Recent Posts

Science, The Only Frontier?

Science, The Only Frontier?

  As I was re-reading Vannevar Bush’s Science, The Endless Frontier, I was struck by the way that a shortage of scientists was being conceptualized in the US in the aftermath of World War II, in relation to how similar concerns about national innovation, economic growth, and the future of work are being conceptualized today. As a local example, I need only look so far as how MIT is reorganizing the freshman experience, trying to rethink what an undergraduate student at a science-and-engineering-oriented institution should come out knowing and being able to do. In this context, it seems a good […]

Aritificial Intelligence Ethics: Too Many Paperclips

Ethical AI. This has begun to become a buzzword in computer science circles. Big names in technology are throwing their weight behind the idea. There are a number of new research projects devoted to it, including a portion of MIT’s new IQ initiative. It even got a mention by former president Barack Obama.  But it isn’t clear what ethics for AI would look like. Nick Bostrom, in Superintelligence, presents one of the standard versions of this issue:  the paperclip-producing AI told to optimize paperclip production, that goes on to kill humanity in the service of producing as many paperclips as […]

Collapse of a Horse: Prosthetics and Experimentality in a Critical Public Event

Collapse of a Horse: Prosthetics and Experimentality in a Critical Public Event

A note to my readers: I wrote the following essay exactly a year ago, as a horse lay attacked in India. Many political fortunes have changed since, and perpetrators of the attack on the horse have returned to social life. What I wrote then I share here, cognisant of the cynicism of party-politics, mindful of the power of remembrance and the archive in the world, and hopeful that the story of those that sought to reclaim this damaged animal exhibited practices of transcendence that merits recording–even if such recording is by way of an anthropology from a distance. ~~~ The meaning of life is […]

Your Surveillance Fortune . . .

As part of the MIT Day of Action, Michelle Spektor and I came up with some facts, tips, and “fortunes” about surveillance and privacy to give out to passers by. The fortunes are, I think, the most interesting and thought provoking, so I am putting those up here. They range from the anodyne to the genuinely disturbing, but I think do a good job to capture some of the potential problems of a culture of pervasive surveillance by a wide variety of private, as well as governmental, actors. If you have your own idea for a surveillance fortune, add it […]

Science and Society Carnival @ MIT Day of Action

Provocation: Is science political? Scholars who study the practice of science and the social impacts of science and technology have long recognized that science does have political dimensions. Research in biology impacts how we define and value people. Basic research in physics and chemistry has led both to helpful new products and serious threats to human health and wellbeing. The findings of climate science may contribute to the reshaping of economies and day to day life for billions globally. On the technical side, Melvin Kranzberg’s enigmatic statement highlights a key problem for our times: “Technology is neither good nor bad; […]

The Relevance of STS in Industry, Part 1: On Critique

In conversations with several people in the general STS field, I have informally provided my perspective on the importance of philosophies from STS (and H and A, for that matter, our other component disciplines here) to the production of new technological artifacts. Among these sometimes unwitting interlocutors is Shreeharsh Kelkar, who suggested, perhaps a year ago, that I might post about these ideas. And it seems like it may be useful for myself and for others to put them into writing in a rather more concrete, if still informal, way. Figuring out how to achieve this fusion of technological research […]

Bugs, Drugs, Documents.

Bugs, Drugs, Documents.

  What a fortnight it’s been for (anti)microbials! A fortnight presaging an emergent summer of action, discontent and alarm. First up, there’s the final report from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, a body commissioned by the British Government to delve into the “global problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and propose concrete actions to tackle it internationally”. Released on May 19th, 2016, the final report’s warnings couldn’t be starker: if things carry on as they are with the uptake of antimicrobials and a simultaneous diminishment in the new development of antibiotics, then by 2050, 10 million—yes, that’s correct, ten million—people will […]

The Image Series: Link Rot, Guantánamo, and the Department of Defense

The Image Series: Link Rot, Guantánamo, and the Department of Defense

A Beinecke Scholar and former Turkey Fulbrighter, Muira McCammon (@muira_mccammon) has written about Guantánamo for Slate’s Future Tense, The Kenyon Review Online and a few other publications. She will soon graduate from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with an M.A. in Comparative Literature/Translation Studies and received her B.A. in International Relations and French from Carleton College. Her thesis probes the stories that have been told about the Guantánamo Bay Detainee Library. Muira enjoys talking to the journalists, artists, veterans, lawyers, and others whose paths have intersected with GiTMO. She also works part-time for the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. […]

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!” […]