Creative Approaches To Emerging Technology | Fall 2018, Olin College of Engineering
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README.md

README.md

Creative Approaches to Emerging Technology

Instructor: Mimi Onuoha
Contact: conuoha@olin.edu
Term: Fall 2018
Time: Wednesdays, 12:30pm-3:00pm
Course Number:  AHSE 2199-01
Office Hours: MHL36, Tuesdays 1-3pm (sign up here) or by email
Homework Form: https://goo.gl/forms/q63gysDdtad3HrWF2
Class Homework Wiki: https://github.com/MimiOnuoha/Creative-Approaches/wiki/Homework

Course Description

We live in a world where we have more data, computational power, and access to digital connectivity than ever before. But how do we make sense of the promise inherent in this reality while also coming to terms with the challenges that it presents? How do we situate the technologies that we have come to take for granted? And more importantly, how do we create active and creative responses that interrogate and hint at the potential for different futures?

This course examines emergent technological fields, spanning topics like data collection/representation, artificial intelligence, social algorithms, surveillance, and digital mapping and asks how the technologies inherent to each can be leveraged for response, creation, and critique.

While this course is primarily conceptual and theory-based, the content covered will be technical in nature and students will be tasked with making three creative responses to the content in the tradition of the new media/digital art and design worlds.

Goals

In this class, students will:

  • Consider technology from a sociotechnical and politcal gaze. This entails understanding what technology offers, does, and situating it within its context, history, and variable perspectives
  • Investigate different types of and fields for creative response, creation, and exploration, situated within but not limited to, the arts.
  • Create works of art that engage with and further conversation about emerging technology.

Format

Excluding a two-week introduction in the beginning of the semester, the class is split into three sections. Each section will cover a different theme tied to some topic concerning emerging technology, and will highlight a different art medium that students will use to respond to that theme. Students will work individually, in pairs, and in groups over the course of the semester.

For some weeks, there will be additional links, readings or resources provided. It is not necessary for you to look at these, though they are interesting and provide useful connections and counterpoints to the material that we discuss in class.

I can be reached via email at all times, but I am very slow to respond to emails sent over the weekend. If you are in need of a prompt response, please email during the week. I reserve 24 hours to respond, but typically will reply much sooner.

Expectations and Requirements

  • Class attendance and punctuality
  • Participation during class discussions and presentations
  • Weekly readings
  • Three section projects + accompanying blogposts

This class is an inclusive and harassment-free space for everyone, with no tolerations of discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or appearance. Please feel free to let me know privately if you have an academic accommodation.

All students are allowed a maximum of two absences. It is worth stressing that because the class covers so much new material, it is very much to your advantage to not miss any classes, if possible.

Evaluation

Final evaluation will be based on the completion of all assignments, blogposts, class participation, quality of work, and attendance. The breakdown is below:

Assignment Percentage of Grade
Homework and Class Participation 25%
Classmate Project Evaluations 5%
Project 1 15%
Project 2 25%
Final Project 30%

Homework is graded on completion: to get the full marks, you simply need to complete the assignment. If there is an aspect that needs to be submitted, you should submit at least two hours before the start of class using the homework form.

We will discuss in class the rubrics for grading the projects.


Syllabus

WEEK ONE (September 5): Introductions, part 1
This class will introduce us to one another and set up the topics of the semester, conveying both examples of emerging technology and the concept of art as a space for creative response.

HOMEWORK:

  • Complete this survey about your interests, experience in different domains, work style, etc. (Link again: https://goo.gl/forms/kRfiAUwTg5U2WXgN2)
  • Set up a blog or website set up for this class. For more control under the hood, I recommend creating a site using Github Pages (for example, this one is very straightforward). But you can also use Tumblr, Canvas, Wordpress, or any other platform.
  • Read Bad Writer by Michael Mohammed Ahmad and post a 250-300 word response on your thoughts about the piece on your blog. Submit it using the homework form.
  • Extra reading [optional]

WEEK TWO (September 12): Introductions, part 2
We will examine the field of media art, and consider what it means to evaluate works of art.

HOMEWORK:

  • Read:

  • Last week you read "Bad Writer", by Michael Mohammad Ahmad. In the piece, Ahmad talks about the need for those making creative pieces to have communities who can engage critically with their work. Your homework assignment is to evaluate one of the pieces that we looked at in class and respond by writing a 300-400 word review/critique of it.* What is the piece trying to do or say? What about the piece appeals to you? What works about it? What doesn't work? What could make it stronger, and what is adding to or taking away from its impact? Consider aspects like content, form, style, context, etc. Be thorough and thoughtful. Post the response on your blog or website and send it using the homework form.

    • *When I say "critique", I don't mean that you should be mean or aggressive (no need to emulate Ahmad's tone in Bad Writer, unless you have a compelling reason for it). It is totally fine to take the position that the work you are reviewing is a masterpiece, but you do need to explain to us why you think this.
    • The link to the list of projects you saw is here. You can also find a copy in the week2 folder.
  • Extra reading [optional]

WEEK THREE (September 19): Collections and Archives, part 1
We'll finish up our conversation on how to evaluate art and begin a conversation around data collection, categorization, and considering datasets as a form of archive.

HOMEWORK:

  • Read:
    • "Representation and the Necessity of Interpretation" by Laura Kurgan (excerpt from Close Up At A Distance, see reading folder)
    • Objectivity by Lorraine Daston, Peter Galison (see reading folder, the selections are a couple of pages from the book. Ignore the section on page 19 titled "Collective Empiricism")
  • Do the reading, think about what we discuss, think about what you were able to glean from the dataset we briefly looked at in class, and respond on your blog to all of the following questions (submit using the homework form):
    • If all data is interpreted, as Kurgan (and some of you) say, what are datasets really tell us? How do we know when and how we can trust a dataset, and is there a standard rule for this?
    • What are the different types of truth that a dataset can have? Can data reflect a number of different realities at once?
  • Start thinking about and working on your first project! See the link in the projects folder for more information.
  • Next week in class we will be doing an outdoor activity, dress appropriately!

WEEK FOUR (September 26): Collections and Archives, part 2
How do we use datasets without even realizing it? Considering maps as a form of data representation and visualization that highlight some of the most salient points about collection.

HOMEWORK:

  • Work on your projects! See the description in the projects folder. Remember that you need three things:
    • The deliverable, aka your actual project
    • Documentation post submitted before class with the homework link
    • 7 minute presentation
      • Head's up: we'll be rigid about sticking to the time limit.

Feel free to email if you have any questions, I'll also be around on Thursday from 10-2 and Tuesday afternoon as usual.

WEEK FIVE (October 3): Project 1 Presentations

HOMEWORK:

This week you don't have to write about these readings (but you still have to do them).

WEEK SIX (October 10): The Internet, part 1
For the purposes of this class, everything begins with the Internet. Where did it come from, how does it work, and what does it mean for such a widely-used medium to have so much of its inner workings concealed?

HOMEWORK:

  • Read:
    • Julian Oliver - Stealth Infrastructure
    • Maciej Ceglowski's "The Internet With A Human Face"
    • Once you've finished reading these, write a 200-300 word response on one or both of the readings. What stood out to you? What are you considering about the internet that you didn't know before? What do you want to know more about?
  • Fill out this survey about who you might want to work with for the second project. Be sure to read the directions carefully.
  • Extra reading [optional]

WEEK SEVEN (October 17): The Internet, part 2
More on the internet and engineering.

HOMEWORK:

WEEK EIGHT (October 24): The Internet, part 3
Short discussion on decentralized web; time in class to work on second project

HOMEWORK:

  • Work on your projects! See the description in the projects folder. Remember that you need three things:
    • The deliverable, aka your actual project
    • Documentation post submitted before class with the homework link (only one of you needs to submit it)
    • 7 minute presentation

Just like last week, you'll also be critiquing and responding to some of your classmates' projects.

Email me if you have any questions! On Friday I won't be online, but otherwise will be checking my email frequently.

WEEK NINE (October 31): Project 2 Presentations | Halloween

HOMEWORK:

  • We're approaching our last few weeks of classes, which means that we're going to be focusing more on depth and autonomy than on breadth. Please be candid in filling out this anonymous survey to give your feedback on how things have been going, and what you want to see more of: https://goo.gl/forms/cyn4GYeG5asPzBgy2
  • Read:

No need to respond to these, I just want you to be thinking about them.

WEEK TEN (November 7): Automation, Social Algorithms, and AI, part 1
We are in a uniquely algorithmic moment. How do we make sense of this, how we got here, and the distance from the beginnings of the internet to here?

HOMEWORK

  • Come up with a hunch and some preliminary concepts/ideas for your final project. Remember, a hunch can be a vision, obsession, question, concept. It can also be a feeling, juxtaposition, a thought. Of everything we've talked about over the semester, what do you want to create work about? What forms are you interested in? What type of feel do you want your project to have? Feel free to scroll back up and look at some of the topics that we've covered or to revisit your blogposts. Include drawings, sample images, things that inspire you, etc. Include these in the blogpost entry that you write about what your hunch is, along with your response to the reading below.

    • NOTE: Some of you mentioned in the class survey that you respond to looking at and viewing works by existing artists. For all of you, I'm compiling a list of works here.
  • Reading:

    • Upturn's Automation & The Quantified Society (read pages 7 - 22) | An overview to the different sociotechnical issues that AI and automation bring us to confront. ​ IN ADDITION TO THE ABOVE, CHOOSE ONE OF THE BELOW TO READ:

    • Machine Bias - Propublica (Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, Lauren Kirchner) | A specific US example of the general issues covered in the Upturn report

    • The odd reality of life under China's all-seeing credit score system - WIRED (Charles Rollet)| A specific example in China of the general issues covered in the Upturn report

    • After doing your two readings, write up a 100-300 blogpost response. You've been lightly exposed to a number of issues surrounding automation, AI, fairness, and the difficulties of implementing this out in the wild. What stands out to you the most about these issues? Is there anything that you find particularly unsatisfying, captivating, or overlooked? What more do you want to know, and how does this connect with what you already know or are learning?

      • Post your answer online and submit either using the homework form (private) or by posting online at the wiki (public, so your classmates can see).
      • Definitely think about this, and include everything that is interesting to you, but spend more time on thinking about a final project idea.
  • Extra Reading:

    • A People's Guide To AI | This guide is specifically geared towards non-technical folks, but if you feel like you struggled with Upturn's report, checking the Table of Contents and flipping to relevant sections might be useful for you.
    • How the QR code conquered China (Abascus News, h/t Seungin) | adjacent and relevant to our conversation
    • Not Art & Tech (Olia Lialina) | about the power of naming when it comes to art&tech, and about far more
    • Algorithmic Media Need Democratic Methods: Why Publics Matter (Fenwick McKelvey, in readings folder) | Someone mentioned wanting more scholarly readings and approaches to these topic. This article, about how we can mediate the issues raised by algorithmic media, is for you.
  • BONUS: here are your responses to the survey sent out last week.

WEEK ELEVEN (November 21): Automation, Social Algorithms, and AI, part 2
What we are talking about when we really talk about automation.

HOMEWORK:

  • Come next week with a piece, project, or prototype. You don't need slides and a presentation, but you do need to have a something done that you can informally present to other members in the class. Remember: you don't always have to know exactly what you want to do and then create that. Sometimes the process of making something is what helps you refine the idea.
    • Advice from me: play to your strengths, be ambitious but be realistic. Use this as a chance to do what you've wanted to, but haven't.
  • ASAP: post on homework wiki or through the homework form what you're planning on doing and if you're looking for any resources. As soon as I know what you're working on, I can cater things to you.
  • Reading [optional]: What the Boston School Bus Schedule Can Teach Us About AI, Joi Ito

ENJOY THANKSGIVING BREAK!

WEEK TWELVE (November 28): Final projects working time through crit session (with Robert)

HOMEWORK:

  • Advance your progress on your final project! Take into account the feedback from Robert and your classmates. Email me if you have any questions or need support, and come prepared to talk about what changes you've made to your work. Please post 200-300 words about the updates you've made on your blog and submit using the homework link or the homework wiki.

WEEK THIRTEEN (December 5): Presentations (with guest critics)

HOMEWORK:

  • Send me the answers to the questions you had to respond to during class! Use the homework form or even just email.
  • Finish up your final projects. Next week you'll be presenting them. Look out for information from me in a forthcoming email about the time, format, and things you should prepare for this presentation (plus details about course evaluations). Keep in mind that we'll be meeting in the morning and a photographer will be there to document your work for the college.
  • Make sure that you (or one person from your group) does a documentation post about your project on your blog. Please post it on the homework wiki.

OPTIONAL READING:

WEEK FOURTEEN (December 12): Show final work