Seed Grants2019-2020

Tech Tweets

Searching for #tweetorial on Twitter produces a stunning number of threads in which scientists explain their new research or put a body of scientific work in context. These are often made by scientists for scientists – from the history of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, to how steroids increase white blood cell counts; and from the roots of interventional cardiology to an economic study of how unprepared seniors are for housing and health care costs after retirement. The team will collect and study tweetorials across multiple scientific domains. The hope is to build a web application that can explore and extend the potential of this new form of explanatory writing, with the net effect of increasing collaboration between scientific fields and serving as an entry point for journalists to both science and the scientific community.

The Team


Digital Reappropriation

In 2018, Epic Games included two hip-hop dances from rappers BlocBoy JB and 2 Milly with their game Fortnite. The dances were renamed and sold as “emotes,” custom animations that players buy and use to express themselves in the game. Renaming distanced the emotes from the dances’ roots in hip-hop and their unacknowledged and unpaid creators. This prompted a backlash, with one lawyer for the rappers accusing Epic of “brazenly misappropriating” the dances. Crosley Coker will build a tool that links current musical trends to their origins. Based on her detailed reporting methods, the tool will help creators demonstrate their ownership and make “the gray area of cultural origin … undoubtedly less gray,” writes Crosley Coker. It will also act as a new form of cultural critique by tracing phrases, beats and “movements” from their inception to popular or even mainstream usage.

The Team


Social lives of urban trees

A tree growing in a sidewalk pit is an “architectural organism.” It organizes its urban surroundings and, through its body language and habits, gives definition to public space. Strickland and Culligan will document trees on the exceptionally slow time-scales on which they live. They will develop a multi-modal “Treecorder” device – an audio-visual-sensor recording system with the purpose of capturing in intelligible form the intricate lives of urban trees and the impacts of human habits on trees’ everyday experiences.

The Team


AI identities

For blind people, interactions with visual media on the web occur through “alt text,” a caption that describes the image and its purpose on the page. The idea is as old as HTML itself, with <img> tags providing a text-based alternative to a graphic. On platforms like Facebook and Twitter, this description is increasingly being written by AI captioning algorithms. Similar to the other algorithms underlying these social media platforms, AI captioning algorithms are not impervious to bias. This project will examine concepts of identity and representation within the images. They will explore who decides how identities are represented in captions and how, and uncover what guidelines exist to help navigate this complex task. This work will be possible through analysis of AI-generated alt text as well as interviews of computer scientists across various tech companies and the blind user base most affected by alt text.

The Team