Jolen Martinez @ USL

“Forged as Info: Cybernetics, Machine Learning, and an ‘Informational Form of Life’”

Jolen Martinez | PhD Student, Department of Anthropology

Discussant: Lily Ye | Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences

Wednesday, April 6, 4:30pm – 6:00pm CST

Location: Haskell 101 and Zoom

To receive a copy of the pre-circulated paper or for the zoom link, please email 

Paper Abstract: In this paper, I interrogate the concept of “information” for its epistemic extractivism and dominating objectivity in contemporary data science by undertaking a digital ethnographic analysis of the Summer Institute for Computational Social Science (SICSS) in Chicago, and a subsequent machine learning project I participated in. From my participation in these data science spaces, I trace a genealogy of the concept of information from cybernetic epistemologies to its presupposed datafiability of the world and examine how contemporary machine learning processes reproduce violent informational discourses through their algorithmic transformations of data via processes like vectorization and diagramming. I contend that these informational discourses, and the machine learners (both human and algorithmic) that reproduce them, construct an image of the world as composed of ubiquitously extractable data, excluding race and settler colonialism from their image. Ultimately, I argue for “information” to be examined archaeologically, as a dominating series of discourses that have staked out an already-existent reality, a lens through which most types of machine learners see and forge the world. To confront this “informational form of life”, I suggest an effort at replacing this dominant image of extractable information with one of vibrancy and radiance.

*This convening is open to all invitees regardless of vaccination status and, because of ongoing health risks to the unvaccinated, those who are unvaccinated are expected to adopt the risk mitigation measures advised by public health officials (masking and social distancing, etc.). Public convening may not be safe for all and carries a risk for contracting COVID-19, particularly for those unvaccinated. Participants will not know the vaccination status of others, including venue staff, and should follow appropriate risk mitigation measures.

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