MIT undergraduates now carry more computing power in their pockets than the Apollo projects had to put a man on the moon. Indeed, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, cell phones are “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” How have these changes in computational power refashioned fundamental questions about community, identity, democracy, and knowledge itself? Moreover, as computational tools, and the changes they make possible, become more complex, how do we evaluate these fundamental shifts with a common language?
MIT scholars, led by the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS), are working to develop that shared language. Anchored in MIT’s longstanding commitment to the greater public good, the Computational Cultures Initiative seeks to incubate vital exchanges between cutting-edge technologists and distinguished historians, philosophers, anthropologists, political scientists, and others who study the human impacts of technological change. Through workshops, lectures, classes, and social events focused on sustained humanistic and interdisciplinary research, the Computational Cultures Initiative will offer spaces to make sense of the algorithms that sort the news and sentence prisoners, the social media platforms that shape political debate, and the mathematical models that forecast financial futures or draw electoral maps. In a time of increasing global uncertainty, we seek to build more responsible technologies, cultivate social consciousness among scientists and engineers, foster broader public understanding of computational cultures, and develop prescient policy recommendations.