Date(s) - 06/03/2020
4:30 pm - 5:30 pm

*** Due to precautions being taken to curb the spread of COVID-19, this event will be held over Zoom on Wednesday, June 3rd from 4:30-5:30 PM. Please register HERE and you will be sent a link to join in advance of the event. ***


As part of the Data Then and Now seminar series, Warren Sack from University of California, Santa Cruz will be presenting a lecture on the topic of visualization as abductive demonstration, titled “A History of the Demo and a Future for the Essay.” Please join us on June 3rd, 2020 from 4:30-5:30 PM in the Seminar Room of the WRF Data Science Studio.


A History of the Demo and a Future for the Essay


In a chapter on rhetoric in his recently published book, The Software Arts (MIT Press, 2019) Warren 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.


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, the Whitney Museum, the Walker Art Center, the ZKM; his research has been supported by NSF, the ACLS, the Paris Institute for Advanced Study. He has a PhD from MIT and a BA from Yale.


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. Visit the Data Then and Now webpage for more information.