What is Digital? with Robin Boast

There are a huge number of Whiggish (deterministic) histories of digitality and digital computing. What is less known are the multitude of diverse stories and technologies that contributed to the rise of the ubiquitous technologies we have today, often in very clumsy, coincidental and circuitous routes. Many of our prized progenitors are less pure or deterministic than we may have been lead to believe. Others, who are claimed for the triumphal histories, were often seeking very different outcomes. In this Seminar, Prof. Boast will present ten objects for discussion that, he hopes, will offer radically different understandings of our digital heritage. The seminar will be a slightly structured, but open discussion between Prof. Boast and participants.

Robin Boast is Professor of Cultural Information Science at the University of Amsterdam(soon to be Professor Emeritus), and for over 30 years he has worked on the history, practice, theory, and performance of information and technology in cultural institutions and society. He has been deeply embedded in research in the fields of museology, history and sociology of science, post-colonial studies and information studies in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. His research has focused on diverse topics, ranging from the first digital collection projects in museums and universities in the 1970s, to the history of knowledge and its ontologies, to indigenous digital knowledge rights, to the history of digitality. Prof. Boast’s most recent book, The Machine and the Ghost: Digitality and its Consequences (Reaktion Books 2017), traces a history of digital encoding from its beginnings in the 1870s to the explosion of the microprocessor in the 1970s. His current research includes a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action Grant (Horizon 2020), CHEurope: Critical Heritage Studies and the Future of Europe. Prof. Boast’s current research focuses on the conceptual confusions in AI, as well as the origin of the digital.