Gala Theatre, Durham, 26-27 February 2015
Confirmed keynote speakers:
Katherine Hayles (Duke University)
Donald Mackenzie (Edinburgh University)
Luciana Parisi (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Celia Lury (Warwick University)
David Berry (Sussex University)
Organisers: Prof. Louise Amoore and Dr Volha Piotukh, Geography Department, Durham University
Amid the proliferation of unstructured digital data and the algorithms that make sense of that data, conventions of knowledge, meaning and sense-making appear to be significantly transforming. In a digital world, where online data streams can be mined with text analytics to discover incipient sentiment and human affects, algorithms exhibit a curious capacity for action beyond the threshold of human perceptibility. The apparently non-conscious human propensities that are considered not fully knowable to us become amenable to the differently non-conscious impulses of cognitive digital devices. With advances in machine learning, neural computation and experimental knowledge discovery – identifying clusters or patterns that were not previously perceptible – the actions of algorithms on humans, objects, and other algorithms pose new questions for philosophy, ethics and politics.
The work of N. Katherine Hayles opens the world of machinic and human reading and writing to thought and to literary practice. Among her many influential works, in How We Became Posthuman (1999), she is interested in “the feedback loops that run between technologies and perceptions, artefacts and ideas”, and how these recursive loops have “important implications” for how we read, think, and know. The exploration of language and code that is Hayles’ My Mother was a Computer (2005) shows the difficulties of sustained lines separating human from machine, analogue from digital, thought from computation, such that the idea of computers as living things entangles with humans as having computational forms of cognition. In How We Think (2012), Hayles probes the multiple relations between human and algorithmic ‘reading’ and ’thinking’. In a world of all but infinite unstructured text data, exceeding “the ability of humans to absorb the relevant information”, she suggests, “machine reading might be a first pass toward making visible patterns that human reading could then interpret”, opening new possibilities for cognition and for critical thought. In her most recent essays, Hayles asks if we might productively “break the equivalence between thought and cognition”.
The workshop organisers seek contributions that engage with, or respond to, the work of Katherine Hayles for the many questions it provokes and addresses for our times. Do algorithms compute beyond the threshold of human perceptibility and consciousness? Can ‘thinking’ and ‘learning’ digital devices reflect or engage durational time? Do digital forms of cognition radically transform workings of the human brain and what humans can perceive or decide? How do algorithms act upon other algorithms, and can they learn recursively from each other? What kind of sociality or associative life emerges from the human-machinic cognitive relations that we see with association rules and analytics?
The event is funded within Prof. Louise Amoore’s ESRC ‘Securing against Future Events’ project (www.securitysfutures.org) and is free to attend. Research postgraduates and early career researchers whose abstracts are accepted will have their travel and accommodation costs reimbursed to a maximum of £200. Please submit abstracts of up to 400 words to: firstname.lastname@example.org by 20 December 2014, using ‘Thinking with Algorithms’ as your subject line.