Autonomous Intelligence

The International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCIA15) met last week in Buenos Aires. AI has long captured the public imagination, and researchers are making fast advances. Conferences like IJCIA15 have high stakes, as “smart” machines become increasingly integrated into personal and public life. Because of these high stakes, it is important that we remain precise in our discourse and thought surrounding these technologies. In an effort towards precision, I offer simple, corrective point: intelligence is never artificial.

Machine intelligence, like human intelligence, is quite real. That machine intelligence processes through hardware and code has no bearing on its authenticity. The machine does not pretend to learn, it really learns, it actually gets smarter, and it does so through interactions with the environment. Ya know, just like people. more...

At the end of a press conference in January, Microsoft announced HoloLens, its vision for the future of computing.

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The device, which Microsoft classifies as an augmented reality (AR) headset, incorporates a compilation of sensors, surround speakers, and a transparent visor to project holograms onto the wearer’s environment, a sensory middle ground between Google Glass and virtual reality (VR) headsets like Oculus Rift. Augmented and virtual reality headsets, like most technology saddled with transforming our world, reframe our expectations in order to sell back to us our present as an aspirational, near-future fantasy. According to Microsoft’s teaser site, HoloLens “blends” the digital and “reality” by “pulling it out of a screen” and placing it “in our world” as “real 3D” holograms. Implicit in this narrative is that experience as mediated with digital screens has not already permeated reality, a possibility the tech industry casts perpetually into the future tense: “where our digital lives would seamlessly connect with real life.” more...


(Image from the People’s Climate March Facebook page:

When it comes to data analysis, sometimes non-findings speak louder than findings. Particularly when non-findings shine a light on questions that aren’t being asked.

 On 21 September 2014, UMd Professor of Sociology Dana R. Fisher took a small army of friends and graduate students to New York City to survey demonstrators at The People’s Climate March (PCM). The PCM survey is part of a longer thread of Dr. Fisher’s research, which surveys protestors to get a better understanding of who protests, how they are mobilized, and how their participation in protests relates to other forms of civic engagement they may partake in. Nate Silver’s data-nerd playground sent a film crew to follow us to make a short documentary of our experience. The doc is part of their series The Collectors, a look at how scientists can apply rigorous research methods to a variety of unique settings outside of the laboratory.

The PCM’s greatest appeal—the thing that got us all up before dawn on a Sunday to take a bus from DC to Manhattan—was the sheer volume of potential data it made available to us. While more conservative estimates put the number of demonstrators at around 100,000, PCM organizers themselves suggest that it was closer to four times that. In any case,, who planned the march in collaboration with a long list of partner organizations, trumpeted the event as the “largest climate march in history.” By all accounts, they were right; the PCM was the brightest star in a constellation of nearly 2,600 simultaneous climate protests happening all over the world that day.

This thing was big, it was global, and it mobilized a lot of people.

Part of’s plan was to arrange protesters into neat blocks, according to where they fit along a spectrum of participant identities and organizational affiliations. Their hope was to organize participants into city-block-sized sections that would each represent a single unified ideological or social position. The map below details what these blocks were supposed to look like, and who was supposed to fill them during the assembly period before the march began. more...


Latest in the arsenal of moralpanic studies of digital technologies is a recent article published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, written by psychologists and education scholars from UCLA.  The piece, entitled: “Five Days at Education Camp without Screens Improves Preteen Skills with Nonverbal Emotion Cues,” announces the study’s ultimate thesis: engagement with digital technologies diminishes face-to-face social skills. Unsurprisingly, the article and its’ findings have been making the rounds on mainstream media outlets over the past week. Here is the abstract: more...


How does one begin a blog post about a profoundly tragic event? With shock? Only, I’m not shocked. With anger? I am angry, but starting there doesn’t feel right. Empathy, I think, is how I have to start.  I can only imagine the pain and fear of the people of Isla Vista, and honestly can’t imagine the depth of pain felt by those who lost family members and loved ones in Friday’s shooting.

As we all fumble through this event—which feels like yet another blow in a terrible but patterned chain of violent events—I believe many of us can’t help but wonder: how did this happen? How does it keep happening?

As with all things, the “how” is a complex question, one for which complete answers are largely impossible.  In this case, however, I can identify two key interlocking factors: digital dualism and misogynistic culture. more...

The Planned Headquarters of Apple Inc.
The Planned Headquarters of Apple Inc.

The year is 1959 and a very powerful modern art aficionado is sharing a limousine with Princess  Beatrix of the Netherlands. The man is supposed to be showing off the splendor of the capital of what was once —so optimistically— called New Amsterdam. His orchestrated car trip is not going quite as he had hoped and instead of zipping past “The Gut” and dwelling on the stately early 19th century mansions on Central and Clinton Avenues, Beatrix is devastated by the utter poverty that has come to define the very center of this capitol city now called Albany, New York. The art aficionado, unfortunately for him, cannot blame some far away disconnected bureaucrat or corrupt politician for what they are seeing because he is the governor of this powerful Empire State and he has done little to elevate the suffering of his subjects. He resolves, after that fateful car trip, to devote the same kind of passion he has for modern art to this seat of government. Governor Rockefeller will make this city into a piece of art worthy of his own collection. more...

Nic Endo, noise musician and member of Atari Teenage Riot

Over on Sounding Out, Primus Luta has finished the third installment (which I’ll refer to as LEP) in a superb series of posts on live electronic music performance. The aim of the series is to develop a “usable aesthetic language” to describe live electronic performance. In this post I want to summarize some of Luta’s argument–which is fascinating–and then push his project past his stated philosophical limitations. Even though Luta’s aesthetic language is still strongly indebted to modernist values and ideas (like “agency” and “virtuosity”), can we push his analysis beyond the frame of modernist aesthetics? Can live electronic music performance help us think about what an object-oriented aesthetics or a compositionist aesthetics might entail? From these perspectives, which aren’t very interested in subject-centered values like agency and virtuosity, what values and ideals would we use to evaluate electronic music?



This post is a question. A highly self-indulgent question. About my dog. Consider yourself warned.

The question is this: why have I, a person who explicitly rejects mind-body dualisms, readily altered my dog’s physiology through medicine and surgeries, but strongly resisted altering his brain chemistry through anti-anxiety drugs? Or, in other words, why am I so cool with technologies of the body but distinctly uncomfortable with technologies of the mind?


After seeing today’s XKCD (above) I sort of wish I had written all of my digital dualism posts as an easy-to-read table.  I generally agree with everything on there (more on that later), but I’m also pretty confused as to how Randall Munroe got to those conclusions given some of his past comics. I can’t square the message of this table with the rest of Monroe’s work that has maligned the social sciences as having no access to The Way Things Are. The table is funny specifically because the social scientists he pokes fun of, did a lot of work to make those answers plainly (painfully?) obvious. How does someone with an obvious resentment for the social sciences, also make a joke about how we were always already alienated?  more...

The “State of Nature”

When we talk about “digital dualism,” are we really talking about digital ideal theory? (I’ll explain what I mean by “ideal theory” shortly.) I’m not sure. But, I want to push the question because I think it’s very important for us to frame and discuss this critique in as precisely as possible. So, in this post, I’m going to try to argue that we are, in fact, talking about digital ideal theory–not necessarily because I actually believe this argument, but because we need to push this argument to see if, where, and how it breaks.

I ask this question because it seems to me that when we say “digital dualism,” we’re using the concept of an ontological dualism (reality vs virtuality) to describe a phenomenon or a view that isn’t necessarily dualist, and, as Nathan suggests here and Jesse Spafford summarizes here, isn’t necessarily ontological. What if the phenomenon we’re referring to when we say “digital dualism” isn’t an ontological dualism, but an idealized epistemological abstraction?