The third ACM LIMITS workshop wrapped up recently. It was held June 22, 23 and 24th at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA and followed on from two previous events held at UC Irvine (see 2016, and 2015, 2015) It featured local researchers from Westmont College and University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) as well as international guests from places like University of Toronto, KTH Stockholm, Victoria University of Wellington and Hong Kong Polytechnic (among others). The LIMITS conferences is an interdisciplinary conference that focuses on information technology’s role in sustainability. The LIMITS community is particularly interested in working in narratives that don’t look like the business-as-usual scenarios, such as the faster processors, bigger screens, and more connectivity assumptions that drive most computational work. Instead LIMITS’ aim “is to promote innovative, concrete research, potentially of an interdisciplinary nature, that focuses on technologies, critiques, techniques, and contexts for computing within fundamental economic and ecological limits.”
Fire Retardants or Less Cigarette Smoking?
That kind of framing leads to a different set of talks than you might otherwise expect to hear at a technology conference. This ACM LIMITS keynote speaker was Miriam Diamond who spoke about fire retardants in manufacturing (and in information technology in particular) and the role they are suspected to have in human physiological disruption. Because of the way legal hazards work, almost every device has these chemicals in them. When they are disposed or destroyed, they end up in the environment. The evidence of them actually reducing fires was called into question during the talk. Dr. Diamond presented data that most reduction in fire could be attributed to a reduction in smoking over the last 30 years instead. Meanwhile the chemicals. which mimic hormones, are showing up in animal bodies in higher and higher concentrations. She called for greater transparency from the chemical industry in sharing data that proves the safety and effectiveness of the additives.
Cities of the Future
Steve Easterbrook presented work with colleagues that studied the shelters in refugee/internally displaced person (IDP) camps in Iraq. I was shocked to find out that the average stay in a refugee/IDP camp is 17 years! This team was studying how computational tools could be used to help people customize their own shelters in a way that was safe, aesthetically pleasing and efficient. This work was field work that studied the camps in order to justify that such a tool was even needed. They started their talk by provocatively suggesting that refugee camps are the cities of the future. Based on the 17 year stay and situations like the one in Syria, it is likely that we will see lots more environments like these.
We had remote presenters from Sweden, talks on future GDP and climate change, computational feats by Google and what they say about our society, limits in wireless networking capacity, the use of hashtags in environmental activism, technology lifecycles, censorship and technology in government regulation.
We capped off the event with a working meeting to plan next steps, like an article in Science and grants. Here’s to hoping!
Westmont Shows Off for ACM LIMITS
Meanwhile, Westmont put its best foot forward for ACM LIMITS. Guests stayed on campus in the Van Kampen dorms, ate in the Dining Commons and enjoyed the campus amenities. One session involved a walk down to the campus garden, by the track, where attendees talked about current and future work in the presence of chickens and honeybees. Dinner one night was on the Observatory deck, set against a beautiful sunset. We had a tour of the smart greenhouse on the patio of the Physics department at Winter Hall. Even, the Westmont library put out a collection of sustainability titles on display for curious eyes to scan while the conference met in the downstairs meeting area. (We were pretty loud… sorry librarians!!!)