in-case I miss anyone by name. But I thank everybody especially Sarah, Lucie, Jasmine, Marc, Henry, Iain, Julian, Sam, Laura, Paul, Jesse, Bob, Steph, Lianne, Jimmy, Bill, Zach, Michael, Juliet, Georgina, Todd, Charlie, etc.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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