Frankenstein Bicentennial Dares

Two centuries ago, on a dare to tell the best scary story, 19-year-old Mary Shelley imagined an idea that became the basis for Frankenstein. Mary’s original concept became the novel that arguably kick-started the genres of science fiction and Gothic horror, but also provided an enduring myth that shapes how we grapple with creativity, science, technology, and their consequences.
Two hundred years later, inspired by that classic dare, we’re challenging you to create new myths for the 21st century along with our partners National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), Chabot Space and Science Center, and Creative Nonfiction magazine.

Don’t miss the announcement video, featuring yours truly in a role I’m sure to regret:

Facebook Trending Topics

The recent scandal with Facebook’s Trending Topics news module goes deeper than the revelation that it was humans all along hiding behind the algorithm. It should come as no surprise that Facebook has bias — every organization does. It’s what you do about the bias, how you attempt to disclose it and manage it, that makes a difference. News organizations have been grappling with that question for a long time, creating formal and informal codes of conduct, oversight systems and transparency rules.
Facebook Trending story: The Wizard of Oz algorithm
CNN, May 14, 2016

Algorithms Aren’t Like Spock

In reality algorithms have to run on actual servers, using code that sometimes breaks, crunching data that’s frequently unreliable. There is an implementation gap between what we imagine algorithms do in a perfect computational universe and all the compromises, assumptions, and workarounds that need to happen before the code actually works at scale. Computation has done all sorts of incredible things, sometimes appearing both easy and infallible. But it takes hundreds or thousands of servers working in tandem to do something as straightforward as answer a search engine query, and that is where the problems of implementation come in.

Algorithms Aren’t Like Spock

Slate, February 26, 2016

What Algorithms Want

We spend an awful lot of time now thinking about what algorithms know about us: the ads we see online, the deep archive of our search history, the automated photo-tagging of our families. We don’t spend as much time asking what algorithms want. In some ways, it’s a ridiculous question, at least for now: Humans create computational systems to complete certain tasks or solve particular problems, so any kind of intention or agency would have to be built in, right?

What Algorithms Want

Slate, December 9, 2015

What if Computers Know You Better Than You Know Yourself?

Our digital breadcrumbs now tell stories about us that are deeply secret, moving, surprising—and often things we don’t even know about ourselves. These days when a computer crunches the numbers and tells you “this is who you are,” it’s hard to contradict because there’s more data about you in the machine than there is in your head. Algorithms are most effective at curating the information that’s hardest for us to hold in our heads: how long we talk to mom or what day of the week we splurge on an extra cookie.

What if Computers Know You Better Than You Know Yourself?, Slate March 3 2014

Science Fiction of Science (DH2013)

Below is the Prezi and some supplementary content for my Digital Humanities 2013 presentation on Project Hieroglyph.

You can learn more about the Center for Science and the Imagination at our website or by downloading our first Annual Report.

On the origins of Project Hieroglyph: you might want to read Neal Stephenson’s inital shot across the bow, Innovation Starvation, or some of the recent press about the project in Wired UK, CNN, the New York Times and elsewhere. You can also follow a site activity RSS feed here.

I’ll add more notes here based on feedback from the talk and any comments you’d like to leave.

You can follow the center at @imaginationASU on Twitter or on Facebook. I’m @zonal. And of course you should sign up for Project Hieroglyph yourself!

The Pencil

Cross-posted from the Center for Science and the Imagination Blog

This past fall I took part in a fascinating event on the future of education here at Arizona State University. It was organized by theGordon Commission and the Center for Games and Impact, and the instructions I got from Jim Gee were simple. Five minutes to give an experimental talk, with a maximum of two slides.

I decided to talk about a creative tool that has done more to unlock the human imagination than almost anything else: the humble pencil. You can inscribe the world with it, from writing poems and tracing inscriptions to poking holes, making music and holding your hair together. Plus most pencils come with an undo feature, so it’s a tool that teaches both sides of the creative coin: authoring and editing, marking and erasing, sharing and hiding. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the pencil. And I close with a question: how can we imagine the future pencil, the new tool that will change how we learn and share?

 

 

Media Literacies and Composition

Last week saw the start of a new semester at ASU and the start of a new course I’m teaching, Media Literacies and Composition. It’s my first chance to teach our Digital Culture students and I’m excited to meet such a diverse group: musicians, film-makers, designers and artists. Oh, and a few writers to keep me company.

We’ll be looking at the ideas of close reading, composition and narrative in across a number of media old and new. And, since this is a digital culture course, the students will be making a lot of cool stuff as we go along. I’m looking forward to seeing it!

First Principles

Newly released: American Dreamers, a collection of “dreams from optimists, inventors and mavericks with ideas for a brighter future.” My essay (online here) leads off the book with a look at the combustible, illuminating nature of good ideas and the unique optimism of the American Dream. It’s also a pretty good declaration of principles for what we are trying to accomplish at the Center for Science and the Imagination.