Elizabeth Losh: Primping in Front of the Machine Vision Mirror

26/6 2019 3 pm — 5 pm

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Today words and images are much more likely to be read or viewed by machines than by human beings, as enormous quantities of data are filtered, correlated, aggregated and sorted by algorithms designed for digital archives, search engine portals, social network sites and systems policing intellectual property, national security, public safety, civic propriety, medical normality, economic productivity and gender conformity. The use of these algorithms as a substitute for human interpreters tends to raise many anxieties, particularly among those who worry either about omnipresent surveillance or about a total abdication of oversight possible in the very near future. Biometrics – particularly facial recognition and fingerprint authentication – can dictate conditions of access and participation, and users’ future mobility may also be determined by the trajectories of self-driving vehicles equipped with machine vision technologies.

Critics like Jill Walker Rettberg have noted that the last great technological change in visual culture during the Early Modern period connected the sciences and the humanities closely. Renaissance humanist thinkers considered the philosophical, aesthetic and cultural ramifications of techniques for representing linear perspective and anatomical proportions and optical devices like the camera obscura and the telescope, and they also considered how the “self” was constituted by these technologies. Yet the machine vision revolution has been relatively unexamined in the humanities, even in the digital humanities. This talk considers how we see ourselves in the black box of machine vision and what this means for possible futures as subjects, citizens and feminists.

Elizabeth Losh is an Associate Professor of English and American Studies at William and Mary with a specialization in New Media Ecologies. Before coming to William and Mary, she directed the Culture, Art, and Technology Program at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-Making in a Time of War, Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes (MIT Press, 2009), The War on Learning: Gaining Ground in the Digital University (MIT Press, 2014), and Hashtag (Bloomsbury, 2019). She is the co-author with Jonathan Alexander of Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013; second edition, 2017). She published the edited collection MOOCs and Their Afterlives: Experiments in Scale and Access in Higher Education (University of Chicago, 2017), and she is co-editor of Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and Digital Humanities(Minnesota, 2018). Her current work-in-progress focuses on ubiquitous computing in the White House in the Obama and Trump administrations.

She has also written a number of essays about communities that produce, consume and circulate online video, video games, digital photographs, text postings and programming code. Much of this body of work concerns the legitimation of political institutions through visual evidence, representations of war and violence in global news and discourses about human rights.

Admission EUR 2
Free with exhibition ticket or annual ticket and for Community College members.

The lecture takes place in the framework of the Community College program The Black Box Issues.

After the lecture the Community College warmly invites you to join an open get-together and workshop (5 – 8 pm) to interweave the thoughts brought up by Elizabeth Losh with some cheerful exercises risking translations of what is only partly understood.

More information: community.college@kunsthallewien.at

We thank Mz Baltazar’s Laboratory for the recommendation to invite Elizabeth Losh.