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Humanist Studies & the Digital Age
Number of Followers: 9  

  This is an Open Access Journal Open Access journal
ISSN (Print) 2158-3846 - ISSN (Online) 2158-3846
Published by U of Oregon Homepage  [2 journals]
  • The Blind Spot of the Future

    • Authors: Massimo Lollini
      Abstract: When I proposed having the future at the center of this issue, which marks the 10th anniversary of Humanist Studies & The Digital Age, I was aware of the complexity of this controversial topic. The possibility of magnifiche sorti e progressive — a “splendid and progressive destiny” — made possible by human technology inspires hope in some and critique in others. The expression comes from one of Leopardi’s last poems, Ginestra o il fiore del deserto (Broom, or the flower of the desert), where he uses it ironically to suggest the powerlessnesss of humanity in the face of natural disasters. The poet argues with all those who praise the human condition and progress acritically. He condemns their hubris and bitterly invites them to visit the arid slopes of Vesuvius, reduced to a desert by the volcano’s eruption.
      PubDate: 2022-05-20
      DOI: 10.5399/uo/hsda/7.1.1
      Issue No: Vol. 7, No. 1 (2022)
  • Education, Technology, and Humans: An Interview with Jeffrey Schnapp

    • Authors: Jeffrey Schnapp, Massimo Lollini, Arthur Farley
      Abstract: The interview reconstructs Jeffrey Schnapp's brilliant career from his origins as a scholar of Dante and the Middle Ages to his current multiple interdisciplinary interests. Among other things, Schnapp deals with knowledge design, media history and theory, history of the book, the future of archives, museums, and libraries. The main themes of the interview concern the relationships between technology and pedagogy, the future of reading, and artificial intelligence.
      PubDate: 2022-05-20
      DOI: 10.5399/uo/hsda/7.1.2
      Issue No: Vol. 7, No. 1 (2022)
  • Time of the End' More-Than-Human Humanism and Artificial Intelligence

    • Authors: Massimo Lollini
      Abstract: The first part (“Is there a future'”), discusses the idea of the future in the context of Carl Schmitt’s vision for the spatial revolutions of modernity, and then the idea of Anthropocene, as a synonym for an environmental crisis endangering the very survival of humankind. From this point of view, the conquest of space and the colonization of Mars at the center of futuristic and technocratic visions appear to be an attempt to escape from human responsibilities on Earth. The second part (“AI and other hyperobjects”) discusses the extent of intellectual hubris expressed in computation, AI (Garvin Minsky e Ray Kurzweil), and the philosophy of computing and information (Eric Fredkin), involved in the elaboration of new theoretical assessments on the ultimate nature of reality. Their vision is then contrasted and made to interact with that of philosopher Timothy Morton. He has taken the perspective of global warming and the possibility of ecological catastrophe seriously, avoiding all the futuristic enthusiasms and instead emphasizing the radical nature of the transformations that humans experience in the present. In this perspective, AI becomes one of the “hyperobjects,” like the Internet or climate change, in which humans are immersed. Morton’s hyperobjects delineate an uncanny view of the future; this uncanniness is not related to the supernatural but to the environment. The third section (“More-than-human-humanism”) further reflects on the “uncanniness” that human perceive in the encounters with the manifestations of hyperobjects. It also seeks to understand the human position in the face of the radical technological transformations induced by cybernetics and AI. This section discusses Anti-humanism, Transhumanism, and Posthumanism within the broader category of more-than-human thought, which seems to be a more appropriate term to clarify the possible misunderstandings induced by the word “posthuman” and “transhuman.” The central question is not to empower (Transhumanism) or disempower (Posthumanism) humans, but to see them in relation to what is not human, including other animals, the environment, and the machine. The analysis considers the works of Cary Wolfe, Jane Bennet, Bryant Levi, among others, and introduces ethical debates on cyborgs, robots, and Autonomous weapons systems (AWS). The fourth section (“Ethical Perspectives”) continues this inquiry, concentrating on the non-standard ethical theories of Luciano Floridi (Computer and Information Ethics) and David Gunkel (The question of the Machine). It examines the opportunity and feasibility of including in the discussion on the ethics of our time - characterized by the pervasiveness of AI - the notions of consciousness as theorized by Emmanuel Levinas’s Humanism of the Other and Paul Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another. Finally, the last section (“The time of the end'”) reflects on how the hyperobject, Anthropocene, re-establishes a sense of limits in human history and confirms the special responsibility of human beings, and supports the need for a more-than-human-humanism. The latter, in other words, means intertwining ourselves with a unique ecosystem which cannot be overlooked and which restores meaning to our relationship with the past, present, and future. The awareness of the current challenges of technology can and must express itself in different forms of resistance to the adverse effects of AI in our lives. The ethical approach based on the persisting role of human consciousness is essential, but it must be coupled with human decision-making and political action.
      PubDate: 2022-05-20
      DOI: 10.5399/uo/hsda/7.1.3
      Issue No: Vol. 7, No. 1 (2022)
  • After the Book, the Book' The Digital Writing Experiments of
           François Bon

    • Authors: Jeff Staiger
      Abstract: While most commentators believe that the traditional print book will not be replaced by digital media, there has been considerable conjecture as to the possible effects on the forms of the book of so pervasive a revolution as has been ushered in by the digital revolution. One of the most sustained and searching investigation of these effects has been conducted by the French writer, François Bon. In his theoretical writings on the subject gathered in the book, Après le livre, Bon makes a strong case for the dependency of literary forms on the “material conditions of their enunciation.” Extrapolating from historical examples, he suggests that the book will accordingly undergo major, if yet unforeseen, transformations, while also arguing that it is urgent for writers to experiment with the possibilities generated by the material conditions brought about by the digital revolution, lest the field of possibilities be constrained by the commercial interests of the large technology companies. True to his sense of urgency, Bon himself has engaged in a number of experiments with the form of the book in the digital environment, most notably in his “novel” Tumulte, which consists of daily blog posts mixing fiction, memoir, criticism and other genres, and in a series of digital remediations of his early novel, Limite. While Bon’s experiments raise profound questions about the concept of the book, it is less certain whether they represent viable avenues for the book’s development, since their main appeal would arguably seem to be for scholars and theoreticians. With his concern with forms of organization and delivery, and ontological complexities arising from the multiple versions of the same or nearly the same text in a digital environment, Bon’s experiments seem necessarily to scant the power of concentrated prose that has been the principle means whereby books have conveyed thought and sustained intellectual culture.
      PubDate: 2022-05-20
      DOI: 10.5399/uo/hsda/7.1.4
      Issue No: Vol. 7, No. 1 (2022)
  • Unknown Future, Repeated Present: A Narrative-Centered Analysis of
           Long-Term AI Discourse

    • Authors: Micaela Simeone
      Abstract: Recent narratives and debates surrounding long-term AI concerns—the prospect of artificial general intelligence in particular—are fraught with hidden assumptions, priorities, and values. This paper employs a humanistic, narrative-centered approach to analyze the works of two vocal, and opposing, thinkers in the field—Luciano Floridi and Nick Bostrom—to ask how the representational, descriptive differences in their works reveal the high stakes of narrative choices for how we form ideas about humanity, urgency, risk, harm, and possibility in relation to AI. This paper closely reads Floridi and Bostrom using different representational models and historical narratives from works in the environmental humanities, literary theory, bioethics, and the history of technology to uncover the imaginative terrain of recent long-term AI discourse and reveal the complexity and limitations of the messaging underlying the works of different authors.
      PubDate: 2022-05-20
      DOI: 10.5399/uo/hsda/7.1.5
      Issue No: Vol. 7, No. 1 (2022)
  • Poetry at the first steps of Artificial Intelligence

    • Authors: Christina Linardaki
      Abstract: This paper is about Artificial Intelligence (AI) attempts at writing poetry, usually referred to with the term “poetry generation”. Poetry generation started out from Digital Humanities, which developed out of humanities computing; nowadays, however, it is part of Computational Creativity, a field that tackles several areas of art and science. In the paper it is examined, first, why poetry was chosen among other literary genres as a field for experimentation. Mention is made to the characteristics of poetry (namely arbitrariness and absurdity) that make it fertile ground for such endeavors and also to various text- and reader-centered literary approaches that favored experimentation even by human poets. Then, a rough historic look at poetry generation is attempted, followed by a review of the methods employed, either for fun or as academic projects, along Lamb et al.’s (2017) taxonomy which distinguishes between mere poetry generation and result enhancement. Another taxonomy by Gonçalo Oliveira (2017), dividing between form and content issues in poetry generation, is also briefly presented. The results of poetry generators are evaluated as generally poor and the reasons for this failure are examined: inability of computers to understand any word as a sign with a signified, lack of general intelligence, process- (rather than output-) driven attempts, etc. Then, computer-like results from a number of human poetic movements are also presented as a juxtaposition: DADA, stream of consciousness, OuLiPo, LangPo, Flarf, blackout/erasure poetry. The equivalence between (i) human poets that are concerned more with experimentation more than with good results and (ii) computer scientists who are process-driven leads to a discussion of the characteristics of humanness, of the possibility of granting future AI personhood and of the need to see our world in terms of a new, more refined ontology.
      PubDate: 2022-05-20
      DOI: 10.5399/uo/hsda/7.1.6
      Issue No: Vol. 7, No. 1 (2022)
  • Two Projects from the metaLAB (at) Harvard

    • Authors: Jeffrey Schnapp
      Abstract: The presentation of these two projects the metaLAB (at) Harvard complements Jeffrey Schnapp's interview published in the section Perspectives of this issue of Humanist Studies and the Digital Age. The first project, A Flitting Atlas of the Human Gaze, performs an art historical experiment. The second project, Their Names, is an online Denkmal or monument that visualizes the names of 28,000+ fatal encounters with American police dating from the year 2000 up until the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
      PubDate: 2022-05-20
      DOI: 10.5399/uo/hsda/7.1.7
      Issue No: Vol. 7, No. 1 (2022)
  • Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should: On Knowing and Protecting
           Data Produced by the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society

    • Authors: Jack Maness, Kim Pham
      Abstract: A recent project at the University of Denver Libraries used handwritten text recognition (HTR) software to create transcriptions of records from the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society (JCRS), a tuberculosis sanatorium located in Denver, Colorado from 1904 to 1954. Among a great many other potential uses, these type- and hand-written records give insight into the human experience of disease and epidemic, its treatment, its effect on cultures, and of Jewish immigration to and early life in the American West. Our intent is to provide these transcripts as data so the text may be computationally analyzed, pursuant to a larger effort in developing capacity in services and infrastructure to support digital humanities as a library, and to contribute to the emerging HTR ecosystem in archival work. Just because we can, however, doesn’t always mean we should: the realities of publishing large datasets online that contain medical and personal histories of potentially vulnerable people and communities introduce serious ethical considerations. This paper both underscores the value of HTR and frames ethical considerations related to protecting data derived from it. It suggests a terms-of-use intervention perhaps valuable to similar projects, one that balances meeting the research needs of digital scholars with the care and respect of persons, their communities and inheritors, who lives produced the very data now valuable to those researchers.
      PubDate: 2022-05-20
      DOI: 10.5399/uo/hsda/7.1.8
      Issue No: Vol. 7, No. 1 (2022)
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