So what exactly do you do?

Hello again! I’m not sure who reads this blog (if anyone) but I’ve gotten the question a lot recently “so what exactly is it that you do?” and wanted to give a good answer, in full, somewhere.

What do you do?

I study the ways that machine learning bumps up against the humanities, especially history and aesthetics (sometimes also music, design and art). This means I study both the way that computer scientists and humanists think differently about similar problems, do my best to translate between their languages and make recommendations in each direction. For the computer scientists, this means reframing problems and restructuring datasets to avoid making horribly wrong claims. For the humanists, this means developing and introducing computational techniques that can help them both think about their evidence differently, and better search large databases.

I also study the culture of computing. I believe that for the most part, algorithms, data structures and design principles are invented and not discovered, and this means that the people who invent them have more control over the way computer science has been built than they would have us believe. Things like nerd masculinity and the culture of the early web are as important to understanding contemporary computer science as canonical topics like bitwise operators and complexity classes. While this sort of research seems quite distant from information retrieval and aesthetics, I argue that it is an essential part of any dialogue between computer science and the humanities.

What projects do you work on?

I’m not going to keep this list up to date, so some of these projects might have turned out to be dead ends. I’m definitely happy to talk about any of these ideas, though!