Category: Events


Notes from #MIT8: ‘The Work of Algorithms’ – Knowing Algorithms

On Saturday, May 4th I attended the ‘The Work of Algorithms’ panel where Nick Seaver talked about Knowing Algorithms. In his talk Seaver discusses the issue of dealing with proprietary algorithms within research and how a focus on this proprietary or ‘black box’ aspect has skewed our criticisms of algorithms. Strands of research dealing with proprietary algorithms, such as Google’s PageRank or Facebook’s EdgeRank, focus on user experimentation and engaging systematically with the system in order to derive findings. Seaver argues how this is problematic since algorithms do not only adapt over time, where in the beginning algorithms behave differently then when they have adjusted to the user,1 but also how algorithms are unstable in themselves as may be seen in the case of A/B testing: Over the past decade, the power of A/B testing has become an open secret of high-stakes web development. It’s now the standard (but seldom advertised) means through which Silicon Valley improves its online products. Using A/B, new ideas can be essentially focus-group tested in real time: Without being told, a fraction of users are diverted to a slightly different version of a given web page and their behavior compared against the mass of users on the standard site. […]

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Notes from #MIT8: ‘Labor and Technologies of Surveillance’ – The Aesthetics of Objectivity and Computational Objectivity

On Saturday, May 4th I attended the ‘Labor and Technologies of Surveillance’ panel where Kelly Gates talked about ‘Professionalizing Police Media Work: Surveillance Video & the Forensic Sensibility.’ Gates, who has gone through an extensive training program in the field of video forensics as part of her research, discussed how raw video is not evidence despite video’s aesthetics of objectivity. The imagery of video and audiovisual material are perceived as evidence but instead they are pointing to an indexality which is produced through the media production and in the process of post-production. Gates argues that “the status of video evidence as an index of real events—a sign or representation that offers a direct, empirical connection to material reality—is the result of an intentional process of production” (2013).1 Temporal indexicality, where a timestamp in the video seems to point the moment in which it happened, is perceived as “objectivity” but Gates gives two reasons why a timestamp on a video cannot be considered objective evidence in court: First, the recorded surveillance video material may come from old VCRs and the time settings of the device may not be accurate.2 Second, you can use a time-code plugin to insert the timestamp afterwards. Gates introduces the notion of “computational objectivity” […]

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Notes from #MIT8: ‘Art that Remembers and Forgets’ – Artistic Interventions

On Saturday, May 4th I attended the ‘Art that Remembers and Forgets’ panel where Raivo Kelomees talked about Privacy Experiments in Public and Artistic Space. Kelomees discussed two projects by Estonian artist Timo Toots: “Hall of Fame” (2009) and “Memopol” (2011). Both projects are a critique on how much information is publicly available from the Estonian chip-enabled identity card and publicly accessible databases such as governmental databases and search engines.   “Hall of Fame” (2009) The Hall of Fame is an installation that calculates a user’s artistic potential based on their publicly available identity information. People can participate by inserting their ID-card which is used as a starting point to gather information about the visitor from governmental databases and Google results: The installation turns the visitor into a calculated subject where the algorithm for determining the artistic potential is as follows: ARTIST = LUCK + FAME + DEATH LUCK is calculated from data the visitor has no disposal of. FAME is calculated from Google hits. DEATH is calculated from the person’s average life expectancy. A dead artist is the best artist.  Artist Timo Toots wants to bring to attention the data that can be read from the Estonian ID-card and how it can be used to gather even more publicly […]

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Notes from #MIT8: ‘Social Media Platforms between Private, Public and Commercial Space’ – Curation by Algorithm

On Friday, May 3rd I attended the ‘Social Media Platforms between Private, Public and Commercial Space’ panel where Tarleton Gillespie talked about Curation by Algorithm. Based on his chapter ‘The Relevance of Algorithms’ [pdf] in the forthcoming book Media Technologies Gillespie posed a few questions: 1. What do these algorithms do? Algorithms are part of the broader ‘content moderation’ picture where devices, search engines and algorithms help us sift through an enormous amount of content, for example by implementing recommendation algorithms. They also help present a carefully managed experience for first users by constructing a welcoming environment filled with (introduction) content or by guiding users to navigate them through the interface. 2. How are these algorithms understood? Algorithms are often discussed in terms of filtering or censoring content, as put forward in The Filter Bubble, but to what extent do algorithms act on or are entangled in practices of censorship by other means? Gillespie shows the example of Apple’s voice search Siri which couldn’t find any abortion clinics when searching for them. While Apple quickly responded that this was a ‘glitch’ and not an intentional omission it caused a ‘Siri is pro-life’ controversy. However, what actually happened is that Siri is a voice interface on top of search engines and […]

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Notes from #MIT8: ‘The Internet as Archive’ panel – Censorship by Algorithm

On Friday, May 3, I presented my paper Exploring the Boundaries of a Website: Using the Internet Archive to Study Historical Web Ecologies in ‘The Internet as Archive’ panel at MIT8. Co-panelist Chris Peterson talked about user-generated censorship as a form of censorship by algorithm. He gave a few examples of this type of censorship: First, the example of Facebook users flagging J30Strike.org links which led to Facebook blocking all links to J30Strike.org and subsequently blocking links from websites linking to J30Strike.org. Second, the example of the Digg Patriots group which down votes all liberal articles to game the system into displaying more conservative articles on the Digg frontage. This type of user-generated censorship by ‘playing’ the algorithm that organizes content is related to Taina Bucher’s work on the threat of algorithmic invisibility on Facebook where she argues that the Facebook algorithm is designed in such a way that constant interaction with friends and the platform is needed in order to be visible to your friends in their NewsFeed. The algorithm does not only play an important role in the organization of content and friends but also in the (in)visibility of content and friends. Whereas on Facebook users may optimize their behavior/interactions […]

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MIT8 Talk: Exploring the Boundaries of a Website. Using the Internet Archive to Study Historical Web Ecologies

Slides and notes from my conference presentation “Exploring the Boundaries of a Website. Using the Internet Archive to Study Historical Web Ecologies” at MiT8: public media, private media. May 3-5, 2013 at MIT, Cambridge, MA. 1. I’m Anne, a PhD candidate and lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. I am part of a research group called the Digital Methods Initiative which is dedicated to developing digital methods and tools to analyze and map web data. In this paper I want to, first, explore the boundaries of a website and propose to reconceptualize the website as an ecology, and second, to put the Internet Archive to new uses by proposing a new method to reconstruct historical web ecologies using Internet Archive data. 2. What are the boundaries of a website? Where does a website begin and end? With the shift towards the web as platform, or Web 2.0, the boundaries of a website become become difficult to establish and delineate. In the early days of the web, often referred to as Web 1.0 or the ‘Web-as-information- source’, websites were created by webmasters and were fairly self-contained units as most content was stored on the same server […]

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