CSDH and CGSA 2018

This year we had busy CSDH and CGSA meetings at Congress 2018 in Regina. My conference notes are here. Some of the papers I was involved in include:

CSDH-SCHN:

  • “Code Notebooks: New Tools for Digital Humanists” was presented by Kynan Ly and made the case for notebook-style programming in the digital humanities.
  • “Absorbing DiRT: Tool Discovery in the Digital Age” was presented by Kaitlyn Grant. The paper made the case for tool discovery registries and explained the merger of DiRT and TAPoR.
  • “Splendid Isolation: Big Data, Correspondence Analysis and Visualization in France” was presented by me. The paper talked about FRANTEXT and correspondence analysis in France in the 1970s and 1980s. I made the case that the French were doing big data and text mining long before we were in the Anglophone world.
  • “TATR: Using Content Analysis to Study Twitter Data” was a poster presented by Kynan Ly, Robert Budac, Jason Bradshaw and Anthony Owino. It showed IPython notebooks for analyzing Twitter data.
  • “Climate Change and Academia – Joint Panel with ESAC” was a panel I was on that focused on alternatives to flying for academics.

CGSA:

  • “Archiving an Untold History” was presented by Greg Whistance-Smith. He talked about our project to archive John Szczepaniak’s collection of interviews with Japanese game designers.
  • “Using Salience to Study Twitter Corpora” was presented by Robert Budac who talked about different algorithms for finding salient words in a Twitter corpus.
  • “Political Mobilization in the GG Community” was presented by ZP who talked about a study of a Twitter corpus that looked at the politics of the community.

Also, a PhD student I’m supervising, Sonja Sapach, won the CSDH-SCHN (Canadian Society for Digital Humanities) Ian Lancashire Award for Graduate Student Promise at CSDHSCHN18 at Congress. The Award “recognizes an outstanding presentation at our annual conference of original research in DH by a graduate student.” She won the award for a paper on “Tagging my Tears and Fears: Text-Mining the Autoethnography.” She is completing an interdisciplinary PhD in Sociology and Digital Humanities. Bravo Sonja!

Space Invaders at 40: ‘I tried soldiers, but shooting people was frowned upon’

Four decades ago, Tomohiro Nishikado created the title that became shorthand for video games themselves. He recalls how he wanted to tap into players’ competitive instincts

The Guardian has a story on Space Invaders at 40: ‘I tried soldiers, but shooting people was frowned upon’. Space Invaders is now four decades old having been released by Taito in 1978.

Space Invaders was created by Tomohiro Nishikado, who I met when he the opening keynote for Replaying Japan 2014. He brought some of his notebooks and showed the images he drew of aliens and how he bitmapped them.

Coincidentally I also just got in the mail and started reading, the book by Florent Gorges on Nishikado, Space Invaders: Comment Tomohiro Nishikado a donné naissance au jeu vidéo japonais! (in French) The book has lots of illustrations but the print is small and hard to read. Like other books by Gorges, it is good on the history, but not that critical.

Re-Imagining Education In An Automating World conference at George Brown

On May 25th I had a chance to attend a gem of a conference organized the Philosophy of Education (POE) committee at George Brown. They organized a conference with different modalities from conversations to formal talks to group work. The topic was Re-Imagining Education in An Automating World (see my conference notes here) and this conference is a seed for a larger one next year.

I gave a talk on Digital Citizenship at the end of the day where I tried to convince people that:

  • Data analytics are now a matter of citizenship (we all need to understand how we are being manipulated).
  • We therefore need to teach data literacy in the arts and humanities, so that
  • Students are prepared to contribute to and critique the ways analytics are used deployed.
  • This can be done by integrating data and analytical components in any course using field-appropriate data.

 

Too Much Information and the KWIC

A paper that Stéfan Sinclair and wrote about Peter Luhn and the Keyword-in-Context (KWIC) has just been published by the Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Too Much Information and the KWIC | SpringerLink. The paper is part of a series that replicates important innovations in text technology, in this case, the development of the KWIC by Peter Luhn at IBM. We use that as a moment to reflect on the datafication of knowledge after WW II, drawing on Lyotard.

Incels, Pickup Artists, and the World of Men’s Seduction Training

On Monday, April 23rd, a 25-year old man named Alek Minassian drove a rented van down a sidewalk in Toronto, killing eight women and two men. The attack was reminiscent of recent Islamist terror attacks in New York, London, Stockholm, Nice, and Berlin. Just before his massacre, he posted a note on Facebook announcing: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161, the Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

Anders Wallace has published an essay in 3 Quarks Daily on Incels, Pickup Artists, and the World of Men’s Seduction Training that starts with the recent attack in Toronto by a self-styled “incel” Minassian who adapted a terror tactic and moves on to seduction training. Wallace has been participated in seduction training and immersed himself in the “manosphere” which he defines thus:

The manosphere is a digital ecosystem of blogs, podcasts, online forums, and hidden groups on sites like Facebook and Tumblr. Here you’ll find a motley crew of men’s rights activists, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, angry divorcees, disgruntled dads, male victims of abuse, self-improvement junkies, bodybuilders, bored gamers, alt-righters, pickup artists, and alienated teenagers. What they share is a vicious response to feminists (often dubbed “feminazis”) and so-called “social justice warriors.” They blame their anger on identity politics, affirmative action, and the neoliberal state, which they perceive are compromising equality and oppressing their own free speech.

The essay doesn’t provide easy answers though one can find temptations (like the idea that these incels are men who were undermothered), instead it nicely surveys the loose network of ideas, resentments and desires that animate the manosphere. What stands out is the lack of alternative models of heterosexual masculinity. Too many of the mainstream role models we are presented with (from sports to media role models to superheros) reinforce characteristics incels want training in from stoicism to aggression.

Duplex shows Google failing at ethical and creative AI design

Google CEO Sundar Pichai milked the woos from a clappy, home-turf developer crowd at its I/O conference in Mountain View this week with a demo of an in-the-works voice assistant feature that will e…

A number of venues, including TechCruch have discussed the recent Google demonstration of an intelligent agent Duplex who can make appointments. Many of the stories note how Duplex shows Google failing at ethical and creative AI design. The problem is that the agent didn’t (at least during the demo) identify as a robot. Instead it appeared to deceive the person it was talking to. As the TechCrunch article points out, there is really no good reason to deceive if the purpose is to make an appointment.

What I want to know is what are the ethics of dealing with a robot? Do we need to identify as human to the robot? Do we need to be polite and give them the courtesy that we would a fellow human? Would it be OK for me to hang up as I do on recorded telemarketing calls? Most of us have developed habits of courtesy when dealing with people, including strangers, that the telemarketers take advantage of in their scripts. Will the robots now take advantage of that? Or, to be more precise, will those that use the robots to save their time take advantage of us?

A second question is how Google considers the ethical implications of their research? It is easy to castigate them for this demonstration, but the demonstration tells us nothing about a line of research that has been going on for a while and what processes Google may have in place to check the ethics of what they do. As companies explore the possibilities for AI, how are they to check their ethics in the excitement of achievement?

I should note that Google’s parent Alphabet has apparently dropped the “Don’t be evil” motto from their code of conduct. There has also been news about how a number of employees quit over a Google program to apply machine learning to drone footage for the military.  This is after over 3000 Google employees signed a letter taking issue with the project. See also the Open Letter in Support of Google Employees and Tech Workers that researchers signed. As they say:

We are also deeply concerned about the possible integration of Google’s data on people’s everyday lives with military surveillance data, and its combined application to targeted killing. Google has moved into military work without subjecting itself to public debate or deliberation, either domestically or internationally. While Google regularly decides the future of technology without democratic public engagement, its entry into military technologies casts the problems of private control of information infrastructure into high relief.

 

John Stuart Mill marginalia project

Project to digitise and publish his marginalia online will allow scholars to see his cutting remarks on Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Guardian has a story on an interesting digital humanities project, JS Mill scribbles reveal he was far from a chilly Victorian intellectualThe project, Mill Marginalia Online, is digitizing an estimated 40,000 comments, doodles, and other marks that John Stuart Mill wrote in his collection of 1,700 books, now at Somerville College, Oxford. His collection was donated to Somerville 30 years after his death in 1905 because the women of the college weren’t allowed to access the Oxford libraries at the time.

His comments are not just scholarly notes. For example, above is an image of the title page of Emerson’s Essays that Mill added text to in order to mock it. The new title page with Mill’s penciled in elaboration and the original reads,

Philosophy Bourgeois,
being
Sentimental Essays: in the art of
Intimately blending
Sense and Nonsense:
by
R. W. Emerson,
of Concord, Massachusetts.
A clever + well organised youth brought up
in the old traditions.
Motto
In thought “all’s fish that comes to net.”
With Fog Preface
By Thomas Carlyle.
“Patent Divine-light Self-acting Foggometer”
To the Court of
Her mAJESTy Queen Vic.

A JEST indeed. The Daily Nous has an article on this with the title, Mill’s Myriad Marginalia: Mundane, Mysterious, Mocking.

All this from Humanist.

 

Sustainable Research: Around the World Conference

This week I am participating in the 6th Around the World Conference organized by the Kule Institute for Advanced Study.  This e-conference (electronic conference) is on Sustainable Research and we have a panel on a different topic every day of the week. (If you miss a panel, check out our YouTube channel.) Today we had a fabulous panel on Art and/in the Anthropocene that was led by Natalie Loveless and Jesse Beier. You can see some thoughts on the e-conference under the Twitter hastag #ATW2018, which we share with the American Trombone Workshop.

Manifest Attention

One of the problems with e-conferences is that they are local for everyone which means that everyone tunes in and out depending on what they have scheduled rather than devoting the time. When you fly to a conference you can’t be expected to leave the conference for a meeting, but when a conference is local or online we tend to not pay attention as we would when afar.

This has to change if we are to wean ourselves of flying any time we want to pay attention to a conference. We have to learn to be deliberate about allocating time to an e-conference. We have to manifest attention.

CBC TV: The Artists

The Artists is the story of the creators that were at the forefront of the early video game revolution. It explores the first three decades of video game history.

I just finished watching the CBC TV series, The Artists – Season 1. This is a series of short (9 – 12 minute) video essays that you can watch off the web. The series focuses on the issue of game designers as artists and starts and ends with an early and influential ad, We see farther, that EA (Electronic Arts) ran that showcased their developers, something other companies (like Atari) didn’t do.

The CBC series is well done, though I find the shorts too short. I wish they lingered a bit more over the clips of games and other historic materials. The kinetic style of the shorts may suit the medium, but not the history.

My other gripe is their choice of game designers to feature. There are no Japanese game designers. In fact, it is as if no one outside of the US and Canada designed games at all. They could have also covered some influential women designers like Brenda Laurel.

What is great, is episode 9 on Bioware (and Edmonton!) I didn’t realize that Greg Zeschuk, one of the founders of Bioware, started the Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company which has a beer brewery and restaurant near my house.

Dan Hett’s game “c ya laterrrr”

c ya laterrrr is text “game” by Dan Hett to document his experience after the Manchester terror attack when he lost his brother. “c ya laterrrr” was the last message he got from his brother. I found the game through an interview with the Guardian that talks about the games he is making. Another games that is less narration and more 8-bit graphics is the Loss Levels made with Pico-8.

As both games deal with the same event they make an interesting comparison of genres. I find the text adventure game much more effective for this subject as you feel the event unfold and the decisions give you a feeling for the experience.