Databites 100 Series: The DNA Revolution: Merging Data with Biology

Speaker: Daniel Grushkin
Date recorded: Jun 7, 2017
Daniel Grushkin speaks about the origin of GenSpace, The DNA Revolution, and merging data with biology.

Daniel Grushkin speaks about the origin of GenSpace, The DNA Revolution, and merging data with biology. Daniel Grushkin is the Executive Director and cofounder of Genspace, a nonprofit community laboratory dedicated to promoting citizen science and access to biotechnology.

Databites 100 Series: Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online

Speaker: Alice Marwick
Date recorded: Jun 7, 2017
Alice Marwick speaks about Data & Society’s recent report on Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online.

Alice Marwick speaks about Data & Society’s recent report on Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online. Alice Marwick leads the Media Manipulation project at Data & Society, and will join the Communication department at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in the Fall.

The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online

Speaker: Whitney Philips and Ryan M. Milner
Date recorded: May 18, 2017
Whitney Philips and Ryan M. Milner discuss and share excerpts of their new book, The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online.

Whitney Philips and Ryan M. Milner explore the weird and mean and in-between that characterizes everyday expression online, from absurdist photoshops to antagonistic Twitter hashtags to ambivalent online play with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Through these discussions, the book shows how digital media can help and harm, bring together and push apart, and make laugh and make angry in equal measure. Most significant to the current political climate, it shows how these media can equally facilitate and restrict voice. Not only do digital spaces and tools empower hate groups like the white nationalist alt-right and other extremist figures, they also empower progressive pushback against these same groups and figures—along with a whole range of folkloric play that eludes easy classification. By foregrounding the fundamental ambivalence of digital media, they demonstrate that there are no easy solutions, and no simplistic, one-size-fits-all answers, to pressing questions about free expression, democratic participation, and issues of basic safety on the contemporary internet.

AI in the Open World: Directions, Challenges, and Futures

Speaker: Eric Horvitz
Date recorded: Apr 27, 2017
Eric Horvitz breaks down societal and technological complications of using AI.

Eric Horvitz – Artificial intelligence (AI) is at an inflection point and is poised to move into the open world and into our lives in numerous ways that will have numerous influences on people and society. While AI promises to provide great value, along with the aspirations come concerns about inadvertent costs, rough edges, and failures. Concerns include failures of automation in the open world, biased data and algorithms, opacity of reasoning, adversarial attacks on AI systems, and runaway AI. Horvitz will discuss short- and longer-term challenges and discuss studies aimed at addressing concerns, including the One Hundred Year Study on AI at Stanford University and the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society.

Eric Horvitz is a technical fellow and director at Microsoft Research. His interests span theoretical and practical challenges in AI and he has made contributions in machine learning, perception, decision making, and human-computer interaction. More information and publications are available at http://erichorvitz.com.

Why Should We Care About the Failure of the British Computing Industry?

Speaker: Marie Hicks
Date recorded: Apr 19, 2017
Marie Hicks talks about her latest book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing.

Marie Hicks draws on the example of our closest historical cousin–the UK– to look at the ways in which computing initiatives often go wrong in unexpected ways at the national level. In 1944, the UK led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all postindustrial superpowers. This talk will outline the systematic processes deployed by the UK government to enhance the nation’s technological superiority–and through that its global political standing–and discuss why these efforts went disastrously wrong. The talk will conclude with a discussion of the ways the US is currently falling prey to similar errors of judgement in its attempts to leverage computing technology as an engine of social and economic change.

Marie Hicks is an assistant professor of history of technology at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois. Her work focuses on how gender and sexuality bring hidden technological dynamics to light, and how women’s experiences change the core narrative of the history of computing. Hicks’s book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing is available from MIT Press (2017). For more information, see programmedinequality.com. Hicks received her MA and Ph.D. from Duke University and her BA from Harvard University. Before entering academia, she worked as a UNIX systems administrator.

Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin

Speaker: Sareeta Amrute
Date recorded: Apr 13, 2017
Sareeta Amrute talks about her new book Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin.

Sareeta Amrute, professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, describes her research on the professional and private lives of highly skilled Indian IT coders in Berlin to reveal the oft-obscured realities of the embodied, raced, and classed nature of cognitive labor.

Post-Truth and New Realities: Algorithms, Alternative Facts, and Digital Ethics

Speaker: Maurizio Ferraris and Martin Scherzinger
Date recorded: Apr 12, 2017
Maurizio Ferraris and Martin Scherzinger talk about the conditions that allowed the rise of our Post-Truth movement.

Maurizio Ferraris and Martin Scherzinger – Recent scandals around alternative facts, post-truth, and hacking have raised a constellation of questions regarding the intersection of digital tools, the construction or verification of reality, and issues of power and authorship. Such questions have been at the center of theoretical and literary discussions in continental philosophy and critical theory for some years, drawing from or pushing against post-structuralist assertions regarding the death of the author and the relativism of ontology. Today, these questions are articulated in the realm of techno-politics with a new urgency.

The talk was moderated by Jessica Feldman from New York University’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, and hosted by Robyn Caplan from Data & Society Research Institute.

Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality

Speaker: Meryl Alper
Date recorded: Apr 6, 2017
Meryl Alper talks about her new book Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality.

Meryl Alper- Mobile communication technologies are often hailed in the popular press and public policy as a means of “giving voice to the voiceless.” Behind the praise are determinist beliefs about technology as a gateway to opportunity, voice as a metaphor for agency and self-representation, and voicelessness as a stable and natural category. In this talk, based on her new book Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality (MIT Press, 2017), Meryl Alper offers a new angle on these established critiques through a qualitative study of individuals with significant communication disabilities who use mobile devices for synthetic speech output. Alper finds that despite widespread claims to empowerment, these tools are still subject to disempowering structural inequalities. Culture, laws, institutions, and even technology itself can reinforce disparities among those with disabilities across class, race, ethnicity, and gender. Alper argues that voice is an overused and imprecise metaphor in media and communication studies, one that abstracts, obscures, and oversimplifies the human experience of disability. She will discuss implications of her research for our rapidly changing media ecology and political environment, where the question is not only which voices get to speak, but also who is thought to have a voice to speak with in the first place.

BioTech Futures Part 2

Speaker: Christina Agapakis
Date recorded: Mar 16, 2017
Christina Agapakis, the creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks and one of the world’s first biodesigners, discusses biotechnology and feminism.

Christina Agapakis, the creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks and one of the world’s first biodesigners, discusses biotechnology and feminism.

In the early 2000s, a group of scientists from outside mainstream biology proposed that they would make living things behave like computers. They would treat DNA like command code; they would make cells behave with Boolean logic; and ultimately they would make life programmable. They called their field synthetic biology. Since its inception, synthetic biology has influenced the practice biological research, current understanding of biological systems, and the biotech economy— by 2019 the global synthetic biology market is projected to be worth $13.4 billion.

ABOUT THE SERIES

The Biotech Futures Talk + Lab Series explores the implications of and ways in which biology is becoming a data science. Each talk is paired with a 3-4 hour lab workshop at Genspace for Data & Society and Genspace community members to demonstrate how these themes become realized in the lab.

Christina Agapakis is creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks, a biological design company growing cultured products for partners across many industries. Her work brings together biologists, engineers, designers, artists, and social scientists to explore the future of biotechnology. During her PhD at Harvard, she worked on producing hydrogen fuel in bacteria and making photosynthetic animals. She has taught designers at the Art Center College of Design and biomolecular engineers at UCLA, and she once made cheese using bacteria from the human body.

BioTech Futures Part 1

Speaker: Tom Knight
Date recorded: Mar 16, 2017
Tom Knight discusses the origin of the synthetic biology and how it has evolved.

Tom Knight, considered the “godfather” of synthetic biology, discusses the origin of the scientific field and how it has evolved.

In the early 2000s, a group of scientists from outside mainstream biology proposed that they would make living things behave like computers. They would treat DNA like command code; they would make cells behave with Boolean logic; and ultimately they would make life programmable. They called their field synthetic biology. Since its inception, synthetic biology has influenced the practice biological research, current understanding of biological systems, and the biotech economy— by 2019 the global synthetic biology market is projected to be worth $13.4 billion.

Tom Knight spent most of his career teaching computer science and electrical engineering at MIT, before playing the major role in creating the engineering discipline of synthetic biology. In 1996 he seeded interest in the field at DARPA, and built a molecular biology laboratory in the MIT computer science department. He developed important standards for engineering biological systems, specifically Biobricks, the first standard assembly technique for functional DNA components, and in establishing the MIT Registry of Standard Biological Parts.

He was one of four founders of IGEM, an international competition between undergraduate teams to design and build biological systems, now hosting 300 teams across the globe. In 2008, he co-founded Ginkgo Bioworks, where he remains a full time researcher. His interests include minimal organisms, origins of life, and predictive models of biological systems. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a director of the IGEM Foundation, and member of the International Committee on the Taxonamy of the Mollicutes.