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Abstracts

The Racial Empathy Machine: Discourses of Virtual Reality in America After Trump
Lisa Nakamura

The first virtual reality (VR) gold rush occurred in the mid-nineties. The second time around it has returned with new technological and cultural features. Contemporary VR enthusiasts claim that the medium corrects racist thoughts and feelings by producing racial empathy. This presentation analyzes VR texts that exploit what Sam Gregory, program director of the activist media organization Witness terms “co-presence for good.” VR’s reframing as racial curative signals a return to old-fashioned technological determinism borne of hope and desperation. Its rise is part and parcel of the digital industries’ attempts to defend themselves against increasingly vocal critique on numerous fronts. VR’s claims to efficiently address the resurgence of overt racism in the U.S. both parallel a cultural shift toward overt forms of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny and reflects it. This presentation will trace VR’s old and new forms of digital embodiment in order to understand the means by which racism and sexism are managed by these “empathy machines.”

A Landless Territory? Theorizing Indigenous Futurisms Through New Media and Digital Storytelling
Dave Gaertner

How do we locate Indigenous literature, so often grounded in land, space, and place, within cyberspace, a space without place, a landless territory? Since it was first announced in William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer, cyberspace has provided—in both content and form—evocative ground for world building and storytelling from a wide range of authors. Indigenous writers and artists have made fundamental contributions to cyberspace from its inception, both in its development as a literary trope and as a medium to create and share stories. As a notional environment, however, cyberspace is still largely considered a space without place, which, for many, calls into question its applicability in Indigenous worldviews. Given the centrality of land in Indigenous epistemologies and the ongoing threats to the traditional territory by settler colonial governments, precisely what a “landless territory” might mean for Indigenous writers is an evocative and pressing issue, particularly as more and more Indigenous storytellers and programmers take to the internet to create and share stories. In this talk, I offer a critical, yet affirming theorization of Indigenous cyberspace that emphasizes the work created by Indigenous futurists, such as Skawennati and Jason Lewis. I argue for a more complex, nuanced understanding of cyberspace and illustrate the ways in which Indigenous programmers are connecting it to land, place, and bodies.

Videogame Worlds, Future Hypotheses
Patrick Jagoda

Gamification, a term that derives from behavioral economics and design culture, is the use of game mechanics in traditionally non-game activities. The competition, repetition, and quantified objectives that make up gamified designs correspond with and fuel aspects of neoliberalism, including its mechanics of extrinsic motivation, subject formation, and world-making. As I contend, beginning in the 1940s, economic game theory established a theoretical framework for rationality that, by the 1970s, the program of neoliberalism has extended from mathematics and economics to broader social consciousness. Continuing this process, behavioral economics, in its emergence as a prominent field in the 1990s and 2000s, offered a crucial corrective by introducing methods for integrating even the most inconvenient irrational human behaviors into an empirical techno-rationalism that offers practical techniques of intervention for building a neoliberal world. All of these economic fields are already substantively informed by the metaphor and form of games. Nevertheless, it is only through the conjunction of these economic forces with the cultural and technological affordances provided by the contemporaneous medium of video games, which have developed from the 1960s to the present, that the paradigm of gamification gained a substantial foothold by the 2010s and became a major framework for imagining social and political life in the present. In addition to the work of critical history, this talk explores some of the ways that video games can make us aware of the everyday mechanics of neoliberalism and also contribute to different experimental modes of hypothesis generation and world creation in our time.

Deep Carbon
Joana Moll

Our so-called networked society has failed so far to transpose the logic of interconnectedness into our lives. Citizens are becoming increasingly machine-like and dependent on data, threatening the connection between humans and their natural habitats. Although most of our daily transactions are carried out through electronic devices, we know very little of the apparatus that facilitates such interactions, or in other words, about the factory that lies beyond the interface. The internet is the biggest “thing” that humanity has ever built. Its massive infrastructure is composed of billions of computers and thousands of kilometers of submarine and inland cables. This immense infrastructure rests on the shoulders of invaluable supporting technologies, largely unnoticed by its audiences; namely human labor, intangible legions of algorithms, and a vast consumption of natural resources. In 2008, the internet was already responsible for the 2% of CO2 global emissions, exceeding those of the entire aviation Industry. The amount of users and network connections has increased at a whopping pace ever since. Yet, despite the growing number of internet users and information flows, the material representation of the internet remains blurred in the social imagination.

Less Metrics, More Rando: (Net) Art as Software Research
Ben Grosser

How are numbers on Facebook changing what we “like” and who we “friend?” Why does a bit of nonsense sent via email scare both your mom and the NSA? What makes someone mad when they learn Google can’t see where they stand? From net art to robotics to supercuts to e-lit, Ben Grosser will discuss several artworks that illustrate his methods for investigating the culture of software.

#FearlessGestures: In the Ruins Yet To Come
Ricardo Dominguez

How can one mobilize the futurity of the ruins yet to come in order to activate the present otherwise? Our #FearlessGestures must now enact manifold methods of withdrawing from the politics of acceleration and the neo-liberal takeover of transparency as a way to configure the present-future. Instead, we must disturb the ruins of the present-to-come here and now with moments of hyper-inertia and translucency that can draw-out the anti-anti-utopian shapes and possibilities of the aesthetic. Dominguez will consider trans-border-bodies as one life-form whose #FearlessGestures unmake and re-make the smooth ruins being built now.

From One to Two
Alexander Galloway

In 1948, a sliver of memory was a bit and a bit was a pixel and a pixel was a dot and a dot was a keystroke. Like the old techniques of ancient textile weavers, memory had become an image just as images were deployed as memory devices. In this presentation, I focus on the development of digital technology and culture from the mid-twentieth century to today. With reference to important experiments and new technologies by Frederic Williams, John von Neumann, and Nils Aall Barricelli, we explore the importance of discretization in society and culture, that is, the way in which “the one” becomes “the two.”

Predicted Pasts and Narrated Futures: Politics in the Age of Information Overload
Nishant Shah

One of the biggest promises of the digital turn was that it would replace distance with time, creating temporal proximities over physical intimacies. However, in establishing time as the new currency of connectivity and collectivity, the digital turn has constructed new materialities, vectors, and directions of time that need to be examined through the physical computation network. Especially when it comes to the informationally overloaded subject, the ways in which identities are constructed—freed from the fixity of historical time and how their futures are imagined—constrained by the scripts of probability thinking, we encounter a new framework of understanding the future of technopolitics through the recalibration of time. Drawing from specific examples of temporal inversion and models of physical computation networks, this talk proposes that we have to cope with an inversion of what constitutes our pasts and futures in order to construct a new politics in the age of information overload.

The Social Life of DNA: Racial Reconciliation and Institutional Morality
Alondra Nelson

The use of genetic ancestry testing in the United States has grown exponentially since its emergence about fifteen years ago. In this same period, U.S. colleges and universities have increasingly uncovered and confronted their ties to the history of racial slavery. Although genetic ancestry tests are principally sought to provide genealogical information, these data have been marshaled into a wider range of social ventures, including the politics of remembrance and reconciliation. In this presentation, Alondra Nelson examines the recent use of genetic ancestry testing by the descendants of nearly three hundred enslaved men and women owned by Georgetown University, whom the institution’s Jesuit stewards sold to Southern plantations in 1838 in order to secure its solvency. The case of the GU 272 will be explored as a “reconciliation project”—a social endeavor in which DNA analysis is put to the use of repairing historic injury.

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Illinois 150: The 21st Century Research University and the Public Good by Kevin Hamilton, Paul Michael Leonardo Atienza, Jessica Harless, Kelsey Hassevoort, Robin Holland, Marcelo Boccato Kuyumjian, Allison LaHood, Beatriz Esmeralda Maldonado, Robert M Rouphail, Majid Shafiee-Jood, Lettycia Terrones, and Kevin Wallington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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