February 3, 2020
By Mario Sanguinet
Artificial intelligence. Big data. Data analysis. Data science. Machine learning. Generally, these notions are only addressed in the sciences or STEM fields. Consequently, these are not terms or ideas one usually associates with the arts, arts and culture, much less this publication.
Yet, that is why these technologies need to be discussed, because conversations about emerging technologies and how they relate to the arts and humanities need to happen more often.
Two faculty/staff members at UC San Diego are actively trying to change that and spark more of these conversations.
This led them to organize the two-day Cultured Data Symposium, on February 7, at UC San Diego; and on February 8 at Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan. The symposium will be a space where panelists and attendees can explore the evolving relationship between data and culture.
The event will bring together computer scientists, data scientists, political scientists, artists and philosophers to explore the emerging and changing relationship between arts and sciences. There will also be arts and performances inspired, if not created in conjunction with technology.
Erin Glass, digital scholarship librarian at the UC San Diego Library, is one of the organizers.
The other is Robert Twomey, postdoctoral scholar at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination and data science lecturer at UC San Diego.
Both have individually merged the arts with the sciences and explored the shifting relationship people have with technology. So they decided to collaborate and expand their own explorations into a wider conversation where the arts and humanities merge with data science.
While Glass and Twomey admit they devised “cultured data” a way to describe the event, that does not mean the phrase is devoid of meaning.
“It’s the name of a conversation that I think is really important that we have,” explained Glass, “so much of our culture production, our everyday lives –– whether we like it or not –– is being collected as data and then being analyzed as data.”
“Also, data is driving culture,” added Twomey.
For instance, a music application recommends a new artists or song based on things a user already enjoys. Then, that suggestion, if accepted or denied, becomes data which further informs future suggestions. This practice is becoming increasingly common for applications, services or websites. It is becoming part of our culture.
Ultimately though, the symposium is about asking questions.
“Our goal is to spark dialogue,” said Twomey, “there’s a need for this kind of discussion, this interdisciplinary discussion.”
Glass echoed the sentiment, “One of the goals of this symposium is to give our communities an opportunity to talk about this, and to think about it, and to draw on different disciplinary resources.”
To this effect, Glass and Twomey have collaborated to expand their own explorations into a wider conversation where the arts and humanities merge with data science.
The event will feature distinguished panelists from industry, such as Nokia Bell Labs and Google to academia, like Carnegie Mellon University, UCLA and USC.
There will also be four panels over the two-day symposium, each one asking specific questions pertaining to a particular theme.
The first panel will take place on Friday at UC San Diego, and will address the significance of “data-fying” the cultural record? How and which of the cultural records become data? What can be learned from doing this?
Overall, the first day deals with the implications of converting the cultural record into data.
The rest of the panels will happen throughout Saturday at Bread & Salt. These
The second day will start off with a panel on how the humanities and data science can further our understanding of knowledge. Followed by a panel exploring the possibilities of creating new art with data and technology. The final panel will address some of the possible boundaries of data science and culture as well as areas of growth in the field.
Each day will close with a keynote speaker.
The Friday keynote, at UC San Diego’s –– Atkinson Hall, will be by Shannon Mattern, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at the New School for Social Research. In it she “will examine the ecological aspects of tech and critical data reform, and the technical aspects of climate activism” per the event’s schedule website.
Saturday’s keynote, in Barrio Logan’s Bread & Salt, will be by Jessica Marie Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of History at Johns Hopkins University. Her address will explore “how black diasporic people take up the digital–and how the digital can and should change to take up black life,” as noted in the event’s schedule.
While Glass is looking forward to the event as a whole, she expressed particularly excited for the panel presentation of Ryan Germick, who leads Google Assistant Personality team and his presentation, “Avenging Clippy.” It paints to be an homage to Microsoft Word’s former paper clip assistant.
Twomey expressed a predilection for one of the performances that will take place on the second day, Aural Fauna. This will be a jazz-type performance between a human and the sounds of creatures created by AI.