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Tag: Conference (page 2 of 3)

What I wish I’d presented at STEP 2008

Last week I went to Sydney for, amongst a couple of other things, STEP 2008. STEP stands for Science, Technology and Economic Progress, and is described as a National Doctoral Program. It is the brain-child of Dr Don Lamberton and has been running for the last 17 years, although I had never heard about it until this year when a call for applications appeared on the CSAA mailing list. The week was filled with presentations by visiting academics (although a number were no-shows for various reasons), student presentations and time working on group projects.

I had a mixed response to attending STEP. Organisationally the whole thing was a shambles, but I enjoyed the student presentations and met some very pleasant and interesting people. The “networking” experience was undoubtedly more positive for those who were all staying together in the accommodation provided close to the University of Western Sydney campus in Parramatta. This was partly because shared adversity always supports the growth of friendships, and also simply because we spent that much more time together as we wandered the streets of Parramatta looking for somewhere nice to eat within everyone’s budget.

My presentation as part of the program wasn’t bad, but by the end of the week I felt that maybe I had missed an opportunity. I chose to try to fit a run down of humanoid robots, “traditional” communication theory, “alternative” communication theory, companions species and non-humanoid robots into my 20-25 minutes. While I actually managed this quite well, it would have been interesting to present later in the week (instead of my timeslot on Wednesday) because I think I might have been better off using STEP itself as an example of the possibilities of complex partial communication, situated knowledges and the importance of respecting otherness-in-relation.

I think that Dr Lamberton wished that there were more pure scientists and engineers in the group, his main goal being to challenge each person’s particular point of view and disciplinary bias. However, I thought that the diversity of cultural and academic backgrounds, and PhD topics from narrow, broad and inter- disciplines lent it’s own interesting flavour to the week. The fact that most people were very open to all of the research perspectives that were represented meant that the student presentations garnered positive and encouraging feedback, although towards the end I think there might have been a slight lack of respect from some, as the sheer horror of having to listen to yet another presentation wore people down.

For me STEP was a gift as an example of incomplete communication, with it’s mixture of language difficulties, startling cultural differences, specialist (and sometimes obscure) terminology, huge range of theory, and artistic and scientific perspectives. However, I suppose if I had gone down that path, using STEP as my example, there’d have been fewer robots and therefore fewer videos in my presentation. Maybe that would have been too much of a loss, particularly for an audience who probably needed some bizarre visual stimulation at that point in the week!

Vision, Memory, Spectacle

This was quite possibly my last conference for quite a while organised in Perth by the Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association.  Given that Gender Studies isn’t my home field I only registered for one day.  (Well, to be honest, that wasn’t the only reason.  I’ve run out of non-competitive funding money to apply for, which means I couldn’t really afford to go for one day, let alone the whole thing!)

I arrived in time for the first session in the morning only to find that my friend Sandra seemed to be the only presenter in that panel who had actually come to the conference!  Luckily, someone else from UWA switched panels to keep her company.  Both of their papers were excellent, and I was really interested to hear about their research.

My paper was first in the “Science” panel, and I was glad to get it over with.  It went ok, and I got some interesting comments and questions, although I felt that I had lost quite a few members of the audience.  Given my communication theory bias, towards a phenomenological understanding of the irreducible otherness of the Other, I suppose I shouldn’t have found my inability to share all of my ideas that much of a surprise.  Anyway, I definitely feel that my suggestion that machine-like robots could possibly escape being gendered, which I was already aware was colander-like, was irrefutably shot down.

I was so depressed after the conference that I went to Geraldton.  Many people I know in Perth wouldn’t go there if you paid them, but I actually had a very pleasant time staying with friends, having a really nice meal out with my husband and also missing the worst of the rain (which really hit Perth that week).

BSLS Conference 2008

This year the British Society for Literature and Science conference was at Keele, and I had a particularly good time because I had arranged a panel with my friend from Canada, and therefore had someone to discuss all the papers and panels with, as well as someone to team up with for dinners and drinks.  Of course, we were both heavily jetlagged in opposite directions, so neither of us was exactly the life and soul of the party, but we had a nice time nonetheless.

The panel, Beauty/Aesthetics in Science and Literature, went really well, and people seemed to enjoy all of the papers.  It was lucky that we presented when we did, as John Bryden came up to me in the lunch break and introduced himself.  It turned out he was giving a paper about a dancing robot in a panel the following day.  I’d never have known this if John hadn’t told me, because only the paper titles were available in the programme.  Anyway, crisis averted, I went to the paper, and it sounded like an excellent robot

(Writing all of this so long after the date just reminds me that I really need to contact John again to ask him for more information about this robot!)

The conference also included excellent plenaries from Helen Small, Frank Close and Steven Connor.

@ Tama’s request: SLSA N. Katherine Hayles

As I mentioned in the previous post one of the plenary speakers at the SLSA conference that has just finished in Portland, Maine, was N. Katherine Hayles, who spoke on Friday night.  As this was after my panel I was still recovering from “presentation stress”, so off the top of my head I find that I can hardly remember what happened at this session, except for the fact that it was closely related to the theory found in Hayles’ book, My Mother Was a Computer.

However, I did take some notes :-)!

Given that the conference theme was “CODE”, it was unsurprising that Hayles’ talk stressed the need to take computation into account as fundamental rather than just peripheral to our understanding of the world. Hayles therefore spoke about concepts such as hierarchy versus heterarchy (?), intermediation, complexity and emergence.  In particular she drew on the work of Douglas Hofstadter, not so much on his first tome Gödel Escher Bach, but more on his second, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought, and spoke about understanding cognition as recognition and the importance of analogy.

Having talked about programming and different codes, Hayles then moved to consider the idea that “the meaning of information is given by the process that interprets it” (Fredkin), and therefore an understanding of objects coming from processes.

These ideas were then brought together as Hayles talked about computers as providing a level of subcognition and the ground for analogies, which then allowed humans to work at the level of creating analogies between analogies.  This supports the understanding that as humans engineer computers, computers re-engineer humans, in a constant process of coevolution.

Then there were some examples, all taken (I think) from Volume 1 of the Electronic Literature Collection, which looks really interesting.

Hayles also talked about the way that in the media intensive environment that young people experience they develop a talent for hyperattention, which does not prepare them to embrace the still more valued ability for deep attention that most university literacture courses stress in the close reading of novels.  This is something I have heard talked about before, and yet I still often hear scholars complaining about their students not reading the novel they have been set each week :-)!

Anyway, I hope that gives some sort of impression of what the plenary contained, incomplete I’m sure, but I hope not incorrect!

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