Datasense: Sensor Technology and the Mediation of Sentience

Lecture | October 12 | 4-6 p.m. | Stephens Hall, 470 Stephens Hall

 Natasha Schull, Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University

 Science, Technology, and Society Center (STSC)

Having long employed technology to record, reflect upon, and regulate bodily processes, daily rhythms, moods, and even moral states, over the past decade humans have increasingly turned to microcomputational sensors and digital algorithms to manage these aspects of existence. Enthusiasts argue that the technology transcends the myopic vantage of real-time experience and takes the guesswork out of everyday life, supplementing users’ shortsighted perspective with a continuous, informatic mode of knowing (or “cyborg epistemology,” to invoke a term from the field of AI) that finds truth in the scattered points, correlations, and cumulative accretions of big data. Some users of the technology claim it affords them a “sixth sense,” a “datasense,” “digital insight,” or even acts as “a new sense organ.” As actions and states feed into data streams, so data streams feed into actions and states, becoming a vital aspect of felt experience even as it eludes the conscious grasp of human cognition. This talk explores how wearable sensor technology might be altering the terms of human sentience, focusing on self-trackers’ experience—and experiments—with mood-modulating devices and apps.

About Natasha Schüll

Natasha Dow Schüll is a cultural anthropologist and associate professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Her recent book, ADDICTION BY DESIGN: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press 2012), draws on extended research among compulsive gamblers and the designers of the slot machines they play to explore the relationship between technology design and the experience of addiction. Her next book, KEEPING TRACK (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, expected late 2018), concerns the rise of digital self-tracking technologies and the new modes of introspection and self-governance they engender. Her documentary film, BUFFET: All You Can Eat Las Vegas, has screened multiple times on PBS and appeared in numerous film festivals.

Schüll graduated Summa Cum Laude from UC Berkeley’s Department of Anthropology in 1993 and returned to receive her PhD in 2003. She held postdoctoral positions as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy and as a fellow at NYU’s International Center for Advanced Studies. She was a professor at MIT from 2007–2015, before joining the faculty at New York University. Schüll’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, among other sources.

Schüll’s research and op-eds have been featured in such national media venues as 60 minutes, The New York Times, The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Capital Gazette, Financial Times, Forbes, Boston Globe, Salon, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Daily Herald, Las Vegas Sun, 99% Invisible, NPR, WGBH, and WNYC.

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