Adrian Mackenzie: Machine Learners: Archaeology of a Data Practice (2017)

22 June 2018, dusan

“If machine learning transforms the nature of knowledge, does it also transform the practice of critical thought?

Machine learning—programming computers to learn from data—has spread across scientific disciplines, media, entertainment, and government. Medical research, autonomous vehicles, credit transaction processing, computer gaming, recommendation systems, finance, surveillance, and robotics use machine learning. Machine learning devices (sometimes understood as scientific models, sometimes as operational algorithms) anchor the field of data science. They have also become mundane mechanisms deeply embedded in a variety of systems and gadgets. In contexts from the everyday to the esoteric, machine learning is said to transform the nature of knowledge. In this book, Adrian Mackenzie investigates whether machine learning also transforms the practice of critical thinking.

Mackenzie focuses on machine learners—either humans and machines or human-machine relations—situated among settings, data, and devices. The settings range from fMRI to Facebook; the data anything from cat images to DNA sequences; the devices include neural networks, support vector machines, and decision trees. He examines specific learning algorithms—writing code and writing about code—and develops an archaeology of operations that, following Foucault, views machine learning as a form of knowledge production and a strategy of power. Exploring layers of abstraction, data infrastructures, coding practices, diagrams, mathematical formalisms, and the social organization of machine learning, Mackenzie traces the mostly invisible architecture of one of the central zones of contemporary technological cultures.

Mackenzie’s account of machine learning locates places in which a sense of agency can take root. His archaeology of the operational formation of machine learning does not unearth the footprint of a strategic monolith but reveals the local tributaries of force that feed into the generalization and plurality of the field.”

Publisher MIT Press, November 2017
ISBN 9780262036825, 0262036827
272 pages
via A.B.


PDF (removed on 2018-8-20 upon request from publisher)
Draft and code samples on GIT

Steve Joshua Heims: The Cybernetics Group (1991)

19 September 2017, dusan

“This is the engaging story of a moment of transformation in the human sciences, a detailed account of a remarkable group of people who met regularly from 1946 to 1953 to explore the possibility of using scientific ideas that had emerged in the war years (cybernetics, information theory, computer theory) as a basis for interdisciplinary alliances. The Macy Conferences on Cybernetics, as they came to be called, included such luminaries as Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Warren McCulloch, Walter Pitts, Kurt Lewin, F. S. C. Northrop, Molly Harrower, and Lawrence Kubie, who thought and argued together about such topics as insanity, vision, circular causality, language, the brain as a digital machine, and how to make wise decisions.

Heims, who met and talked with many of the participants, portrays them not only as thinkers but as human beings. His account examines how the conduct and content of research are shaped by the society in which it occurs and how the spirit of the times, in this case a mixture of postwar confidence and cold-war paranoia, affected the thinking of the cybernetics group. He uses the meetings to explore the strong influence elite groups can have in establishing connections and agendas for research and provides a firsthand took at the emergence of paradigms that were to become central to the new fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive science.

In his joint biography of John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener, Heims offered a challenging interpretation of the development of recent American science and technology. Here, in this group portrait of an important generation of American intellectuals, Heims extends that interpretation to a broader canvas, in the process paying special attention to the two iconoclastic figures, Warren McCulloch and Gregory Bateson, whose ideas on the nature of the mind/brain and on holism are enjoying renewal today.”

Paperback edition appeared under the title Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America: The Cybernetics Group (1946–1953) in 1993.

Publisher MIT Press, 1991
ISBN 0262082004, 9780262082006
xii+334 pages

Reviews: N. Katherine Hayles (Hist Human Sciences, 1992), R.V. Jones (New Scientist, 1992), Carlos A. Martínez-Vela (2001).


PDF (3 MB, updated on 2018-7-25)

Max Bense: aesthetica IV. Programmierung des Schönen. Allgemeine Texttheorie und Textästhetik (1960) [German]

22 January 2016, dusan

Max Benses informationeile Ästhetik schließt mit einer Allgemeinen Texttheorie ab, die, auf der Grundlage statistischer Untersuchungen von Fucks, Herdan, Mandelbrot u. a., als Modell der neuen statistischen Zeichen-Ästhetik aufgefaßt werden kann.

Die Allgemeine Texttheorie bezieht sich auf jede Art von Text, schließt also die ästhetische Theorie der Poesie und Prosa, aber auch der wissenschaftlichen Sprachen, Werbesprachen und abstrakten Sprachen usw. ein.

Der Begriff Text wird dabei als derjenige sprachliche Zustand aufgefaßt, der statistische bzw. informationelle, semantische bzw. ästhetische Formen meint, aus deren Materialität Poesie und Prosa im klassischen Sinne erst hervorgehen. Der Begriff Text zielt also nicht auf vorästhetische Zustände der Sprache ab, sondern auf vorpoetische und vorprosaische. Er bestimmt gewissermaßen die archaischen theoretischen Fundamente der Literatur.

Allgemeine Texttheorie umfaßt also Textstatistik, Textsemantik, Textphänomenologie und Textästhetik. Der bisher völlig unklar oder falsch verwendete Ausdruck Logik der Dichtung verschwindet zugunsten des genau formulierbaren Ausdrucks Textsemantik, der den Begriff Textlogik mit umfaßt.

Es werden also sowohl numerische wie essentielle Überlegungen zum Begriff Text angestellt.

Die Allgemeine Texttheorie erscheint als Grundlagenforschung für zukünftige Literaturwissenschaft und Literaturtheorie. Sie will exakte Mittel einführen und der beliebigen üblichen Interpretation, soweit sie nicht historische Fakten herausstellt, ein Ende bereiten.” (from the dusk jacket)

Publisher Agis, Baden-Baden and Krefeld, 1960
128 pages
via Mitchell Johnson

Commentary: Reinhard Döhl (n.d., DE).



More on Bense’s aesthetics.