MIT Symposium on Gender + Technology – Session 3: DATA

Events,Liveblog,Series February 23, 2014 6:48 pm

Saturday, February 22, 2014  |   MIT

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Organized by Renée Blackburn and Mitali Thakor, doctoral candidates in the MIT Program in History, Anthropology, + STS. 

Feminist theory in STS has critically engaged questions of scientific ideology, institutional power, difference, and epistemology –- attending not only to gender but also race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, postcoloniality, queer theory, and more…

“Gender Binaries and the Ideological Affordances of Data Activism” J. Nathan Matias, MIT

Nathan has been trying to develop new algorithms to increase diversity online.  At the moment, he is dealing with gender binaries to show how women are still an underrepresented group of content producers and suggests ways of addressing this through data visualization.  But what are some of the ideological affordances of algorithms? How do you deal with non-binary identities while still developing meaningful algorithmic systems?  Some of the future directions of research should be invested in caring about and supporting marginalized groups.  To this end, binary categories are self-problematizing and make ‘others’ more visible.

“From @big_ben_clock to @BiCuriousRover: Twitter, Posthumanism, & the Voicing of Technological Objects” Amy Johnson, MIT

Instead of explicitly dealing with gender, Amy’s primary frame of reference is post-humanism.  She is concerned with technological objects that are voiced through the human object or through script.  Her subjects include Big Ben, THE WASHING MACHINE, BiCuriosity Rover, and Self Aware ROOMBA.   By introducing the four different ways in which technological objects are voiced on Twitter, Amy demonstrates how these objects are imagined as participating with humans and as having agency.  Agency comes to being through voice, where a network of objects actively participate in identity politics and complicate notions of sovereignty.

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Discussant: Mary Gray, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research

Moderator: T.L. Taylor, Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies, MIT

In response to Nathan, Mary wonders, “What does it mean to measure gender?”  Even though there are ethical dilemmas in raising these kinds of dichotomies, it doesn’t mean that this kind of work is not important.  Yet, can feminist interventions be automated? Certainly, algorithms are processes of calculations.  And these processes can present us with unexpected things.  So can we use this to our advantage and invite a kind of queer play to challenge binaries?  Maybe we can start by looking at the root of the structure and commodification that drive gender binaries in the first place.

In thinking about Amy’s paper, Mary wonders where voice happens and where it is distributed.  Is this work supposed to animate theories of post-humanism?  Mary isn’t quite sure what post-humanism is and invokes Latour, asking, “Have we ever been human?”  Considering these points might be an opportunity to re-think post-humanism in an interesting and productive way.  We don’t know if Big Ben it is a bot, a person, or multiple people.  But we can trace the range of interactions taking place.  And by excavating the types of voice put on display, we can better understand the range of non-human agency and modes of human interaction.


Event sponsored by:
MIT Program in Women’s and Gender Studies
Program in Science, Technology, and Society
Foreign Languages and Literatures

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