I dream up strange storytelling contraptions and invite others to come inhabit them with me. Many of these imagination engines are also grant-funded research projects combining quantitative and qualitative assessments of learning and efficacy outcomes. They usually involve a high level public engagement effort, like our anthology Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future (William Morrow, 2014) and the Frankenstein200 project. By design, they resist categorization according to the logic of traditional academic disciplines and methodologies, typically combining people and ideas from the humanities, arts, sciences, and engineering. I call this experimental humanities: critically grounded projects that involve explicitly creating and then assessing work that is intended to foster positive change in the world.
These projects are broadly organized around imagining and sharing visions for more inclusive, hopeful, and equitable futures. My aim is not just to create thought-provoking stories about how the world might be, but to give people a set of critical and creative tools to do this for themselves. Depending on the project, “people” here includes K-12 and higher education students, professional researchers, writers, and practitioners, and members of a global (primarily English-speaking) public.
Amidst all of this experimentation, I maintain my roots as a scholar of 20th and 21st century literature, particularly in the context of digital culture. My book What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing (MIT Press, March 2017) argues that we need to cultivate algorithmic literacies to understand the complex cultural work that algorithms perform. I am a co-editor of Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers and Creators of All Kinds (MIT Press, May 2017), which brings Shelley’s novel into conversation with emerging technologies such as synthetic biology and machine intelligence, along with their social and ethical implications.
My research has been funded by a diverse group of entities: The Sloan Foundation, National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Intel, World Bank, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Templeton Foundation, and individual donors.