Sensing Algorithms

Sensing Algorithms: A Collaboratory  

September 1, 2018 – August 31, 2020

As human experience is increasingly digitally mediated, encounters with texts, media, space, form, and even reality itself is now produced by algorithms: step-by-step procedures, authored by a select few and then executed by computers. For the user, the reader, the citizen, and the audience, sense is computed—hidden calculations determine what rises to awareness. As a scholarly response to this seismic shift in our culture, this project contends that algorithms are profoundly cultural and calls into being a new multidisciplinary group that will develop new forms of collaboration, combining traditional humanistic scholarship with other creative practices to better understand these new cultural forms. This project asks: What can be done to reveal algorithms at work and unearth elements of their operation that are otherwise inaccessible? The computer algorithm will be topic and tool: In Suchman’s phrasing, algorithms can be “both a method through which things are made and a resource for their analysis and un/remaking.” “Sensing Algorithms” will write new algorithms to reveal what is hidden within existing ones, a matryoshka of the digital. This group will take the organizational form of an art collective to join together art, design, music, architecture, cultural studies, computer programming, the digital humanities, and humanistic scholarly critique. It will combine the talents of undergraduates, graduate students, and both junior and senior faculty. The collective will produce a series of pieces in different forms and modes, including material objects, essays, and computer programs. Their outputs will mix traditional and other forms: publication, exhibition, workshops, and creative practice. These will be documented via the Web, conversations with audiences and peers, and a new podcasting effort.