I wrote an essay on algorithmic aesthetics and the future of creativity for Aeon.
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:
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
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.
Slate, February 26, 2016
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?
Slate, December 9, 2015
I co-chair the editorial board for Tomorrow Project USA, an ongoing collaboration with Intel designed to inspire science and fact-based conversations about the future.
What is the future of the book? We are exploring this question through a series of experiments in collaborative, improvisational publishing. The concept: a series of “book sprints” that took place in real time at the Frankfurt Book Fair (October 2013), at Arizona State University in Phoenix, AZ (January 2014), at Stanford University in California (May 2014) and at the Society for Scholarly Publishing Annual Meeting (June 2016). Drawing together a diverse collective of authors, critics, publishers, journalists and others, we are curating a series of performances, investigations and polemics on the future of reading, writing, editing, and the broader systems of literary production and consumption
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
Below is the Prezi and some supplementary content for my Digital Humanities 2013 presentation on Project Hieroglyph.
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.