Recent Posts

Precarity and its discontents

This morning, as I was going through my RSS feeds, I encountered this sentence on Vox in their summary of recent news about Uber: To liberals and labor lawyers — including the woman who represented Uber’s drivers in these suits, profiled in January by Mother Jones — Uber was one of many companies that have prospered in the “gig economy” by keeping their employees in precarity. [Mother Jones / Hannah Levintova] What jumped out (let’s leave Uber out for the time being) was the use of the word “precarity,” which is used by the Vox authors, but isn’t really in the Mother […]

Populists as Political Outsiders in the U.S Presidential Election

Populists as Political Outsiders in the U.S Presidential Election

Against all pundits’ bets, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders each stand a chance of winning their parties’ nominations. Writing in disbelief, media analysts and scholars have attempted to explain the allure of both candidates to the disenchanted masses. Some analysts write about the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, and the increasing disconnect between party elites and their constituents to explain the rise of political outsiders; others write about racial backlash against President Obama.  And still others write about how years of merciless and cynical political manipulation within the parties has polarized political discourse in the U.S. “Populism!” […]

Historical Twitter: On Twitter, Telephony & India

Historical Twitter: On Twitter, Telephony & India

Ten years ago, on 21 March 2006, the first Twitter message—what would come to be called a tweet, but at the time was described as a status update—was sent. Four months later, on July 15, Twitter opened to the public as a messaging service. This is the first in a series of posts that explores Twitter through a historical lens. At least, it may become a series. We’ll see. The image above, satisfyingly opaque with its mysterious number block and bevy of well-regulated golden pigeons, appeared on the Twitter blog on 17 January 2008. That blog post announced a short […]

On the Promise of AlphaGo

On the Promise of AlphaGo

  Games are an old venue for the development of AI programs, and have been part of the AI repertoire since the beginnings of the field. Turing wrote about games in his 1948 paper “Intelligent Machinery,” in which he suggested chess, noughts and crosses, bridge, and poker as among the games to teach machines. Why the focus on games that foreground disembodied mental activity? Because a “thinking machine” constructed in the image of a man would be “a tremendous undertaking” and therefore would be “altogether too slow and impractical” a research project (p. 39). Minksy, in the introduction to the […]

cross-STS Spring 2016 Schedule

cross-STS Spring 2016 Schedule

The cross-STS Working Group at MIT’s Program in History, Anthropology, and STS (HASTS) is happy to present the Spring 2016 schedule. cross-STS started in Fall 2014, exploring the recent disciplinary, spatial, temporal, and geographical crossings in Science & Technology Studies in monthly meetings. The Spring 2016 iteration attempts to bring together scholars from across the academy to discuss issues of shared interest in science and technology studies, including parafiction, biosecurity, and translation. We look forward to seeing you at our first meeting this Thursday, March 17th! Richard and Peter If you wish to receive to subscribe to our mailing list […]

A Few Thoughts on the Recent Google Car “Crash”

A Few Thoughts on the Recent Google Car “Crash”

As someone who studies automated vehicles, I have had a number of people send me links about the recently publicized “first” at-fault Google car crash (see this article for example). This is actually a really interesting situation, and presents a good moment to comment on a couple of important issues. First: As I wrote about in my M.S. thesis last spring, the notion of responsibility becomes more difficult to pin down in distributed and hybrid systems of humans and machines. Around this time, the frequency of Google car accidents came to light, with the inevitable comparisons to human accident rates […]

Silicon Valley as Ally or Foe? Reflections on the Politics of Income Inequality

Silicon Valley as Ally or Foe? Reflections on the Politics of Income Inequality

[I wrote this for the Platypus (the blog for CASTAC) last week.  But I thought it might be fun to repost it here.] The meteoric rise of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries—and the Occupy movement before that—have officially put income inequality on the political radar in the U.S., after years of slow wage growth and a near-catastrophic financial crash. In keeping with the times, Silicon Valley too has begun thinking about inequality. Resident philosopher Paul Graham, venture capitalist and founder of the famous YCombinator startup incubator, wrote an essay on inequality that caused a bit of a ruckus (in […]

The Image Series: Open Wombs

The Image Series: Open Wombs

The Image Series invites HASTS affiliates and guest authors to write freely about one image relevant to their work.  To contribute to this set, contact Lan Li at lanli@mit.edu. The image above was found with other anonymous, anatomical illustrations, at the end of an eighteenth-century manuscript of Tibb-i-Akbar. Though the illustrations seem to be separate from the Tibb-e-Akbar, the text itself was written in Persian in 1700 by Muhammad Muqim Arzani, a Sufi physician from Gilan. When examining this anonymous, anatomical illustration, found appended to a manuscript of the Persian medical text Tibb-i-Akbar (1700), we see a woman holding open a flap of skin, inviting the reader to […]

The Image Series: Aveling and the Politics of Transfusion

The Image Series: Aveling and the Politics of Transfusion

The Image Series invites HASTS affiliates and guest authors to write freely about one image relevant to their work.  To contribute to this set, contact Lan Li at lanli@mit.edu. J. H. Aveling, `Immediate transfusion in England’, Obstetrics Journal, 1873, 1, 303. positions of patient and blood donor. Wellcome Library, London. In 1873, James Aveling proposed the first apparatus for immediate transfusion, a blood transfusion procedure characterized by the direct connection between donor and patient. Theoretically, immediate transfusion aimed to circumvent the problem of coagulation or blood clotting thought to be caused by the blood’s contact with the air. Aveling promoted his technological […]

The Image Series: Crania Americana

The Image Series: Crania Americana

James Poskett is an historian of science, race and print at the University of Cambridge. He is the current holder of the Adrian Research Fellowship at Darwin College where he is completing his first book on the global history of phrenology.  ‘Pawnee’, Plate 38, Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana (Philadelphia, 1839) Crania Americana is a disturbing book. Published in the winter of 1839, it features seventy-eight lithographic plates of Native North and South American skulls. The mastermind behind this grim project was the Philadelphia physician Samuel George Morton. Today, Morton is most often remembered as the founder of a distinctive ‘American […]