The Bigger Picture

The Bigger Picture

Earlier this week I hosted a session on systems mapping as part of my Ambition Empower track on ethics in design. I started the session by sharing my perspective on ableist reinforcement in the parable of the blind men and the elephant, a common metaphor when talking about systems mapping.

In my recent talk on AI and Human Rights, I spent some time explaining the prejudice and bias that AI systems reinforce. The thing to remember is that the bias is always a result of human perception and doing right in the future depends on being honest about historic bias, as well as bias in the present, to enable change.

The story

If you’re not familiar, the centuries-old parable I am referring to involves several blind men who encounter an elephant. Each of the men touch a different part of the elephant and draw different conclusions about its appearance. The man who touches its trunk thinks of it as a snake. The man who feels its leg thinks of it as a tree. The man who touches its tusk thinks of it as a spear. And so on.

In some versions of the story the men begin to quarrel and fight about what they perceive as the truth, seemingly incapable of understanding why they would have different interpretations.

In the end a sighted person, able to see the whole elephant at once, can resolve the confusion and inform them all of what an elephant looks like and where their bewilderment comes from.

The problem

In my view the story reinforces the idea that people with visual impairments are inherently limited and lacking capability. Meanwhile, the people I know who are partially-sighted are some of the most perceptive individuals I know.

The story positions the sighted person as capable and superior in being able to see that which the blind men can not. This then begs the question: when is it fair to make use of impairments to make points about lesser ability? In what other contexts do we do this and with what other groups of people?

The resolution

Speaking of seeing the bigger picture: metaphors are a powerful teaching tools but we also have to take responsibility for their complete message, not just the one we want to make. Going forward I will strive to use more thoughtful stories and metaphors to convey the idea of different perspectives.

If you have one to share with me, I would love to hear it.

Take care and and remember to zoom out once in a while. The photo I am attaching today is of me on a lake, drilling holes in the ice to install an emergency water supply when our water pump broke down this winter. Now that’s a story…


Per Axbom standing on a frozen lake, using a manual drill to bore a hole.

Deep dives on fairness

There are a couple of things in the modern internet landscape that we all want a better grasp of but it’s hard to know where to begin.

I’ve got two videos for you. One on data privacy/surveillance, the other on cryptocurrency/NFT. Both are topics I believe its important to get a passable understanding of.

The first video is 30 minutes in length and is a primer on privacy acted out as a confrontation between a bouncer and a clubgoer whose id is scanned by aforementioned bouncer. The scene and dialog moves back and forth between the two, exploring different pathways of argumentation and motivation. It’s an absolutely brilliant way of teaching the impact on integrity and wellbeing that we as humans to an increasingly large extent find ourselves unable to opt out of.

The video Data is brought to you by Philosophy Tube, a channel you may want to subscribe to. When I discovered how valuable it is I immediately became a patron. Thanks to Jan Maarten for recommending it.

Data | Philosophy Tube
When all you have is a hammer all your problems look like nails - Subscribe! Wanna get me a gift for the show? Check out my other videos on:The Trouble with the Video Game Industry…

The second video is 2 hours and 18 minutes long. I know. That’s a lot. But remember, we are going for the bigger picture here. To really understand the inherent inequality and harm that crypto and NFTs are capable of contributing to, and why that is, I strongly advise you to put in that time. And a fair warning too: there are segments with complex vocabulary and descriptions you may not grasp the first time around. If you stick with it I believe you still will feel a sense of accomplishment and reward in the end.

If you work with online content in some way, I doubt that you will be able to ignore this topic for long. It’s a chance to stay ahead.

The video essay Line Goes Up - The Problem with NFTS is brought to you by Dan Olson, who also has a Patreon page.

Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs
If someone pitches you on a “great” Web3 project, ask them if it requires buying or selling crypto to do what they say it does. Sources and Further Reading…

Are we there yet?

Technology is full of promises. And moving fast. But sometimes it sounds as if we’re further along than we really are, and that technology is smarter than it really is.

AI and Human Rights
I’ve put all the related content for my recent Raoul Wallenberg Talk on AI and Human Rights on this page. Full transcript, slidedeck and references.

Andrew Ng X-Rays the AI Hype
In my Human Rights talk I have examples from AIs reading chest X-rays and why the stories of AIs doing a better job than humans don’t tell the full story. Here is more on that topic. Machine learning may work on test sets, but that’s a long way from real world use.

Toxicity in Digital Design: A Status Report
Lisa Angela’s important follow-up post on the ways the digital design industry is pretending to be something it really isn’t. James and I also talked about Lisa’s insightful article on UX Podcast.

I'm an AI researcher who's worked for Google and Khan Academy — if we don't change who we hire for these jobs, we're all in big trouble.
AI Ethics jobs, which are supposed to help fix the field’s worst issues aren’t hiring for the right skillset. Dr. Catherine Hicks explains how job listings are ignoring the humanities and social science skills that might actually help critically examine how data is collected.

Science Fiction Is a Luddite Literature
From 1811–1816, a secret society styling themselves “the Luddites” smashed textile machinery in the mills of England. Today, we use “Luddite” as a pejorative referring to backwards, anti-technology reactionaries.Proving that history really is written by the winners. – Cory Doctorow

A break from dystopia

Links by @axbom
People often ask me about the sites, services and software I regularly use for making, learning and teaching. So I put together this collection of links.

Mindful Book Club
If you want to get in on the Mindful Book Club, the first book to read by February 25 is Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death.

UX Copenhagen® March 28-29
Helle Martens is the most compassionate conference curator I have met. She helps participants and speakers alike feel safe, valued and seen. The stellar lineup of 2022 will address change management, sexism, ageism, privilege and mental health. With my warmest of recommendations, check it out.

Just a thought

Ransom-ware viruses are not a far cry from leaving bugs in your software and then charging huge amounts of money, year after year, to fix them.


You may have noticed the new artwork for the newsletter? It made me think of adding this section to the newsletter where I will offer downloads of different types, sometimes templates and sometimes just artsy, cartoony stuff. This first time around I’ve made some variants of the newsletter artwork that can be used as wallpapers on different devices, or perhaps a video call background. It’ll be more useful stuff next time, I promise. 😁

Mockups of a tablet using the wallpaper for The Edge of Digital Ethics.

Svenska / In Swedish

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IMY uppmärksammade internationella dataskyddsdagen den 28 januari med ett panelsamtal om hållbar digitalisering. Här är en sammanfattning.

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Apple har nyligen lanserat iOS 15 och i samband med den funktionen Intergritetsskydd i Apple Mail. Jonas går igenom hur den fungerar och hur den påverkar dig som e-postmarknadsförare.

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2020 toppade artikeln om Spanska sjukan listan över de mest lästa Wikipediaartiklarna. Vad har svenskarna varit mest nyfikna på att lära sig mer om 2021? Här kommer svaret! Den allra mest visade artikeln på Wikipedia 2021 var artikeln Sverige, som…

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Som pianist och frilansande kulturarbetare drabbas Teglund hårt när covid-pandemin slår till. För att få pengar till mat och hyra tar han jobb som cykelbud åt Foodora. Han gillar ju att cykla. Och han tänker sig att nog kunna sälja en essä om hur det är att jobba i gigekonomin.