The Internet as Playground and Factory, Nov 12-14, The New School, NY

This digital labor conference focuses on play and work in the networked economy. There is also a cluster of study on Amazon’s digital labor market, Mechanical Turk in which I will present on the relationship between the cultural history of human machine assemblages and the emerging networked subjectivities.

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History of Automata

I am co-teaching a freshman seminar with Prof. Stefan Tanaka this quarter; History of Automata in the Non-West. Here is an excerpt from the syllabus:

We are increasingly confronted with forms of automation today, but automata have a long and diverse history. This seminar will survey automata and robots from primarily Mesopotamia, Egypt and Asia, Second, the underlying question of this seminar will be about the meaning of humans and machines in societies and times prior to the separation of humans and machines. In short, this will be an exploration into the changing interrelation between humans and technology.

I’ve actually  started to think of this as the history of oriental monsters which is influenced by Lorraine Daston’s distinction between monsters and marvels in the European medieval culture where the former denoted a sacred entity and the latter was used to signify secular wonders. When the first examples of automata arrived from Byzantium and Muslim lands in Europe they were treated as boundary objects  where the dichotomies such as life/death, human/inhuman and western/oriental were highly effective in the discoursive formations around these objects. And I think the perception of oriental automata existed in the border of monsters and marvels (or the sacred and the profane) not only because they belonged to another ontology (syntheses of Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Budhism, etc.) but also they were representatives of the eastern material culture in the form of highly pragmatic objects such as hydraulic clocks or humanoid automata serving humans in their daily chores.

NEH Digital Humanities Grant

Great news! NEH has been awarded an Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities (IADTH) grant for $249.000 to our group of scholars and institutions. Our group consists of Scholarly Community for the Globalization of the “Middle Ages” (SCGMA), The Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts and Social Science (I-CHASS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, National Center for Supercomputing Applications(NCSA), the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), the San Diego Supercomputer Center(SDSC),  and the University of Southern California’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy. I am part of the SCGMA group and this grant will facilitate a series of mini-residencies including the three supercomputing centers and a two-day conference. 

Here is the full announcement.

agoraXchange is an online community for designing a massive multi-player global politics game challenging the violence and inequality of our present political system. Phase I was launched as a commission for the Tate Online on 15 March 2004 and now contains a database of ideas for the rules, game environment, and site look-and-feel. (

We are currently looking for a software developer for building the educational prototype of agoraXchange. This will be part of the recent grant we received from the University of California Start-up program. Further info is on the agoraXchange project site. If you are interested in this position, feel free to drop me a note.