Date(s) - 02/26/2020
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


3910 15th Ave NE
Seattle WA

As part of the Data Then and Now seminar series, Sun-ha Hong from Simon Fraser University will be presenting a lecture called “Smart machines, ubiquitous computing, and the future that keeps coming back.” Please join us for Sun-ha’s lecture on February 26th, 2020 from 4:00-5:00 PM in the Seminar Room of the WRF Data Science Studio.

This talk examines the contemporary popularisation of ‘smart’ machines (c.2012-) through the lens of earlier enthusiasm for ubiquitous computing (1991-1999), or ‘ubicomp’. Widely attributed to Mark Weiser and colleagues at Xerox PARC, ubicomp promised a near future in which computers would ‘disappear’ into the background of life. Today’s smart technology consciously echoes ubicomp’s ideas, language, and even signature products like the Internet-connected fridge. Here, past futures are strategically recycled for meaning and legitimacy. Yet this very repetition hints at a constant deferral: an elastic temporality made up of failed startups and unbuilt prototypes. I argue that this repetition often perpetuates a certain stagnation and conservatism around datafication. Even as the Roomba or smart fridge achieves clear technical advancements, the underlying social relations – such as gendered domestic labour – remains much the same. This repetition of social imaginaries alongside technological ones manifests most clearly in the intensifying moralisation of predictivity for the human subject. Both ubicomp and smart tech link the advent of ‘smarter’ machines to human freedom and mastery. However, as Ian Hacking observed of 19th century probability, and Sheila Jasanoff of science and the courts over the 20th century, the drive to codify and optimise life as numerical pattern often results in new pressures for human subjects to behave and see themselves in more machine-readable ways. This talk situates this ongoing moralisation in the modern history of the subjective virtues of quantification, as examined by Lorraine Daston, Theodore Porter, Steven Shapin and others. This talk draws on my forthcoming book, Technologies of Speculation: The limits of knowledge in a data-driven society (NYU Press, 2020), which analyses news media, industry discourse, and conducted interviews and participant observation of 2010’s self-tracking cultures. This material is synthesised with an ongoing project focused on the Mark Weiser Archives at Stanford University Libraries.

The Data Then and Now seminar series explores the social and organizational history of data and data practices in order to better understand the current data-intensive moment through its antecedents and continuities. It features invited speakers from across the country and around the world. For more information, please visit the Data Then and Now web page.