Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research

The Importance of Science Communication Research and of Science Studies for the Region – Opening of the RRC in Dortmund

PHILLIP H. ROTH

How can science communication be practiced under post-truth conditions? And what role do the humanities and social sciences play in this context? The Rhine Ruhr Center for Science Communication Research (RRC) is devoted to answering these and other pressing questions. The center is funded by a generous grant from the Volkswagen Foundation and headed by Julika Griem of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI), David Kaldewey of the Forum Internationale Wissenschaft (FIW) at the University of Bonn, Holger Wormer of the TU Dortmund, Oliver Ruf of the University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhine-Sieg as well as Volker Stollorz of the Science Media Center in Cologne and Franco Zotta of the German Science Journalists’ Association.

The RRC is devoted to science communication with a special focus on the humanities and social sciences. As such, it addresses highly important questions about how insights from the reflexive social and cultural research on science might be communicated. Natural scientists usually attract attention via stimulating images of ground-breaking discoveries. Not so the reflexive sciences on science. Thus, there are elementary questions that need to be answered about the communicability of insights from social and cultural research on science. Next to this, RRC aims to, over the course of its initial five-year funding, bring its findings closer to practicing journalists as well as to students in interdisciplinary workshops and conferences. On June 2, 2022, the RRC officially opened with a celebratory inauguration at the Erich-Brost-Institute at TU Dortmund. Together with our director Stefan Böschen I ventured to Dortmund to attend the event, at which we met with many familiar faces from science studies and journalism.

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Phillip H. Roth

Phillip is postdoc and the events coordinator at c:o/re. Among other topics, his research is dedicated to questions of identity work in biomedical disciplines, to the meaning of medicine and the role of patient advocacy on the internet as well as to social and cultural conditions of scientific modeling. In a current project, he is trying to develop a sociology of pandemics for the digital age that draws on communication theories of virality and contagion.

After welcoming words by Holger Wormer, the inauguration consisted of a brief overview of the RRC’s three main research projects, given by Julika Griem, as well as three panel discussions, each moderated by one of the RRC’s heads. The panels were devoted to core problem areas of the RRC, making up most the of the formal part of the evening. In the first, moderated by Oliver Ruf, Julia Schubert (University of Speyer) discussed with local students about “Science Communication in Times of Multiple Facts”. One of the core take-aways of this insightful discussion was that the students desired the humanities and social sciences to be more present in public science communication. They stressed particularly that they promised themselves that these fields would be better equipped than natural or engineering sciences to deal with the problems of post-truth in current debates. The second panel, moderated by David Kaldewey, consisted of a dialogue between science journalist Birgit Herden (Die Welt) and the sociologist of science and technology Cornelius Schubert (TU Dortmund) about “Images and Imaginations of Science”. They reflected on how journalism and sociology address different audiences. Variety of audiences necessarily also leads to conflicts between the trajectories of the two professions. While journalism needs to “close” scientific debates to make the topic appealing to its readership, [1]Peter Conrad (1999). Use of Expertise: Sources, Quotes, and Voice in the Reporting of Genetic News. Public Understanding of Science 8 (4): 285–302. https://doi.org/10.1088/0963-6625/8/4/302 a key ambition of science studies, sociology of science or STS is to “open up” the infamous black box of science.[2]Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker (1984). The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might benefit each other. In Social Studies … Continue reading This is aligned with our effort to “unbox science” here at c:o/re. This ultimately also thwarts any settlement on “the facts”, making science a volatile and (politically) malleable business in sociologists’ eyes, something that is particularly critical under post-truth conditions. However, Schubert also recalls the common heritage of journalism and sociology in the reportages that founded the early-twentieth century Chicago School,[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_school_(sociology) offering hope that each in their own way can contribute to successfully communicating the complexities of scientific research and its findings to the public. In a third session, panellists Eva Weber-Guskar (University of Bochum) and Samir Sellami asked about “A Quality Circle for the Humanities and Social Sciences?” Both are initiators of online platforms – PhilPublica and Soziopolis, respectively – that are devoted to bringing scholarly content to a wide readership. Together with the journalist Volker Stollorz, who moderated the panel, they reminisced whether and how these open formats might provide criteria for the successful communication of scientific content in the digital world. During the informal part of the event – drinks and snacks in the courtyard of the Erich-Brost-Institue while the sun was shining, and the temperatures were warm – we were able to catch up with friends and colleagues after an almost two-year hiatus from in-person events.

Holger Wormer speaking to guests at the opening of the RRC (photo credits: RRC/Andreas Siess)

A crucial feature of the RRC is that it considers science communication not only from a communication research perspective, but also from a cultural studies (KWI Essen) as well science studies & STS perspective (FIW Bonn). For this reason, we at c:o/re look forward to partnering with the RRC on questions at the intersection of science studies and science communication research. We hope that this partnership will help to unravel what science communication entails in the current mediascape and, also, what we can learn from it practically for communication at c:o/re and elsewhere. Given the grand challenges we face today,[4]David Kaldewey (2018). The Grand Challenges Discourse: Transforming Identiy Wlrk in Science and Science Policy. In Minerva 56: 161-182. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-017-9332-2. such as climate change, the digitalization of research practices, energy and mobility transformations, resource scarcity, war and poverty, we also wish that it will strengthen the role of science studies scholarship in the Aachen-Rhine-Ruhr region and in Germany more generally, providing a clearer picture of the role that science can play in facing these challenges.

A first joint conference between the RRC and c:o/re is already in the making and is set to take place in 2023. We will keep you posted as things develop and also about further collaborations between the partners at the RRC and c:o/re. Please also see our events section for infos on further upcoming workshops, lectures and conferences. For now, all that remains is for us to wish our friends at the RRC all the best for their projects. We look forward to the friendly and frequent exchanges about science studies and communication research – cheers!


Proposed citation: Phillip Roth. 2022. The Importance of Science Communication Research and of Science Studies for the Region – Opening of the RRC in Dortmund. https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/06/17/3613/3613/.

References

References
1Peter Conrad (1999). Use of Expertise: Sources, Quotes, and Voice in the Reporting of Genetic News. Public Understanding of Science 8 (4): 285–302. https://doi.org/10.1088/0963-6625/8/4/302
2Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker (1984). The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might benefit each other. In Social Studies of Science 14 (3): 399-441. You can read the paper here.
3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_school_(sociology)
4David Kaldewey (2018). The Grand Challenges Discourse: Transforming Identiy Wlrk in Science and Science Policy. In Minerva 56: 161-182. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-017-9332-2.

New Publication in Nature Computational Science: “Software is Ubiquitous Yet Overlooked”

A group of fourteen scientists, most of whom work or have worked at the KHK c:o/re, have published an article entitled “Software is ubiquitous yet overlooked” in Nature Computational Science about the lack of attention paid to software.

Software is ubiquitous in science, and yet it is overlooked everywhere. At a time when the scientific world (and beyond) is talking about code, algorithms or artificial intelligence, software appears in the discourse as just another semantic quibble. But many facets of software, such as questions about user licenses or file formats, are not part of the definition of code or algorithm.

Interdisciplinarity as the key to understanding

In their paper, the authors argue for bringing together perspectives on software from different academic (e.g. computational sciences, humanities and social sciences) and professional (e.g. development, use, maintenance, etc.) fields to uncover the tensions between the different meanings of software. Case studies in different scientific fields, including older software developments, will help to improve the understanding of software.

A simple example: Excel autocorrection

An example from bioinformatics: In the supplementary materials of bioinformatics publications, the preferred format for long gene lists surprisingly is the Microsoft .xls format. However, Excel automatically converts the designation MARCH1 for the gene “Membrane Associated Ring-CH-type finger 1” into a date. This distorts the listed data. A publication from 2021 reminds us that the problem was recognized (and published) as early as 2004, but never disappeared. A fifth of publications dealing with gene lists contain these errors.

Researchers could use tabulated plain text (.csv files), but they don’t because they are used to spreadsheets. However, these are not designed for this type of processing of large amounts of data. Another reason is that many scientific practices employ the widespread use of the Microsoft software suite. It took twenty years for the researchers to finally rename the genes in question. Only recently has Microsoft Excel, a thirty-year-old software package, been able to de-automate the conversion of a character string into a date.

Research on practices and transformations in science and technology

The authors of the article look at the topic of software in scientific research from the perspectives of computational science, history, philosophy of science, semiotics, science and technology studies (STS) and media studies. They work at various universities around the world. Most of them were fellows at the KHK c:o/re, where the idea for the joint publication was born during the workshop “Engineering Practices Workshop: New Horizons in the Social Study of Science and Software“.

c:o/re Software working group in November 2022

Towards Technological Solutions to Climate Action from Varieties of Science: Insights from the Narrative of floods in Kenya and Germany

FREDRICK OGENGA

INTRODUCTION

Nairobi has been experiencing extreme weather patterns in line with warnings from the weatherman in the past few months. This trend, which is seemingly an annual trend, begun sometime last year with devastating droughts that affected the entire country with arid and semi-arid parts of the country worst hit. The latter created food shortages and insecurity of biblical proportions in general, to the extent that politicians, led be the President, William Ruto (a champion of climate action), were calling for intercession through national prayers. The droughts led to death of vulnerable women and children and contributed to the loss of livestock and crops, negatively affecting Kenya’s economy through consequent high food prices. Then fast forward to this year (2024) another extreme pattern was witnessed this time characterized by heavy and long rainfalls that contributed to floods and mudslides that killed people in cities and villages[1]. It may have appeared like a Kenyan problem, but the problem was witnessed in other parts of the world in places like Dubai and most recently, Germany.

Kenya Red Cross members hold on to a safety rope as they wade through flood waters to assess and rescue residents trapped in their homes marooned after a seasonal river burst its banks following heavy rainfall in Kitengela municipality of Kajiado County, near Nairobi, Kenya May 1, 2024; photo: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Of course, [2]these things often appear sensationally on media platforms and for the first time, similar media scenes of animals and property being swept away by floods in Kenya, Germany and Dubai were witnessed both in developed and developing economies. Is climate not the great equalizer? Does this then beg the question of what humanity can borrow from this, seemingly, similar patterns of events at least as represented through news media outlets? What kind of agency do this narrative incite and what does it tell us about our culture of doing things and our own ingenuity? Are there possibilities of positive synergy across cultures, geographical spaces and tech/media platforms to find solutions for the future of humanity in a world ravaged by climate induced disasters?

Fredrick Ogenga

Fredrick Ogenga is an Associate Professor of Media and Security Studies at Rongo University and the Founding Director, Center for Media, Democracy, Peace & Security. He also serves as the CEO, The Peacemaker Corps Foundation Kenya. Ogenga is a Letsema Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation and Senior Non-resident Research Fellow, Institute for Global African Affairs, at the University of Johannesburg and the West Indies respectively. He is also an Associate Researcher Africa Studies Center, University of Basel, and Senior Research Associate, Swisspeace. Ogenga is a member of International Panel on the Information Environment’s (IPIE) Scientific Panel on Information Integrity on Climate Science and Chair of IPIE’s AI and Peacebuilding Scientific Panel. He is also a former Sothern Voices Network for Peacebuilding Scholar at the Wilson Center, Washington D.C and Africa Peacebuilding Network fellow. Ogenga is a Co-founder of the Varieties of Science Network (VOSN) and will be Senior Fellow at the KHK c:o/re RWTH Aachen University in 2025.

VARIETIES OF SCIENCE NETWORK

These are the tough questions we are now facing and to address them, a new view on the different forms of how problem-oriented research is performed seems to be decisive. Therefore, the idea towards a Varieties of Science Network at (VOSN) was born in Basel, Switzerland by Prof. Stefan Böschen, the Director the Käte Hamburger Kolleg Cultures of Research, RWTH Aachen University, Germany, and Prof. Fredrick Ogenga, The Director of the Center for Media, Democracy, Peace and Security, Rongo University, and The CEO of the Peacemaker Corps Foundation Kenya that seeks to examine the challenges faced globally, from environmental, political, economic, social to cultural challenges. Subsequently, the most prominent ones being climate change, financial inequalities, political and social upheavals, and pandemics. In this context, humanity continues to display a great level of ingenuity and resilience and have innovated ways of coping and adapting for self-preservation but not without challenges. Nevertheless, what has been lacking is a higher level of cooperation across cultures and geographical spaces to take advantage of the potential benefits of crosspollinating local knowledge and expertise both at the local and global level as demonstrated by the recent floods witnessed from Nairobi to Dubai and the West of Germany, Aachen.

The latter is a reminder to humanity that we are confronted with similar challenges in a seemingly technologically connected world that appear to challenge the common assumption, evidenced in political conversations globally, that have often defined the boundaries between the global North and South in epistemic frameworks where the latter have often plaid catch up. Central to this conversation has been the idea of coloniality, and within that, decoloniality and the emergence of global communication technologies which have been designed and exploited to maintain and sustain unequal power modalities[3].

The latter positionality has sustained a global image of Africa on global media platforms as a continent ravaged by disease and disaster (floods, droughts and pandemics) as seen in recent floods in Kenya inspired by coloniality of technology and knowledge, and within that, the centrality of decoloniality vis-à-vis the emergence of global communication systems. Technological systems that have fallen short of sustaining a colonial discourse amidst changing global environment due to climate change must be resisted at all costs. And so, climate change has disrupted the ideological lenses of Western journalistic frames when it comes to the positive image of the West juxtaposed against that of Africa.

Consequently, news of floods are given equal treatment in Germany as they would otherwise not in comparison to news in ecologies in the global South such as Kenya – The usual sensational narrative of disaster demonstrated by cows and other valuables being swept by ravaging floods is a tired African narrative and it is therefore a paradox to confront such images in emerging narratives of floods in Germany – Is this then not a warning sign and a compelling reason for humanity to forge a united front? (the we are in this together or Harambee (togetherness) spirit of pan-African philosophical epistemic underpinning?)

From this background, the Varieties of Science Network (VOSN) seeks to tap from ‘glocal’ knowledge reservoir (local epistemic framework) in a bid to bring the epistemic gaps in knowledge production and dissemination in climate science and other socio-economic, political and cultural challenges using research and technology to seek a more coordinated approach to finding solutions to common scientific questions and challenges facing mankind today. The network is inspired by what is regarded as one of the central topics of the KHK RWTH Aachen, namely: Varieties of Science. Doing so, this initiative seeks to uncover the diverse cultural-institutional conditions of epistemic freedom and intellectual democracy across geographical and cultural spaces and multiple disciplines.

The idea is to unravel the productive parts of the global North -South conversations to overcome colonial burdens etc. Due to the emerging common threats, for example, brought about by climate change as argued, these traditional global North South conversations, that have often centered on coloniality of power dynamics as witnessed in news representation of disasters, is certainly not going to be the same in future and are becoming more and more unsustainable. Climate change will create, and is beginning to shape, a new world living space for mankind and therefore, we need to find ways to cooperate with each other. So, it’s about knowing and creating a new collective order, a new human rights agenda and creating an economic order that is fair enough for all people. VOSN intends to bring together people and topics that would like to contribute to this network to that end.

It is driven by better engagement between people and the different conditions between ecologies for better understanding in different worlds to form collaboration to, for example, balance in terms of Co2 and energy transitions globally. It also seeks to find better ways of understanding and guard-railing energy transitions and other forms of transitions, be it political, economic, and socio-cultural in different ecologies by examining problem centered cases such as climate change and many other topics and issues in different fields and countries that would animate varieties of science for members to learn from each other. It would seek to understand how to synergize technologically driven emergency responses to natural disasters such as drought, famine, floods and pandemics as recently witnessed in different geographical spaces across cultures. For example, in the question of climate, which is the inaugural theme for VOSN, what are the agencies and emerging different ways of knowing or gnosis and responding? What are the epistemic questions across cultures? and which kind of knowledge is seen as important and prioritized?

APPROACH

The agenda will begin with the more prominent environmental challenge brought about by climate change as both the entry point to the VOSN network and as a point of departure in establishing how a more united approach to difficult scientific questions that act as threat to the self-preservation of mankind (Ubuntu/ humanity) can be approached and co-designed in a manner that respects local cultures (Cultures of Research) with several cross-cutting public problems or themes.

CLIMATE MITIGATION AND ADAPTATION

As a flagship thematic focus, VOSN will focus on the intersection between technology, climate, and peacebuilding across cultures as an entry point to our global collaboration and research agenda which is in line with Käte Hamburger Kolleg Cultures of Research focal area of climate change. This will entail a technical, systematic and meta-analysis of the use of technology in climate mitigation across different ecologies and local Action Research in different ecologies in the global North and South involving local communities to inspire practical interventions by examining how they are adapting to climate change challenges and opportunities, and the kind of resources at their disposal (technological or otherwise)[4]. This evidence would be able to reveal human ingenuity and how tech innovations could be a game-changer in climate adaptation, conflict resilience and peacebuilding for the self-preservation of humanity going forward.

The varieties of science research agenda will also look at how the devastating effects of climate change are inciting new policy interventions that are in turn attracting mitigation efforts (the political economy of interventions) from different actors (local and international, public, and private), particularly carbon credit programs, that are not gender and conflict sensitive[5]. Consequently, how these mitigating efforts are implying on local communities in terms of livelihood, how they are exacerbating conflict pressure points and therein the role of digital technologies/tools in empowering communities into action for climate mitigation and adaptation through alternative livelihoods such as tree planting (greening), for conflict resilience and peacebuilding. The evidence will therefore be used to contribute to the defense of climate science information as opposed to climate misinformation and disinformation on social media spaces and help influence policy change around climate financing and community sensitive carbon credit investments in different ecologies such as Kenya and Germany going forward.


[1] Naidoo, D. and Gulati, M. 2022. Understanding Africa’s Climate and Human Security Risks. Policy Brief 170. October 2022. Institute for Security Studies; Tesfaye, B. 2022. Addressing Climate Security in  Fragile Contexts. Center for Strategic and International Studies, https://www.csis.org/analysis/addressing-climate-security-fragile-contexts.

[2] Morley, D. 2007. Media, Modernity and Technology- The Geography of the New. London: New York: Routledge.

[3] Freenberg, A. Democratic Rationalization: Technology, Power and Freedom. In Rober, C. and Dusek, V. (eds.) 2014. Philosophy of Technology –The Technological condition on Anthology 2nd Edition. Malden, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell; Godin, B., Gaglio, G. and Vinck, D. 2021. Handbook on Alternative Theories of Innovation. Cheltenham: Edward Elger Publishing.

[4] Yayboke, E., Nzuki, C. and Strouboulis, A. 2022. Going Green while Building Peace: Technology, Climate and Peacebuilding. Center for International and Strategic Studies. https://www.csis.org/analysis/going-green-while-building-peace-technology-climate-and-peacebuilding.

[5] Greenfield, P. 2023. The New Scramble for Africa: How a UAE Sheikh Quietly Made Carbon Deals for Forests Bigger than UK. The Guardian Thursday 10th November 2013.

On the promises of AI and listening data for music research

An image of the Textile Cone, a sea snail with a striking pattern on its shell

NIKITA BRAGUINSKI

As a c:o/re fellow, I had the uniquely advantageous opportunity to develop and test, in an environment dedicated to the study of science, my ideas about how AI and data can influence music research. Members of the Kolleg and its fellows, many of whom are philosophers of science, offered a very rich intellectual circle that inspired me to look at the datafication and technologization of future music research from many new angles. With its intensive and diverse program of talks, lectures, and conferences, the Kolleg also offered ideal opportunities for testing approaches in front of an attentive, thoughtful, critical and friendly audience. Below, I  present brief overviews of the main ideas that I discussed during three talks I gave at the Kolleg.

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Nikita Braguinski

Nikita Braguinski studies the implications of technology for musicology and music. In his current work, he aims to discuss challenges posed to human musical theory by recent advances in machine learning.

My first presentation, entitled “The Shifting Boundaries of Music-Related Research: Listening Logs, Non-Human-Readable Data, and AI”, took place on January 16, 2024 during an internal meeting of Kolleg fellows and members. I focused on the promises and problems of using data about music streaming behavior for musical research. Starting from the discussion of how changing technologies of sound reproduction enabled differing degrees of observing listener behavior, I discussed the current split between academic and industrial music research, the availability of data, the problems of current industry-provided metrics such as “danceability”, and the special opportunities offered by existing and future multimodal machine learning (like the systems that use the same internal encoding for both music and text). I also offered examples of descriptive statistics and visualizations made possible by the availability of data on listener behavior. These visualizations of large listening datasets, which I was able to create thanks to my access to the RWTH high performance computing cluster, included, among others, an illustration of how users of online streaming services tend to listen to new recordings on the day of their release, and an analysis of the likeliness of different age groups to listen to popular music from different decades (with users from the age group 60-69 having almost the opposite musical preferences of the age group 10-19).

Fig. 1: Users of online streaming services often listen to new recordings on the day of their release
(Own diagram. Vertical axis: number of plays. Dataset: LFM-2b, German audience)

Discussing my talk, c:o/re colleagues drew parallels to other academic disciplines such as digital sociology and research on pharmaceutical companies. The topic of addictiveness of online media that I touched upon was discussed in comparison to data-gathering practices in gambling, including the ethics of using such data for research. The political significance of music listening and its connection to emotions was also discussed in relation to the danger of biases in music recommender systems.

My second presentation, entitled “Imitations of Human Musical Creativity: Process or Product?”, took place during the conference “Politics of the Machines 2024. Lifelikeness and Beyond”, which c:o/re hosted. I focused on the question of what AI-based imitations of music actually model – the final product (such as the notation or the audio recording) or the processes that lead to the creation of this product.

In this presentation, I discussed:

1) The distinction between process and product of artistic creation, which, while especially important for discussions on the output of generative AI, currently receives little scholarly attention;

2) How several theories in the humanities (notably, formalism, psychoanalytic literary theory, and the line of AI skepticism connected to the so-called Chinese room argument) stress the importance of the process in artistic creation and cognition;

3) That current endeavors in generative AI, though impressive from the point of view of the product, do not attempt to imitate the processes of creation, dissemination, and reception of art, literature, or music, nor do they imitate historical, cultural, or economic environments in which these processes take place;

4) Finally, because the data on which generative AI systems operate carries traces of past processes, the product of these systems remains connected to the processes, even if no conscious effort is made by the creators of these systems to imitate the processes themselves.

An image of the Textile Cone, a sea snail with a striking pattern on its shell
Fig. 2: An image of the Textile Cone, a sea snail with a striking pattern on its shell. I used this picture to illustrate how a full process-based imitation of the shell’s pattern would need to include imitation of all the snail’s life processes, as well as of its living environment. (Image: “Conus textile 7” by Harry Rose. https://www.flickr.com/photos/macleaygrassman/9271210509. CC-BY: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

A conference participant commented that for commercial companies avoiding the imitation of all these processes is a deliberate strategy because their imitation has to be cheaper than the original process-based artifact.

My third presentation at the Kolleg, “Life-Like Artificial Music: Understanding the Impact of AI on Musical Thinking”, took place on June 5, 2024 as a lecture in the c:o/re Lifelikeness lecture series. Here, I addressed the likeliness (or unlikeliness) of major shifts in the musicological terminology to result from the academic use of AI . Starting with an overview of various competing paradigms of musical research, I drew attention to possible upcoming problems of justifying the validity of currently existing musicological terminology. The salient point here is that AI systems based on machine learning are capable of imitating historical musical styles without recourse to explicitly stated rules of musical theory, while humans need the rules to learn to imitate those styles. Moreover, the ability of machine learning systems to learn internal structures of music directly from audio (skipping the notation stage on which most of human music theory operates) has the potential to question the validity and usefulness of musical theory, as currently taught.

Having stated these potential problems, I turned to a current example, a research paper [1] in which notions of Western music theory were compared to the internal representations learned by an AI system from music examples. Using this paper as a starting point for my argument, I asked whether it could be possible in principle to also use such an approach to come up with new, maybe better, musicological terminology. I pointed to the problems of interpreting the structures learned by machine learning systems and of the likely incompatibility of such structures (even if successfully decoded) with the human cognitive apparatus. To illustrate this, I referred to the use, by beginner players of the game of Go, of moves made by AI systems. Casual players are normally discouraged from copying the moves of professional human players because they cannot fully understand these moves’ underlying logic and thus cannot effectively integrate them into their strategy.

In the following discussion, one participant drew attention to the fact that new technologies often lead to a change in what is seen as a valid research contribution, devaluing older types of research outcomes and creating new ones. Another participant argued that a constant process of terminological change takes place in disciplines at all times and independently of a possible influence of a new technology, such as machine learning.

Overall, my c:o/re fellowship offered, and continues to offer, an ideal opportunity to develop and discuss new ideas for my inquiry into the future uses and problems of AI and data in music research, which have resulted, in addition to the three presentations mentioned above, in talks given at the University of Bonn, Maastricht University, and at a music and AI conference at the University of Hong Kong.


[1] N. Cosme-Clifford, J. Symons, K. Kapoor and C. W. White, “Musicological Interpretability in Generative Transformers,” 4th International Symposium on the Internet of Sounds, Pisa, Italy, 2023

Theodore von Kármán Fellowship to Professor Chun-Shik Kim

We are delighted to welcome another RWTH Kármán-Fellow at the KHK c:o/re: Chun-Shik Kim, Professor at the Department of Energy Management and Director of the Institute for Energy Convergence Technology at Dongshin University in Naju (South Korea).

photo credits: Chun-Shik Kim

The application for this fellowship was jointly supported by Professor Thomas Gries (Chair of Textile Engineering), Professor Roger Häußling (Chair of Sociology of Technolgy and Organization) and KHK c:o/re Director Professor Stefan Böschen. The fellowship thus strengthens interdisciplinary cooperation in the field of engineering, sociology and artificial intelligence (AI).

The fellowship enables Chun-Shik Kim a short-term stay at the KHK c:o/re at RWTH Aachen University to work on his project “Applications and challenges of artificial intelligence technology in school and training: A comparative study between South Korea and Germany”. The different approaches and attitudes of the two countries offer a unique opportunity to examine in detail the various challenges and approaches to implementing AI in educational institutions. Chun-Shik Kim’s research aims not only to analyze existing differences and challenges, but also to develop solutions to optimize the use of AI worldwide to increase educational attainment and learning success.

To present the outcomes of his fellowship, Chun-Shik Kim will give a public university lecture on July 9, 2024, 5-6.30 pm, at KHK c:o/re, Theaterstr. 75. The lecture will be held in German.

RWTH Kármán-Fellowships are funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Ministry of Culture and Science of the German State of North Rhine Westphalia (MKW) under the Excellence Strategy of the Federal Government and the Länder.

Installations and Art at LOGOI and PACT – PoM Recap #4

It has been more than month since c:o/re hosted the PoM conference “Lifelikeness & beyond” . As this sizeable and, while still new, already renown conference produced many lively discussions in a creative interrogation of the dialog between life sciences and technology studies, we want to share our retrospective reflections on it through a series of focused posts.

Alongside the PoM main program of keynotes, talks, lectures and workshops, the conference was accompanied by art and installations displayed at the LOGOI Institute for Philosophy and Discourse in Aachen. Also part of the conference, the choreographic centre PACT Zollverein in Essen provided the program ‘life.like’ , which consisted of six artistic positions in the form of performance, installation, discourse and sound.

These contributions showed in various ways how philosophical, technical and bioscientific topics can be artistically thought and implemented. They enabled critical dialog and reflection on artistic methods and results between artists, scientists from different disciplines and the public.

If you would like to learn more about any of the contributions, take a look at the PoM program and life.like.


LOGOI


‘life.like’ at PACT Zollverein


Unless otherwise indicated, photos by Jana Hambitzer

Algorithms of Late-Capitalism: The Board Game – PoM Recap #3

It has been more than a month since the KHK c:o/re hosted the PoM conference “Lifelikeness & beyond”. As this sizeable and, while still new, already renown conference produced many lively discussions in a creative interrogation of the dialog between life sciences and technology studies, we want to share our retrospective reflections on it through a series of focused posts. In two interviews, the artists shared with us insights into their work and creative process. Here, we reflect on the board game Algorithms of Late Capitalism together with Karla Zavala Barreda and Adriaan Odendaal.

What can we learn from the contingency of the community of the living and the non-living? What insights on contingency may transpire from embedding life and non-life within each other? How are factuality and fiction mediated by the imagination in the pursuit for new forms of collective action and of creating collectivities?

Entrance of the Super C during PoM

Algorithms of Late-Capitalism: The Board Game
by Karla Zavala Barreda and Adriaan Odendaal

During the PoM conference, Karla Zavala Barreda and Adriaan Odendaal from the research & design studio internet teapot hosted a series of guided play-sessions of their new board game “Algorithms of Late-Capitalism”.

In 2021, they conducted a series of experimental workshops as part of the New New Fellowship that brought diverse groups of international participants together to co-design a board game. The purpose of this project was to use board game co-design as a medium through which participants can collectively explore questions around more pluralistic and desirable technological futures. Over the course of several workshop sessions, participants contributed ideas and reflections to the creation of the game, framed by concepts drawn from pluriversal ontological design, intersectional feminism, and digital materialism.

The Algorithms of Late-Capitalism products at PoM

In Algorithms of Late-Capitalism, players become members of a community of cyborgs, reigned over by the first Sentient Machine Cult. This cult has given rise to a formative new algocracy in which society is governed by the organizational logic of rigid data structures and opaque algorithms. The players-as-cyborgs are confronted with a rule-system that places them in a position of systematic exclusion and increasing marginality.
The board game affords different ways of playing: players can integrate themselves into this society by following the formal rules and competing against each other to conform to the logic of the Sentient Machine Cult’s algocracy; or they can subversively coordinate their efforts and attempt to change the system by introducing new rules and winning conditions. By discovering ways to play collaboratively instead of competitively, players are encouraged to explore alternative, convivial, caring, and inherently pluralistic technological futures – as well as possible pathways towards these futures.

Game cards

By playing the game, conference attendees were able to explore reflections, questions, and ideas encoded into the game fiction and mechanics by the different cohorts of game co-designers.

Play session during the PoM conference

How did the idea of developing the game come up?

Karla: We have been exploring the medium of board game design for a couple of years, both designing prototypes and playing them. On the other hand, we have also been hosting and co-creating zines, so when the New New Fellowship opportunity came up, we thought of it as a chance to merge game design with co-creation methodologies. We also believe that design can foster critical reflection and social transformation. So we wanted participants to think about the absurdities of the technology in our present and through this lens imagine better futures. As technology users we all have an expertise to share. We want to open the barriers to technology design, so that everyone can share their experiences and perspectives to help improve things. Through the board game design, we wanted to ask: What can be reimagined to make more inclusive and desirable technological futures?

What is the goal of the game?

Adriaan: The goal is to create an open space for people to contribute to and enrich the process of thinking about technological futures. The game is an exploration of how we can benefit from collaborative processes, instead of following the imperatives of market-driven competition. We want people to explore  these critical and conceptual points through low-barrier and playful mediums. Board games are also very social objects, they create social spaces where people can connect and start discussions. By playing, people engage with more inclusive imaginaries of better technological futures. When we think of digital technologies, for example AI, what probably comes to mind is widespread services such as ChatGPT. Big tech companies’ imaginaries dominate the discussions of what technology is and can be. But, through co-creating the board game we explored alternative imaginaries.

Karla: It’s important to empower the broader public to imagine what technology can be and understand that they should have a say in what technologies get deployed in their cities and societies at large. As a society we negotiate culturally how technology works, as such public participation should be fostered. This was the goal of the co-creation workshops that brought this game to life, to give non-technical public the tools to think of important questions around our increasingly digitized and mediatized societies.

What would be the ideal technological future for you?

Adriaan: There should be more diversity in technology. Smaller, weirder, experimental things. I would wish for a future where technology is curious and diverse and not dominated by a few companies that copy each other.

Karla: A future where  communities understand how technology works and have a say in the technologies that impact their lives. To me, especially understanding that technology is socially constructed is important, what we think as a community of certain technologies matter. Technology carries values and worldviews, there should be more variety and creative imaginaries around it.

How should things continue with your game?

Karla: We will soon publish it as a print to play version. Our aim is that the game can be used as means to open conversations about technology and its role in our social and intimate lives in diverse settings: from schools to university students and even policy making.


The board game is currently available as a free print-to-play version online. You can also follow Karla’s and Adriaan’s work on Instagram.

Would you like to gain further impressions of the PoM conference in Aachen? Then take a look at our interview with Chris Dupuis as well as our recap of the conference days and the accompanying program of art and performances.

Photos by Jana Hambitzer

Dead People Are Liking Things On Facebook – PoM Recap #2

It has been more than a month since the KHK c:o/re hosted the PoM conference “Lifelikeness & beyond”. As this sizeable and, while still new, already renown conference produced many lively discussions in a creative interrogation of the dialog between life sciences and technology studies, we want to share our retrospective reflections on it through a series of focused posts. In two interviews, the artists shared with us insights into their work and creative process. Here, we reflect on the performance Dead people are like things on Facebook in conversation with Chris Dupuis.

What can we learn from the contingency of the community of the living and the non-living? What insights on contingency may transpire from embedding life and non-life within each other? How are factuality and fiction mediated by the imagination in the pursuit for new forms of collective action and of creating collectivities?

Entrance of the Super C during PoM

Dead People Are Liking Things On Facebook
by Chris Dupuis

What happens to our online self after we die? How might this material be used by others, and to what effect? Does this material serve as a valid means of remembering people? Do we remember them as they were or as they wanted to be?

Chris Dupuis asked himself these questions as part of his interactive lecture performance. In this interview, he provides insights into the background to his work and how he deals with death in social media.

Could you please introduce yourself?

Chris: I’m a Canadian writer, curator, and performance maker, based in Brussels.

What is your performance about?

Chris: “Dead People Are Liking Things On Facebook” is a lecture performance where I scroll through the profiles of Facebook friends who have died, discuss how I knew them, and what meaning can be taken from their online afterlives. The show was catalyzed in 2016 when I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed that my friend Will had “liked” Coca-Cola. In one way, this wasn’t strange, as Will actually liked Coca-Cola in real life. Will was a well-known Toronto DJ and queer club promoter in the early 2000s. He was famously sober, but thought everyone needed at least one bad habit, and so at some point, he decided Coke would be his vice. At the same time, it was strange that he had “liked” it in 2016 since at that point he had been dead for six years. How was this possible? The show started with me searching for the answer to that question.

What do you want to show with your performance?

Chris: I think a lot of the experience is up to the audience to interpret. I’m not really trying to “show” anything or make any specific claims. It’s more about raising a series of questions about mortality, social media, and the construction of identity for us to consider together.

What do you want to happen to your online presence after your death?

Chris: Despite having toured this show for several years and being preoccupied with these questions the whole time, I haven’t actually made any decisions about it. But assuming I have an average lifespan, the Internet and human connectivity will probably look radically different than it does now, so it’s difficult for me to imagine what I’ll be concerned with then.

How do you think social media platforms will deal with this type of situation in the future?

Chris: When all of these social media platforms and tech companies were starting out, they weren’t considering where they would be in twenty years. They were thinking about surviving the next six months. As they’ve gradually come to control so much of our lives and our public discourse, I think that some of them (though not all of them) have genuine concerns with how to navigate the future with the power they wield. At the same time, there’s also a question of how many of these companies will be around in the future or whether they will be replaced by AI versions that allow us to live online in very different ways, particularly as they may intersect with VR. What does seem clear is that there needs to be some level of government intervention to regulate these companies as they develop increasingly powerful tools.


Would you like to gain further impressions of the PoM conference in Aachen? Then take a look at our interview with Karla Zavala Barreda and Adriaan Odendaal as well as our recap of the conference days and the accompanying program of art and performances.

Photos by Jana Hambitzer

Politics of the Machines: Lifelikeness & beyond – PoM Recap #1

ANA MARÍA GUZMÁN OLMOS

What do synthetic cells have to do with programmed biosensors? What ideas about life are embedded in their development? What are the boundaries between the living and the non-living? How have these boundaries been reshaped in our current (post)digital condition? How can science and the humanities collaborate with the arts to address these complex questions? From April 22 to 25, c:o/re, in collaboration with the Politics of the Machines conference series, c:o/re co-organized an interdisciplinary conference to address these and many other questions.

Entrance of the Super C during PoM

The Politics of the Machines conference series was founded in 2018 by Laura Beloff (Aalto University, Helsinki) and Morten Sondergaard (Aalborg University, Copenhagen), and now counts Hassan Choubassi (The International University of Beirut) and Joe Elias (The International University of Beirut) as part of its executive committee. The conference series aims to open up open discussions on how perception is being reshaped through interaction with emerging technologies. Previous conferences in this series were hosted by the Aalborg University, Copenhagen, the Lebanese International University, Beirut, the Universität der Künste, Berlin and Beaconhouse National University, Lahore… Now interrogated under the scope of Politice of the machines, lifelikeness is a central interest at c:o/re and, as such, the theme of our last two lecture series and the last Call for Fellowships.

Beyond the limits of the living and non-living

Lifelikeness refers to the imitation of living behavior in technological development. Originating in the field of robotics and human-machine interaction (Abubshait, 2020), the concept has been expanded to refer to more recent developments in the fields of synthetic biology and artificial life. One way to approach the concept of likeness is to consider the concept of imitation as an operation of representation from the living into its modeling and operationalization in technology. This could be called a representational model. The representation can take place on the level of aesthetics (looking like a living thing) or of operation (having a function that only a living thing would have). In this perspective, many discussions on lifelikeness center on the question of how similar a technology should be to the living thing it imitates to qualify as life-like. The uncanny valley is a classic problematization arising in these discussions: if the technology is very similar to living, we may develop an aversion to the technical object instead of the expected sense of familiarity (Kim et. al., 2022: 628).

As cells have become machines (Landecker, 2007; Damiano et. al. 2020), the question of what it means to model life expanded beyond these classic interrogations. If life itself has become entangled with technological operations, and digital algorithms operate on the principles of living organisms, what exactly is being represented in the models that inspire new technological developments? Where is the life and where is the machine? Arguably, the model of representation or imitation may not be sufficient to explain the complexity in which the living and the non-living have become entangled. This disruption of the boundaries between the living and the non-living leads to questioning how social life is affected by technologically mediated decisions, and what kind of politics are necessary to deal with these new conditions of living. For example, algorithms in preventive technologies decide whose life is to be cared for and whose life is to be considered a threat to life (Amaro, 2022). Such questions and issues have inspired the title of the conference “Llifelikeness & beyond”.

The conference was organized into 11 tracks that addressed topics such as death in the age of the lifelike, more than human XR, models in the research of the living, the concept of the organism and environmental approaches to ecological engagement, and the multiple imaginaries of our bodies in our present. Discussions covered various topics such as: a redefinition of immersion based on experiences of radicalization in the conditions of an extended reality, how to decolonize the discourses that approach the environment, what is the sound produced by the environment and its microscopic invisible fields, the concept of the organism and its appearance in political and social explanatory models, the redefinition of the concept of death in the age of the lifelike, and many others.

Participants during PoM
From Enzymes to Magic

The two keynotes, by Hannah Landecker (University of California in Los Angeles) and, respectively Manuela de Barros (University of Paris 8), brought together the broadly multidisciplinary approaches of the conference.

Hannah Landecker during her keynote on “Distilled, Extruded, Suspended: Lessons in Lifelikeness from the Metabolism of Mass Production”

Hannah Landecker delivered an inspiring keynote entitled “Distilled, Extruded, Suspended: Lessons in Lifelikeness from the Metabolism of Mass Production”. Landecker looked at the history of the industrialization of metabolism in the twentieth century, a history of transforming ideas of synthesis through the market demands for rubber and oil. This lecture invited participants to rethink the technological transformation of our world, a world that remains invisible to us. Questions about the division between the synthetic and the natural, and how they shape our perception of the world – in this case through the development of an industrially produced taste – emerged during the Q&A session. We remark professor Landecker having presented her ongoing working, which will be part of the book American Metabolism (under contract with Harvard University Press), on which she is currently working.

Manuela de Barros held a keynote on “The Art of Links: Magic and Technology”

In her insightful keynote, Manuela de Barros highlighted the ways in which technology has been interfacing with the concept of magic since the Renaissance. De Barros also discussed how we form beliefs and expectations about what technology should provide to society, thus endowing it with a magical power to take care of social problems. She also encouraged revisiting animistic ideas of non-Western cultures, as helpful for reorienting the way the Western modernity inhabits this world. The talk inspired questions on how to approach non-Western worldviews, and how new forms of romanticizing these ways of life might do more harm than good in finding ways to live together. Such discussions are covered in de Barros’ Magie et technologie (UV Editions, 2017).

Algorithms of Late Capitalism, Dead people on facebook, and Workshops!

With an important concern for art and artistic research, the discursive program was accompanied by two workshops: Sibling-cenes: Building Narratives PostAnthropocene, facilitated by artist H C-(M), and Changed but equivalent: rewinding mental states in complex systems, facilitated by Lebanese writer Rayyan Dabbous. A performance playing with the concept of lecture performance by Chris Dupuis explored notions of death, as shaped by the existence of our digital persona. PoM: Lifelikeness & beyond also offered playing sessions of “Algorithms of Late Capitalism: The Board Game”, a playful critical engagement with internet literacy, developed by Karla Zavala Barreda and Adriaan Odentaal from the internet teapot, together with the many participants of a series of workshops in which the game was developed.

With about 130 talks and lecture-performances, 2 workshops, 1 performance, 1 exhibition and a board game, as well as an artistic event together with the arts and performance center PACT Zollverein in Essen. The conference brought together researchers from many different fields, from philosophy to biology and astronomy, from STS to art. It brought together, at RWTH Aachen, researchers from 30 different countries and 5 continents. With this series of blog posts, we hope to recapitulate some of the thoughts and resonances generated during PoM Aachen, and to further explore how to open boundaries of research beyond the division of living and the non-living.


References

Amaro, Ramon (2022). The Black Technical Object. On Machine Learning and the Aspiration of Black Being. London: Sternberg Press.

Abubshait, A., Weis, P.P. & Wiese, E. (2021). Does Context Matter? Effects of Robot Appearance and Reliability on Social Attention Differs Based on Lifelikeness of Gaze Task. Int J of Soc Robotics 13, 863–876.

Damiano L and Stano P (2020) On the “Life-Likeness” of Synthetic Cells. Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. 8:953.

De Barros, Manuela (2017). Magie et technologie. Paris: UV Éditions.

Kim, J.S., Kang, D., Choi, J., Kwak, S.S. (2022). Effects of Realistic Appearance and Consumer Gender on Pet Robot Adoption. In: Cavallo, F., et al. Social Robotics. ICSR 2022. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 13818. Springer, Cham.

Landecker, Hannah (2007). Culturing Life: how cells became technology. Cambridge; London: Harvard University Press.


Would you like to gain further impressions of the PoM conference in Aachen? Then take a look at our interviews with Chris Dupuis and Karla Zavala Barreda and Adriaan Odendaal as well as our recap of the accompanying program of art and performances.

Photos by Jana Hambitzer

Get to know our Fellows: Michael Friedman

Get to know our current fellows and gain an impression of their research.
In a new series of short videos, we asked them to introduce themselves, talk about their work at c:o/re, the impact of their research on society and give book recommendations.

You can now watch the latest video on our YouTube channel, in which Michael Friedman, historian of mathematics, introduces his research on materials and material practices and explains why philosophers, historians, cultural scientists and media scientists have an enormous influence on how natural scientists and material scientists think and react to their inventions:

Check out our media section or our YouTube channel to have a look at the other videos.

Invitation to talk: From print capitalism to surveillance capitalism: Mapping the Sociotechnical Imaginaries of Platform Surveillance in Japan

As part of the collaboration of c:o/re with Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Peter Mantello and Alin Olteanu will give a talk entitled “From print capitalism to surveillance capitalism: Mapping the Sociotechnical Imaginaries of Platform Surveillance in Japan” on 6 June 2024 from 1 to 3pm at the National University of Science and Technology in Bucharest, which will shed light on the interaction of technology, AI, philosophy and ethics.

The talk will be broadcasted live on Microsoft teams. Click here to attend online.

Abstract:

We argue that AI surveillance effects the transition from print capitalism to surveillance capitalism. We study this process by looking at konbini surveillance, the role of convenience stores in Japan to act as ‘middleman’ for AI platforms by collecting clients’ biometric data. Through this study, we also ponder on the general concept of technology, and argue that situated cognition theories should construe technology as the mind’s outworking itself into its next state. As such, we contribute to uprooting (post-)Cartesian Reason from philosophy of technology (Clowes 2019). The latter lead to conceptualizing technology as adjacent (see Walter, Stephan 2022), instead of intrinsic to mind, despite historically confusing the print medium with reasoning (Hartley 2012).

Print capitalism (Anderson, 1983 [2006]) refers to the literary marketplace that emerged because of the effects of printing technology to enable mass literacy through public education. In the specific circumstances of modernity, literate publics began to perceive themselves as nations: readers of printed press imagined themselves as monolingual communities that require self-governance.

Surveillance capitalism (Zuboff 2019) refers to the data collecting intrinsic to digital tech corporations, based on claiming human experience as material for translation into machine computable data. It contradicts aspirations of digital democracy. Predicting and shaping behavior, surveillance capitalism leads to behavioral futures marketplaces, exploiting digital connection as a means towards commercial ends.

We see surveillance capitalism as the fulfilment of the requirement of print capitalism to imagine closed communities, obstructing the emergence of a sense of kinship on a global level, or “biosphere consciousness” (Rifkin 2011). As digital mediascapes do not afford imagining nations, surveillance capitalism is an ideological attempt to maintain nation-states as concretized into digital datasets. A community as a dataset is something that (post)digital citizens can imagine.

We illustrate our theory by considering current manifestations of Japanese techno-nationalism as an imagined space that transcends normative understandings of ‘nation’. With Robertson (2022), we consider that Japanese techno-nationalism serves as a model for ushering digital nations, reinforcing imaginaries of nationhood through “kinship technologies” that obstruct the expansion of human empathy beyond previously imagined boundaries. We conceive Japanese techno-nationalism as a computational and algorithmic space tethered to larger digital infrastructures, i.e. platform capitalism(Murakami Wood, Monahan 2019).

If print media (newspapers) are historically responsible for modern understandings of nation, then AI surveillance plays a critical role in writing the socio-technical imaginary of Japanese techno-nationalism. To reflect on this, with a focus on the convenience store (konbini), we employ Lefebvre’s (1991 [1974]) concept of space. Like an increasing number of digitalized social spaces (workplace, transport, entertainment, hospitals, prisons), the konbini as a surveillant exchange disciplines and monetizes (mal)practices of consumption.

References

Anderson, B. 2006/1983. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.

Clowes, R. 2019. Immaterial engagement: human agency and the affective ecology of the internet. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 18, 259-279. 

Hartley, J. 2012. Digital futures for cultural and media studies. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Murakami Wood, D., Monahan, T. 2019. Editorial: Platform Surveillance. Surveillance & Society 17(1/2): 1-6.

Lefebvre, H. 1991 [1974]. The production of space. Trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. Oxford: Blakcwell.

Rifkin, J. 2011. The third industrial revolution: How lateral power is transforming energy, the economy, and the world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Robertson, J. 2022. Imagineerism: Technology, Robots, Kinship. Perspectives from Japan. In: Bruun, M. H., Wahlberg, A., Douglas-Jones, R., Hasse, C., Hoeyer, K. Kristensen D. B., Winthereik, B. R. Eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Anthropology of Technology. Singapore: Palgrave Macmilan.

Walter, S., Stephan, A. 2022. Situated affectivity and mind shaping: Lessons from social psychology. Emotion Review 15(1): 3-16.

Zuboff, S. 2019. The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. New York: Public Affairs Books.