Media, Algorithms, and Platform Publics

…Exploring dynamics of design, creation, and practice (fall 2017 workshop)

From “fake news” and biased data to discriminatory artificial intelligence and propaganda bots, communication platforms and computational algorithms are increasingly core to public debates about whether we have the systems we need to govern ourselves and thrive.  Such systems are not just people or code, but constantly evolving human-machine hybrids whose complexities we are only beginning to appreciate and learn how to hold accountable.  Rigorous understanding and oversight, though, comes from no single discipline: we need skilled system builders reflecting on design choices and data collections, critical analysts appreciating the tradeoffs of technological craftwork, people with domain expertise exploring systems’ practical implications and consequences, engaged participants articulating their experiences navigating such systems, and still more perspectives sure to surface.

This workshop is an experiment in creating a mix of people from diverse disciplines, practices, and perspectives, to build new shared knowledge together.  In interdisciplinary teams, students will use a variety of theories and methods to answer three questions about platforms and/or algorithms of their choice: what are they, why do they matter, how could they improve?  Such descriptions, interpretations, and extensions require mixing knowledge at disciplinary intersections—engineering, systems science, sociopolitical theory, ethics, design, policy—letting students learn from and with each other about the power and promise of sociotechnical dynamics that driving new digital infrastructures.

Outputs may include: team-authored submissions to an interdisciplinary conference or journal; a class exhibition; organized events; articles, podcasts or websites for popular audiences; policy recommendations; case studies; speculative designs; or any other product that answers the three questions.

Students should register for COMM 620 “Media Ethics for Computational Systems,” or for an independent study with professors Mike Ananny and Colin Maclay.