This talk will investigate the “street trial” as a device for experimental inquiry into social issues raised by automated systems. I adopt a deliberately broad definition of what counts as an experiment, and discuss a range of different street trials involving so-called intelligent cars: a street test of a modified VW diesel car; the demonstration of a driverless pod on a public square in a middle-sized UK town; an artistic experiment in the streets of Amsterdam involving a remote-controlled miniature car. I will explore the capacity of social research to contribute to the creative and critical analysis and configuration of street experiments. In doing so, I will pay special attention to the role of interpretation, not only because ‘achieving’ a public or collective interpretation of the problems and promises of computerized vehicles is a crucial aspect of street trials, but also because I want to know whether the re-configuration of street trials into “experiments in interpretation” is a good objective to pursue.
Noortje Marres is Associate Professor in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies at the University of Warwick. She studied philosophy and sociology of science and technology at the University of Amsterdam, and in 2012 published Material Participation: Technology, the Environment, Everyday Publics (Palgrave). Her book, Digital Sociology: The Reinvention of Social Research will be published by Polity this Spring.