The Journal of the AIUCD, Umanista Digitale has just published a paper I wrote with Marco Passarotti on The Index Thomisticus as a Big Data Project. This actually started for me as a blog post, The Index Thomisticus as Project. Marco has added a section on Busa’s views about developing corpora.
Isabelle Van Grimde gave the opening talk at Dyscorpia on her work, including projects like The Body in Question(s). In another project Les Gestes, she collaborated with the McGill IDMIL lab who developed digital musical instruments for the dancers to wear and dance/play.
Van Grimde’s company Corps Secrets has the challenge of creating dances that can travel which means that the technologies/instruments have to . They use intergenerational casts (the elderly or children.) They are now working with sensors more than instruments so the dancers are free of equipment.
Today I learned about Pius Adesanmi who died in the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash. From all accounts he was an inspiring professor of English and African Studies at Carelton. You can hear him from a TEDxEuston talk embedded above. Or you can read from his collection of satirical essays titled Naija No Dey Carry Last: Thoughts on a Nation in Progress.
In the TEDx talk he makes a prescient point about new technologies,
We are undertakers. Man will always preside over the funeral of any piece of technology that pretends to replace him.
He connects this prediction about how all new technologies, including AI, will also pass on with a reflection on Africa as a place from which to understand technology.
And that is what Africa understands so well. Should Africa face forward? No. She understands that there will be man to preside over the funeral of these new innovations. She doesn’t need to face forward if she understand human agency. Africa is the forward that the rest of humanities must face.
We need this vision of/from Africa. It gets ahead of the ever returning hype cycle of new technologies. It imagines a position from which we escape the neverending discourse of disruptive innovation which limits our options before AI.
May Pius Adexanmi rest in peace.
Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?
The New York Times has a nice long article on The Secret History of Women in Coding – The New York Times. We know a lot of the story from books like Campbell-Kelly’s From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: a History of the Software Industry (2003), Chang’s Brotopia (2018), and Rankin’s A People’s History of Computing in the United States (2018).
The history is not the heroic story of personal computing that I was raised on. It is a story of how women were driven out of computing (both the academy and businesses) starting in the 1960s.
A group of us at the U of Alberta are working on archiving the work of Sally Sedelow, one of the forgotten pioneers of humanities computing. Dr. Sedelow got her PhD in English in 1960 and did important early work on text analysis systems.
In 1972, a photo of a Swedish Playboy model was used to engineer the digital image format that would become the JPEG. The model herself was mostly a mystery—until now.
Wired has another story on Finding Lena Forsen, the Patron Saint of JPEGs. This is not, however, the first time her story has been told. I blogged about the use of the Lena image back in 2004. It seems like this story will be rediscovered every decade.
What has changed is that people are calling out the casual sexism of tech culture. An example is Chang’s book Brotopia that starts with the Lena story.
What happens to old digital humanities projects? Most vanish without a trace. Some get archived like the work of John Burrows and others at the Centre For Literary And Linguistic Computing (CLLC). Dr. Alexis Antonia kept an archive of CLLC materials which is now available from the Centre For 21st Century Humanities.
Eric Hayot at the Novel Worlds conference showed a slide with an image of Debbie Harry of Blondie painted on the Amiga by Andy Warhol. There is a video of Warhol painting on the Amiga at the premiere of the Commodore Amiga.
This is discussed in a documentary The Invisible Photograph: Part 2 (Trapped). The documentary also talks about recovering other images from Warhol’s original Amiga that was preserved by the The Andy Warhol Museum.
Technologizer has a nice retrospective on the Amiga, Amiga: 25 Years Later. I remember when it came out in 1985. I had a Mac by then, but was intrigued by the colour Amiga and the video work people were doing with it.
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:
- “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.
- “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!
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.
This evening we are hosting a video conferencing talk by Edward Snowden at the University of Alberta. These are some live notes taken during the talk for which I was one of the moderators. Like all live notes they will be full of misunderstandings.
Joseph Wiebe of Augustana College gave the introduction. Wiebe asked what is the place of cybersecurity in public life?
“What an incredible time?” is how Snowden started, talking about the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook story. Technology is changing and connecting across borders. We are in the midst of the greatest redistribution of power in the history of humankind without anyone being asked for their vote or opinion. Large platforms take advantage of our need for human connection and turn our desires into a weakness. They have perfected the most effective system of control.
The revelations of 2013 were never about just surveillance, they were about democracy. We feel something has been neglected in the news and in politics. It is the death of influence. It is a system of manipulation that robs us of power by a cadre of the unaccountable. It works because it is largely invisible and is all connected to the use and abuse of our data. We are talking about power that comes from information.
He told us to learn from the mistake of 5 years ago and not focus too much on surveillance, but to look beyond the lever to those putting their weight on it.
Back to the problem of illiberal technologies. Information and control is meant to be distributed among the people. Surveillance technology change has outstripped democratic institutions. Powerful institutions are trying to get as much control of these technologies as they can before their is a backlash. It will be very hard to take control back once everyone gets used to it.
Snowden talked about how Facebook was gathering all sorts of information from our phones. They (Facebook and Google) operate on our ignorance because there is no way we can keep up with changes in privacy policies. Governments are even worse with laws that allow mass surveillance.
There is an interesting interaction between governments with China modelling its surveillance laws on those of the US. Governments seem to experiment with clearly illegal technologies and the courts don’t do anything. Everything is secret so we can’t even know and make a decision.
What can we do when ordinary oversight breaks down and our checks and balances are bypassed. The public is left to rely on public resources like journalism and academia. We depend then public facts. Governments can manipulate those facts.
This is the tragedy of our times. We are being forced to rely on the press. This press is being captured and controlled and attacked. And how does the press know what is happening? They depend on whistleblowers who have no protection. Governments see the press as a threat. Journalists rank in the hierarchy of danger between hackers and terrorists.
What sort of world will we face when governments figure out how to manage the press? What will we not know without the press.
One can argue that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, but who gets to decide? We don’t seem to have a voice even through our elected officials.
National security is a euphemism. We are witnessing the construction of a world where the most common political value is fear. Everyone argues we are living in danger and using that to control us. What is really happening is that morality has been replaced with legalisms. Rights have become a vulnerability.
Snowden disagrees. If we all disagree then things can change. Even in the face of real danger, there are limits to what should be allowed. Following Thoreau we need to resist. We don’t need a respect for the law, but for the right. The law is no substitute for justice or conscience.
Snowden would not be surprised if Facebook’s final defense is that “its legal.” But we need to ask if it is right. A wrong should not be turned into a right. We should be skeptical of those in power and the powers that shape our future. There times in history and in our lives when the only possible decision is to break the law.