Category: news

Politics of the Machines: Lifelikeness & beyond

Call for Track-Topics and Formats

Deadline Call for Track-Topics and Formats: 01 April 2023

The Call for Papers will follow after the Call for Track-Topics has closed.
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The 4th POM Conference

Lifelikeness & beyond
RWTH Aachen University
KäteHamburger Kolleg:
Cultures of Research (c:o/re).
April 22-26, 2024

Life is in crisis. In society, this crisis has generated an uncertainty entangled with environmental injustices, health emergencies and the many faces of right-wing movements around the world – to mention some examples. Uncertainty might blurry the future and our capacity to make decisions, but it also opens up a space of possibilities. In this fragmented framework a new field for contingencies emerges. If we are unsure about what might be, alternative but unstable scenarios become possible. How does society react to those alternative scenarios? How are scientific and artistic communities responding to the various contingencies of the present?

In the wake of this era, we have been witnessing, in biomolecular research, the developments of programmable biosensors, synthetic biology and diverse biological entities that are aimed to be made programmable. These advancements amount to the crisis of life. These new phenomena in life-research have, for example, transformed the way in which we think about organisms and how life has evolved and transformed on earth.

At the same time, the fields of life-like robotics and computational evolution, which produce artificial entities modeled after living organisms – like self-reproductive algorithms and artificial neural networks – have brought to light questions regarding the qualities defining what is life at all. Life is being redefined by the parameters of its artificial models, so we are forced to rethink the question: what is the logic of living? The borders between machines and biological systems are being negotiated across the sciences and the arts at large, and novel questions and modes of thinking are emerging from these ontological reorganizations. Faced with these situations, one cannot help pondering on the limits of the possible and the limits of life.

Nowadays, machines can perform as agents that respond to contingent scenarios, they act as if they were alive. If life enters the space of formal logic and probability, if it is modeled, engineered and designed, does it follow the laws of logical inference? It is not only the difference between the organic and the inorganic that gets blurry, but also the one between the natural and the animated as well as the boundaries between necessity and contingency. What kind of models of contingency can be brought about that are helpful to respond to the crisis of life? What must technologies and artistic practices that cooperate with the living look like? How does this change life itself?

In our times, social ecologies are steered following automated systems and models. Images of what the future of a warming planet might be are at the center of political decisions, and bodies in the street are demanding accountability to those who have been taking those decisions. What is the motivation for caring for life? Computational systems have become the basis for decisions on which forms of life are worth preserving, which ones have the right to have rights – as Hannah Arendt would put it – and what forms of life are purposeful to maintain and support. The care for life is found between environmental reactionary views on nature as the origin of place-based identities, and questions of locality and global solidarity; from colonialism to racial and economic justice. How can these models serve to respond to the needs of social groups, communities and the collective?

What effect has data on decisions on what lives we care for? On the one hand, biotechnology opens up spaces of possibility, on the other hand, it also holds the danger of new forms of control, which may be utilized in nation-state politics, for example, in the form of border control biometric technologies. Automated decisions are made over life and death in zones of war. Personal data is stored to keep the metabolic networks of capital flowing. Data is, however, at the same time, used for feminist aims and as a tool to identify urban spaces where harm and death are a threat. Communication technologies have shown to be crucial for marginalized groups for creating networks of care, support and self-defense. Thus, it seems that the same technological shifts that seem to serve necropolitical aims are the ones bringing about new forms of the collective.

With the overarching theme “Lifelikeness & Beyond” the Politics of the Machines conference organized by Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research at Aachen University seeks to bring together researchers and practitioners from a wide range of fields across the sciences, technology and the arts to develop imaginaries for possibilities that are still to be realized and new ideas of what the contingency of life is. The call also seeks to question what the limits between reality, fiction and imagination can be when we look for sources of action or new forms of collective action and of creating collectivities. What kind of imaginaries are needed to think of new forms of research and practice that effectively act as a counterbalance to the many crises of the present? What can we learn from a performed contingency about the community of the living and the non-living? How is the idea of contingency transformed when life and non-life are embedded within each other? PoM Aachen welcomes proposals for conference sub-tracks that look into transdisciplinary research at large in creating unrealized futures.

Full Call for Tracks and Submission: https://www.pomconference.org/pom-aachen-2024/

Upcoming Workshop: Turning Points in Reflections on Science and Technology. Toward Historicizing STS 

On March 14-15, 2023 the c:o/re workshop  Turning Points in Reflections on Science and Technology: Towards Historicizing STS will take place. The workshop focuses on the 20th and 21st Century intellectual history of science and technology. It aims at opening up the field by historicizing Science and Technology Studies from various historical turns. Furthermore, it aims at discussing the various notions of “historicizing STS”. The Program is available below and here:

Coming up: Lecture Series on Complexity

The summer term’s c:o/re Lecture Series will focus on the topic of complexity. But what is complexity? The Encyclopedia Britannica explains complexity as “a scientific theory which asserts that some systems display behavioral phenomena that are completely inexplicable by any conventional analysis of the systems’ constituent parts” – but since understanding and explaining the world is what research basically aims at, do we have reached the limits of what we can know when it comes to complex systems?

The talks of this summer term’s lecture series will touch on complexity from different disciplinary perspectives. Our invited speakers are: Giora Hon of Haifa University, Jan C. Schmidt of Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, Benjamin Peters of University of Tulsa, Klaus Mainzer of Technical University of Munich, interdisciplinary researcher Clarissa Lee at c:o/re, Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou of the Centre Georg Simmel, and the historian and philosopher of natural philosophy and modern science Arianna Borelli.

Navigating Interdisciplinarity: between over-simplifying and over-complexifying

Navigating Interdisciplinarity workshop takes off at Marsilius Kolleg at Heidelberg University

On January 19-20 the workshop Navigating Interdisciplinarity hosted at the Marsilius Kolleg Heidelberg and organized in collaboration with CAPAS and c:o/re took place. This event brought together interdisciplinary groups of researchers, mostly but not only from the humanities and social sciences, to discuss the complexity of challenges that academic interdisciplinarity poses.

The workshop took off with a discussion on metaphors of interdisciplinarity, the metaphors that may give insight for thinking on interdisciplinarity to researchers from various fields.

Guided through a format well-designed by the organizers, the participants reflected and conversed on the notions of complexity, security and collapse. The debates revolved around the question of whether these notions can be vehicles for inter- and/or trans-disciplinarity? In some of the debate groups in the workshop it appears that systems theory is a reoccurring theme as a possibly encompassing framework for interdisciplinarity. In this we see both possibilities to foster interdisciplinarity as well as a shared disciplinary bias.

c:o/re director Stefan Böschen introduces the participants to the themes of the workshop

Discussions on complexity also seem to draw on notions of models and modeling. The clarity and understanding that models may provide bear on complexity. The work of models is to simplify, so to make comprehensible complex matters. As such, an important consideration in modeling consists in the parameters within a model is rendered insightful to what it models. How much to simplify, how much complexity to retain?

To further ponder on (possibilities of) transfer between disciplines, the participants discussed, in groups, three triads of overarching concerns about knowledge production, namely: (1) Validity – Evidence – Justification; (2) Coherence – Narration – Causation; (3) Argument – Explanation – Rigor.

Security appears to be a difficult but nevertheless useful concept to employ as a notion to breach disciplinary boundaries. Discussions in this regard seem to offer epistemologically open approaches on research in terms of a trade-off between low risk & low gain and, respectively, high risk and high gain.

Nina Boy summarizes the debates on ‘collapse’ that took place during the workshop

As a notion, collapse seems to stir interest for interdisciplinary perspectives. It is difficult to start work from the concept of collapse but we find ourselves in the situation of having to start from a collapsing context. Collapse, that is, things falling into each other may cause discomfort but while opening opportunities. It may produce insecurity and it tends to consist in a reduction of complexity.

We would like to thank our colleagues from Marsilius Kolleg Heidelberg and CAPAS for this interesting event and look forward to continuing the collaboration by organizing follow-up events as well as starting to draft papers on the themes discussed.

Argument - Explanation - Rigor
Argument – Explanation – Rigor

Varieties of science, 1: Patterns of knowledge

Ana María Guzmán delivers her talk, “Local Technologies. The ontological Problem of the Plurality of
Technology
“, at UNAM

On December 5th and 6th the first Varieties of Science workshop, titled Patterns of Knowledge, took place at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Varieties of Science is a series of workshops, organized by c:o/re, that aims to explores the pluralities of knowledge production. The workshop Patterns of knowledge brought together scholars from c:o/re, the hosting university in Mexico City as well as the Science, Technology and Society Studies Centre and the Digital Aesthetics Research Center of Aarhus University. We would like to thank Miriam Peña and Francisco Barrón of UNAM for hosting this. The event was live streamed on the YouTube channel of the Seminario Tecnologías Filosóficas, where it can be watched. We will soon post a full report of this event.

New additions to the c:o/re library: “Historia de la Technologia y la invencion en Mexico” by Ramón Sánches Flores and “La Caligrafía como recurso creativo en la literatura expandida” by Itzel Palacios Ruiz, courtesy of Francisco Barrón and Itzel Palacios Ruiz

Fernando Pasquini’s proposal for an ergonomics of data science practices

Fernando Pasquini Santos asks how to consider the user in the “Data science lifecycle “

On December 14, 2022, c:o/re fellow Fernando Pasquini Santos explained his proposal Towards an ergonomics of data science practices, as part of the 2022/2023 c:o/re lecture series. While he acknowledged that the term is arguably outdated, Pasquini developed a broadly encompassing notion of ergonomics, spanning across modalities and modes of human-computer interaction. In this endeavour, Pasquini started by asking “how does it feel to work with data?” Tackling the question, he distinguished between challenges and directions in technology usability assessments.

In what was a rich and broadly encompassing study, Pasquini found particular inspiration in Coeckelbergh (2019), who notices a tradition in philosophy of technology that equates skilful acting with having a good life.

In this light, Pasquini proposed a “critical mediality” perspective in data science, that covers considerations from abstraction in data work to mathematical constructivism, embodiment and to blackboxing.

c:o/re team and fellows at Fernando Pasquini’s lecture

References

Coeckelbergh, Mark. 2019. Technology as Skill and Actvity:Revisitng the Problem of Alienation. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 16(3): 208–230.

Call for Contributions

For the international conference Nowhere(to)land? What Science Studies Contribute to Science Communication, that will take place in Bonn in June 14th to 16th, 2023, the Rhine Ruhr Center for Science Communication Research (RRC) and c:o/re are inviting researchers to submit proposals for contributions on the topic of STS and SCS. Deadline is January 15th, 2023.

Livestream to “Varieties of Science”

You can follow the workshop Varieties of Science: Patterns of Knowledge, that c:o/re organizes together with the Seminario Tecnologías Filosóficas at UNAM in Mexico City, live on Youtube. The Workshop starts on Monday 5th, Dec at 10 am (5pm CET) [LINK to Livestream] and continues on Tuesday 6th, at 10:30 (5.30 CET) [LINK to Livestream].

c:o/re on film – highlights of the inauguration

On July 4th, we celebrated the Inauguration of our Center in Aachen’s Historical Town Hall with many friends and colleagues. The program included an insightful key lecture by STS scholar Karin Knorr Cetina on epistemic shifts in the digital age and a rich discussion on interdisciplinarity and the past and future transformations of research cultures with the journalist Jan-Martin Wiarda, historian Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, chemist Matthias Wessling, and microbiologist Lars Blank. If you would, besides our written report of the event, you can get an insight into the even by watching the highlights here:

Science night @RWTH Aachen University. c:o/re asks: what is science?

On November 11 a Science night (Wissenschaftsnacht) took place at RWTH Aachen University. This was an open-doors event in the University’s impressive CARL building, where various university departments and research groups exhibited their work, in a welcoming ambiance, aided by food and drinks (see program here). The c:o/re team took this opportunity to engage in dialog with the attendees. While many colleagues such as engineers and natural scientists represented their work by showcasing actual technological products, we thought to best represent our work by irritating and inspiring science-enthusiasts with the question what is science?

Interior of CARL building (RWTH Aachen University) during Science Night
Postcards & posters: c:o/re is ready for Science night.

That is, in the best of philosophical traditions, instead of pointing to solutions and giving answers, important and urgent as that is, we invited to reflection and dialogue through questioning. Specifically, prompted by materials that we prepared aiming to inspire conversation we asked the more subtle and challenging question addressing our interlocutors: what is your science?

Phillip Roth asks: What is (your) science? Photographer: Jule Janßen
Science is… magic. Photographer: Jule Janßen

This was an excellent event and we are grateful to the University for organizing it. It helped us both to better reach out to interested stakeholders that are not formally part of higher education institutions and, also, to connect with colleagues from other departments and faculties. As a result, many citizens from the Aachen region now know about the Käte Hamburger Research Centres and about c:o/re. We had very interesting and challenging discussions with a diverse public, from children to students and to professors, and we discovered many common interests with colleagues working in, for example, bioeconomics and teacher training. We used prompts, such as postcards and posters, to intrigue passers-by about the difficulties of pinning down what science is. The people we talked to left their impressions on what is science on post-it notes. We collected the notes, thus forming a collection that can now serve as an unusual set of data, at least for stimulating wonder and inspiring questions, if not for conducting concrete research. The many answers ranged from claiming that science is “magic”, to “applied imagination”, “ongoing” and to “what can be debunked” and “fallibilism”.

We are now pursuing the dialogues that we started with colleagues at this event and we look forward to next year’s Science night!

c:o/re team engage in dialog with attendees at the Science night. Photographer: Jule Janßen