The MIT Press Podcast

The MIT Press

Interviews with authors of MIT Press books. read less
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More Than A Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech
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More Than A Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech
Today’s book is: More Than A Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech (MIT Press, 2024), by Meredith Broussard. When technology reinforces inequality, it's not just a glitch—it's a signal that we need to redesign our systems to create a more equitable world. The word “glitch” implies an incidental error, as easy to patch up as it is to identify. But what if racism, sexism, and ableism aren't just bugs in mostly functional machinery? What if they're coded into the system itself?  Meredith Broussard demonstrates in More Than a Glitch how neutrality in tech is a myth and why algorithms need to be held accountable. Broussard, a data scientist and one of the few Black female researchers in artificial intelligence, masterfully synthesizes concepts from computer science and sociology. She explores a range of examples: from facial recognition technology trained only to recognize lighter skin tones, to mortgage-approval algorithms that encourage discriminatory lending, to the dangerous feedback loops that arise when medical diagnostic algorithms are trained on insufficiently diverse data. Even when such technologies are designed with good intentions, Broussard shows, fallible humans develop programs that can result in devastating consequences. Broussard argues that the solution isn't to make omnipresent tech more inclusive, but to root out the algorithms that target certain demographics as “other” to begin with. With sweeping implications for fields ranging from jurisprudence to medicine, the ground-breaking insights of More Than a Glitch are essential reading for anyone invested in building a more equitable future. Our guest is: Meredith Broussard, who is an associate professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University, research director at the NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology, and the author of several books, including More Than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech, and Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World. Her academic research focuses on artificial intelligence in investigative reporting and ethical AI, with a particular interest in using data analysis for social good. Our host is: Dr. Christina Gessler, the producer of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in history, which she uses to explore what stories we tell and what happens to those we never tell. Welcome to Academic Life, the podcast for your academic journey—and beyond! Join us again to learn from more experts inside and outside the academy, and around the world. You can help support the show by downloading, sharing, posting about, or assigning any of our 200+ episodes.
Elena Kochetkova, "The Green Power of Socialism: Wood, Forest, and the Making of Soviet Industrially Embedded Ecology" (MIT Press, 2024)
05-06-2024
Elena Kochetkova, "The Green Power of Socialism: Wood, Forest, and the Making of Soviet Industrially Embedded Ecology" (MIT Press, 2024)
In The Green Power of Socialism: Wood, Forest, and the Making of Soviet Industrially Embedded Ecology (MIT Press, 2024), Elena Kochetkova examines the relationship between nature and humans under state socialism by looking at the industrial role of Soviet forests. The book explores evolving Soviet policies of wood consumption, discussing how professionals working in the forestry industry of the Soviet state viewed the present and future of forests by considering them both a natural resource and a trove of industrial material. The book also discusses how post-Soviet industry has abandoned these socialist practices and the idea of nature as a complicated ecosystem that provides a crucial service to society. Within the context of the current environmental crisis, the book invites readers to reevaluate state socialism as a complex phenomenon with sophisticated interactions between nature and industry. In so doing, it contributes a fresh perspective on the activities of socialist experts and their view of nature, shedding light on Soviet state industrial and environmental policy and its continuing legacy in the present day. Elena Kochetkova is Associate Professor in Modern European Economic History at the Department of Archeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion at the University of Bergen. She served as a Secretary of the European Society of Environmental History from 2019 to 2021. Ailin Zhou is a PhD student in Film & Digital Media at University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research interests include transnational Chinese cinema, Asian diasporic visual culture, contemporary art, and feminist and queer theories.
Iris Moon, "Melancholy Wedgwood" (MIT Press, 2024)
26-05-2024
Iris Moon, "Melancholy Wedgwood" (MIT Press, 2024)
Melancholy Wedgwood (MIT Press, 2024) is an experimental biography of the ceramics entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood that reveals the tenuous relationship of eighteenth-century England to late-capitalist modernity. It traces the multiple strands in the life of the ceramic entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795) to propose an alternative view of eighteenth-century England's tenuous relationship to our own lives and times, amid the ruins of late-capitalist modernity. Through intimate vignettes and essays, and in writing at turns funny, sharp, and pensive, Iris Moon chips away at the mythic image of Wedgwood as singular genius, business titan, and benevolent abolitionist, revealing an amorphous, fragile, and perhaps even shattered life. In the process the book goes so far as to dismantle certain entrenched social and economic assumptions, not least that the foundational myths of capitalism might not be quite so rosy after all, and instead induce a feeling that could only be characterized as blue. Iris Moon is Associate Curator in the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is the author of Luxury after the Terror and coeditor with Richard Taws of Time, Media, and Visuality in Post-Revolutionary France. She teaches at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Rachel Pafe is a writer and researcher interested in modern Jewish thought, critical theories of mourning, and the boundaries of biographical writing.
Matthew Berland and Antero Garcia, "The Left Hand of Data: Designing Education Data for Justice" (MIT Press, 2024)
15-05-2024
Matthew Berland and Antero Garcia, "The Left Hand of Data: Designing Education Data for Justice" (MIT Press, 2024)
Educational analytics tend toward aggregation, asking what a “normative” learner does. In The Left Hand of Data: Designing Education Data for Justice (MIT Press, 2024, open access at this link), educational researchers Matthew Berland and Antero Garcia start from a different assumption—that outliers are, and must be treated as, valued individuals. Berland and Garcia argue that the aim of analytics should not be about enforcing and entrenching norms but about using data science to break new ground and enable play and creativity. From this speculative vantage point, they ask how we can go about living alongside data in a better way, in a more just way, while also building on the existing technologies and our knowledge of the present. The Left Hand of Data explores the many ways in which we use data to shape the possible futures of young people—in schools, in informal learning environments, in colleges, in libraries, and with educational games. It considers the processes by which students are sorted, labeled, categorized, and intervened upon using the bevy of data extracted and collected from individuals and groups, anonymously or identifiably. When, how, and with what biases are these data collected and utilized? What decisions must educational researchers make around data in an era of high-stakes assessment, surveillance, and rising inequities tied to race, class, gender, and other intersectional factors? How are these complex considerations around data changing in the rapidly evolving world of machine learning, AI, and emerging fields of educational data science? The surprising answers the authors discover in their research make clear that we do not need to wait for a hazy tomorrow to do better today. Jen Hoyer is Technical Services and Electronic Resources Librarian at CUNY New York City College of Technology. Jen edits for Partnership Journal and organizes with the TPS Collective. She is co-author of What Primary Sources Teach: Lessons for Every Classroom and The Social Movement Archive.
Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola, "The Rule Book: The Building Blocks of Games" (MIT Press, 2024)
04-05-2024
Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola, "The Rule Book: The Building Blocks of Games" (MIT Press, 2024)
How games are built on the foundations of rules, and how rules—of which there are only five kinds—really work. Board games to sports, digital games to party games, gambling to role-playing games. They all share one thing in common: rules. Indeed, rules are the one and only thing game scholars agree is central to games. But what, in fact, are rules? In The Rule Book: The Building Blocks of Games (MIT Press, 2024), Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola explore how different kinds of rules work as building blocks of games. Rules are constraints placed on us while we play, carving a limited possibility space for us. They also inject meaning into our play: without rules there is no queen in chess, no ball in Pong, and no hole in one in golf. Stenros and Montola discuss how rules constitute games through five foundational types: the explicit statements listed in the official rules, the private limitations and goals players place on themselves, the social and cultural norms that guide gameplay, the external regulation the surrounding society places on playing, and the material embodiments of rules. Depending on the game, rules can be formal, internal, social, external, or material. By considering the similarities and differences of wildly different games and rules within a shared theoretical framework, The Rule Book renders all games more legible. Rudolf Inderst is a professor of Game Design with a focus on Digital Game Studies at the IU International University of Applied Science, department lead for Games at Swiss culture magazine Nahaufnahmen.ch, editor of “DiGRA D-A-CH Game Studies Watchlist”, a weekly messenger newsletter about Game Culture and curator of @gamestudies at tiktok.
Diana Chapman Walsh, "The Claims of Life: A Memoir" (MIT Press, 2023)
21-04-2024
Diana Chapman Walsh, "The Claims of Life: A Memoir" (MIT Press, 2023)
The engaging memoir of a legendary president of Wellesley College known for authentic and open-hearted leadership, who drove innovation with power and love. The Claims of Life: A Memoir (The MIT Press, 2023) traces the emergence of a young woman who set out believing she wasn’t particularly smart but went on to meet multiple tests of leadership in the American academy—a place where everyone wants to be heard and no one wants a boss. In college, Diana Chapman met Chris Walsh, who became a towering figure in academic science. Their marriage of fifty-seven years brought them to the forefront of revolutions in higher education, gender expectations, health-care delivery, and biomedical research.  The Claims of Life offers readers an unusually intimate view of trustworthy leadership that begins and ends in self-knowledge. During a transformative fourteen-year Wellesley presidency, Walsh advanced women’s authority, compassionate governance, and self-reinvention. After Wellesley, Walsh’s interests took her to the boards of five national nonprofits galvanizing change. She kept counsel with Nobel laureates, feminist icons, and even the Dalai Lama, seeking solutions to the world’s climate crisis. With an ear tuned to social issues, The Claims of Life is an inspiring account of a life lived with humor, insight, and meaning that will surely leave a lasting impression on its readers. Diana Chapman Walsh is President Emerita of Wellesley College and an emerita member of the governing boards of MIT and Amherst College. She was a trustee of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and the Mind and Life Institute, and also chaired the Broad Institute's inaugural board and cofounded the Council on the Uncertain Human Future. Caleb Zakarin is editor at the New Books Network.
Matthew H. Hersch, "Dark Star: A New History of the Space Shuttle" (MIT Press, 2023)
30-03-2024
Matthew H. Hersch, "Dark Star: A New History of the Space Shuttle" (MIT Press, 2023)
In Dark Star: A New History of the Space Shuttle (MIT Press, 2023), Dr. Matthew Hersch challenges the existing narrative of the most significant human space program of the last 50 years, NASA's space shuttle. He begins with the origins of the space shuttle: a century-long effort to develop a low-cost, reusable, rocket-powered airplane to militarize and commercialize space travel, which Hersch explains was built the wrong way, at the wrong time, and for all the wrong reasons. Describing the unique circumstances that led to the space shuttle's creation by President Richard Nixon's administration in 1972 and its subsequent flights from 1981 through 2011, Dr. Hersch illustrates how the space shuttle was doomed from the start. While most historians have accepted the view that the space shuttle's fatal accidents—including the 1986 Challenger explosion—resulted from deficiencies in NASA's management culture that lulled engineers into a false confidence in the craft, Dark Star reveals the widespread understanding that the shuttle was predestined for failure as a technology demonstrator. The vehicle was intended only to give the United States the appearance of a viable human spaceflight program until funds became available to eliminate its obvious flaws. Hersch's work seeks to answer the perilous questions of technological choice that confront every generation, and it is a critical read for anyone interested in how we can create a better world through the things we build.  This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose forthcoming book focuses on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.
Thomas S. Mullaney, "The Chinese Computer: A Global History of the Information Age" (MIT Press, 2024)
29-03-2024
Thomas S. Mullaney, "The Chinese Computer: A Global History of the Information Age" (MIT Press, 2024)
The fascinating, untold story of how the Chinese language overcame unparalleled challenges and revolutionized the world of computing. A standard QWERTY keyboard has a few dozen keys. How can Chinese—a language with tens of thousands of characters and no alphabet—be input on such a device?  In The Chinese Computer: A Global History of the Information Age (MIT Press, 2024), Thomas Mullaney sets out to resolve this paradox, and in doing so, discovers that the key to this seemingly impossible riddle has given rise to a new epoch in the history of writing—a form of writing he calls “hypography.” Based on fifteen years of research, this pathbreaking history of the Chinese language charts the beginnings of electronic Chinese technology in the wake of World War II up through to its many iterations in the present day. Mullaney takes the reader back through the history and evolution of Chinese language computing technology, showing the development of electronic Chinese input methods—software programs that enable Chinese characters to be produced using alphanumeric symbols—and the profound impact they have had on the way Chinese is written. Along the way, Mullaney introduces a cast of brilliant and eccentric personalities drawn from the ranks of IBM, MIT, the CIA, the Pentagon, the Taiwanese military, and the highest rungs of mainland Chinese establishment, to name a few, and the unexpected roles they played in developing Chinese language computing. Finally, he shows how China and the non-Western world—because of the hypographic technologies they had to invent in order to join the personal computing revolution—“saved” the Western computer from its deep biases, enabling it to achieve a meaningful presence in markets outside of the Americas and Europe. An eminently engaging and artfully told history, The Chinese Computer is a must-read for anyone interested in how culture informs computing and how computing, in turn, shapes culture. Thomas S. Mullaney is Professor of Chinese History at Stanford University and a Guggenheim Fellow. Caleb Zakarin is Editor at the New Books Network.
Peter D. McDonald, "Run and Jump: The Meaning of the 2D Platformer" (MIT Press, 2024)
15-03-2024
Peter D. McDonald, "Run and Jump: The Meaning of the 2D Platformer" (MIT Press, 2024)
How abstract design decisions in 2D platform games create rich worlds of meaning for players. Since the 1980s, 2D platform games have captivated their audiences. Whether the player scrambles up the ladders in Donkey Kong or leaps atop an impossibly tall pipe in Super Mario Bros., this deceptively simple visual language has persisted in our cultural imagination of video games. In Run and Jump: The Meaning of the 2D Platformer (MIT Press, 2024), Peter McDonald surveys the legacy of 2D platform games and examines how abstract and formal design choices have kept players playing. McDonald argues that there is a rich layer of meaning underneath, say, the quality of an avatar’s movement, the pacing and rhythm of level design, the personalities expressed by different enemies, and the emotion elicited by collecting a coin. To understand these games, McDonald draws on technical discussions by game designers as well as theoretical work about the nature of signs from structuralist semiotics. Interspersed throughout are design exercises that show how critical interpretation can become a tool for game designers to communicate with their players. With examples drawn from over forty years of game history, and from games made by artists, hobbyists, iconic designers, and industry studios, Run and Jump presents a comprehensive—and engaging—vision of this slice of game history.  Rudolf Inderst is a professor of Game Design with a focus on Digital Game Studies at the IU International University of Applied Science, department lead for Games at Swiss culture magazine Nahaufnahmen.ch, editor of “DiGRA D-A-CH Game Studies Watchlist”, a weekly messenger newsletter about Game Culture and curator of @gamestudies at tiktok.
Benjamin J. Pauli, "Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis" (MIT Press, 2019)
09-03-2024
Benjamin J. Pauli, "Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis" (MIT Press, 2019)
Originally published in 2019, Benjamin Pauli’s book, Flint Fights Back offers lasting insights into one of the most important drinking water-caused public health crises of American history. In this 2024 interview Pauli shares some explanations from the book but also offers his insights, in this year of the 10th anniversary of the Flint Water Crisis, on what is happening in Flint today and what, after all, we have learned from the fight for clean water in Flint, Michigan. -Patricia Houser, New Books in Environmental Studies Host. An account of the Flint water crisis shows that Flint's struggle for safe and affordable water is part of a broader struggle for democracy. When Flint, Michigan, changed its source of municipal water from Lake Huron to the Flint River, Flint residents were repeatedly assured that the water was of the highest quality. At the switchover ceremony, the mayor and other officials performed a celebratory toast, declaring “Here's to Flint!” and downing glasses of freshly treated water. But as we now know, the water coming out of residents' taps harbored a variety of contaminants, including high levels of lead. In Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis (MIT Press, 2019), Benjamin Pauli examines the water crisis and the political activism that it inspired, arguing that Flint's struggle for safe and affordable water was part of a broader struggle for democracy. Pauli connects Flint's water activism with the ongoing movement protesting the state of Michigan's policy of replacing elected officials in financially troubled cities like Flint and Detroit with appointed “emergency managers.” Currently available for free online: “The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from the MIT Libraries.” Patricia Houser, Ph.D., AICP, is former professor of geography and urban planning, now focused on writing and environmental research.
Murray Dick, "The Infographic: A History of Data Graphics in News and Communications" (MIT Press, 2020)
07-03-2024
Murray Dick, "The Infographic: A History of Data Graphics in News and Communications" (MIT Press, 2020)
Infographics and data visualization are ubiquitous in our everyday media diet, particularly in news—in print newspapers, on television news, and online. It has been argued that infographics are changing what it means to be literate in the twenty-first century—and even that they harmonize uniquely with human cognition. In this first serious exploration of the subject, Murray Dick traces the cultural evolution of the infographic, examining its use in news—and resistance to its use—from eighteenth-century print culture to today's data journalism. He identifies six historical phases of infographics in popular culture: the proto-infographic, the classical, the improving, the commercial, the ideological, and the professional. In The Infographic: A History of Data Graphics in News and Communications (MIT Press, 2020), Dick describes the emergence of infographic forms within a wider history of journalism, culture, and communications, focusing his analysis on the UK. He considers their use in the partisan British journalism of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century print media; their later deployment as a vehicle for reform and improvement; their mass-market debut in the twentieth century as a means of explanation (and sometimes propaganda); and their use for both ideological and professional purposes in the post–World War II marketized newspaper culture. Finally, he proposes best practices for news infographics and defends infographics and data visualization against a range of criticism. Dick offers not only a history of how the public has experienced and understood the infographic, but also an account of what data visualization can tell us about the past. Dr Murray Dick. Senior Lecturer In Multimedia Journalism at Newcastle University Morteza Hajizadeh is a Ph.D. graduate in English from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His research interests are Cultural Studies; Critical Theory; Environmental History; Medieval (Intellectual) History; Gothic Studies; 18th and 19th Century British Literature. YouTube channel. Twitter.
Thomas Metzinger, "The Elephant and the Blind: The Experience of Pure Consciousness: Philosophy, Science, and 500+ Experiential Reports" (MIT Press, 2024)
06-03-2024
Thomas Metzinger, "The Elephant and the Blind: The Experience of Pure Consciousness: Philosophy, Science, and 500+ Experiential Reports" (MIT Press, 2024)
What if our goal had not been to land on Mars, but in pure consciousness? The experience of pure consciousness—what does it look like? What is the essence of human consciousness? In The Elephant and the Blind. The Experience of Pure Consciousness: Philosophy, Science, and 500+ Experiential Reports (MIT Press, 2024)," influential philosopher Thomas Metzinger, one of the world's leading researchers on consciousness, brings together more than 500 experiential reports to offer the world's first comprehensive account of states of pure consciousness. Drawing on a large psychometric study of meditators in 57 countries, Metzinger focuses on “pure awareness” in meditation—the simplest form of experience there is—to illuminate the most fundamental aspects of how consciousness, the brain, and illusions of self all interact. Starting with an exploration of existential ease and ending on Bewusstseinskultur, a culture of consciousness, Metzinger explores the increasingly non-egoic experiences of silence, wakefulness, and clarity, of bodiless body-experience, ego-dissolution, and nondual awareness. From there, he assembles a big picture—the elephant in the parable, from which the book’s title comes—of what it would take to arrive at a minimal model explanation for conscious experience and create a genuine culture of consciousness. Freeing pure awareness from new-age gurus and old religions, The Elephant and the Blind combines personal reports of pure consciousness with incisive analysis to address the whole consciousness community, from neuroscientists to artists, and its accessibility echoes the author’s career-long commitment to widening access to philosophy itself. Jeff Adler is an ex-linguist and occasional contributor to New Books Network!
Jacob Ward, "Visions of a Digital Nation: Market and Monopoly in British Telecommunications" (MIT Press, 2024)
23-02-2024
Jacob Ward, "Visions of a Digital Nation: Market and Monopoly in British Telecommunications" (MIT Press, 2024)
In Visions of a Digital Nation: Market and Monopoly in British Telecommunications (MIT Press, 2024), Jacob Ward explains why the privatization of British Telecom signaled a pivotal moment in the rise of neoliberalism, and how it was shaped by the longer development and digitalization of Britain’s telecommunications infrastructure.  When Margaret Thatcher sold British Telecom for £3.6 billion in 1984, it became not only, at the time, the largest stock flotation in history, but also a watershed moment in the rise of neoliberalism and deregulation. In Visions of a Digital Nation, Ward offers an incisive interdisciplinary perspective on how technology prefigured this pivot. Giving due consideration to the politicians, engineers, and managers who paved the way for this historic moment, Ward illustrates how the decision validated the privatization of public utilities and tied digital technology to free market rationales. In this examination of the national and, at times, global history of technology, Ward’s approach is sweeping. Utilizing infrastructure studies, environmental history, and urban and local history, Ward explores Britain’s nationalist and welfarist plans for a digital information utility and shows how these projects contested and adapted to the “market turn” under Margaret Thatcher. Ultimately, Visions of a Digital Nation compellingly argues that politicians did not impose neoliberalism top-down, but that technology, engineers, and managers shaped these politics from the bottom up. Jacob Ward is Assistant Professor in the History Department and Science, Technology and Society Studies Research Program at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Maastricht University. He is coeditor of Histories of Technology, the Environment and Modern Britain. Filippo De Chirico is a PhD student in History and Politics of Energy at Roma Tre University (Italy).