Exploring Human-Digital Relations in the age of big data

A big data special project
Designed and facilitated by Paul Woodhouse

Remember waking up to torrential rain…when just twelve hours prior the weatherperson predicted blue skies and sunshine? Not too long ago, right? But nowadays, a weather app can give a reasonably accurate prediction of how the weather will behave several days ahead. Smart technologies collect massive amounts of environmental data, observe patterns within the data, and then predict the weather’s future behaviour. Technologies that utilize the predictive power of big data are increasingly found in the social world too, enabling us to see in new and different ways. It is these human-digital relations that are the focus of this special project.

We live with an expanding array of digital technologies that are directed at recording aspects of human lives and bodies, and rendering them into digitized information for purposes which we explored together. Devices like the phone in our pocket, mobile apps, and sensor-embedded spaces all generate flows of personal data that can be used to keep track of our doings, tastes, preferences, interactions, thoughts and feelings, music and movie preferences, places we visit and how many steps we take to get there, intimate conversations, secret desires, the profound and pointless questions we ask google, and much much more…. Data tells stories, and it is in our interests to hear the types of stories big data tells about us.

Disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, facial recognition and the internet of things have begun to service all aspects of our lives, and big data is the raw material driving the change. Taking a closer look at these enchanting, cutting-edge technologies, we find them to engage with familiar concepts—tracking, surveillance, knowledge, power—while transforming their operations and effects in new, interesting and often unscrupulous ways. We will think creatively and critically about the implications of these human-digital dependencies, how they are revolutionizing the way we live now, and speculating about what’s to come in the future.

Weekly readings and assignments build upon one another. This project includes works of fiction, journalism and scholarly writings, plus film, podcasts and interactive digital art projects.