Sack photo by delory

November 15, 2019

Thu, Nov 21, 2019, 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm

Dwinelle 142 (Nestrick Room)

Speaker: Warren Sack


In a chapter on rhetoric in his recently published book, The Software Arts (MIT Press, 2019) he recounts a history of demonstration.  Aristotle tells us that the strongest rhetoric is closely tied to logical demonstration.  The history of the “demo” starts in ancient Greece, when definitive demonstration was a matter of deduction as practiced in geometry. In the 17th c., Euclid’s demonstration is displaced by Boyle’s inductive demonstration made necessary when arguments began to be based on empirical data and not just derived from statements taken to be obviously true. Today, arguments are made on the basis of so much data—“big data”—that no one person could possibly read it all, much less observe its collection. This has necessitated the invention of yet another form of argumentation, which he terms “abductive demonstration.”  Computer games, simulations, the Silicon Valley “demo,” and various forms of data visualization are of this kind of rhetoric.  Curiously many of them can be understood as procedures of data compression, otherwise known as machine learning. He claims that algorithms, especially machine-learning algorithms, can be understood as arguments.  To argue against an algorithm yet another form of persuasive writing needs to be developed: the software essay, a form independently suggested by Alan Kay and Donald Knuth, two Turing Award winning computer scientists.  Today we are in dire need of rhetorical techniques for arguing against algorithms, especially machine-learning algorithms when they are now deployed so enthusiastically, pervasively, and irresponsibly.

Professor Warren Sack is a media theorist, software designer, and artist whose work explores theories and designs for online public space and public discussion. He is Chair and Professor of Film + Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz where he teaches digital arts and digital studies. He has been a visiting professor in France at Sciences Po, the Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme, and Télécom ParisTech. His artwork has been exhibited by SFMoMA (San Francisco), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and the ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany). His scholarship and research has been supported by the Paris Institute for Advanced Study, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Sunlight Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. Warren received his PhD from the MIT Media Lab and was an undergraduate at Yale College.


This event is part of the Berkeley Film & Media Seminar


Sponsored by the Department of Film & Media