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Programmable Visions: On the Emergence of Computer and Biological Code-Scripts

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun Department of Modern Culture and Media Brown University



Thursday, May 11 — 12:15-2:45, ACE Teleseminar Room

Why are images proliferating at a time when their power to index reality is waning?  How and why have non-transparent technologies, such as computers, become conflated with transparency?  This talk argues that the answer to these questions lies in the unforeseen emergence of programming languages.  Drawing connections between early genetics and computer engineering, this talk argues that digital computing’s “programmability” its return to a “clock-work” universe-encapsulated mid-twentieth century dreams of biological heredity.  Rather than foreshadowing DNA, as many have argued, early ruminations on the existence of a genetic code-script that conflated execution and legislation, such as Schrodinger’s What is Life?, foreshadowed the emergence of a code-based causality, which software-not DNA-would, and could only, instantiate.

Wendy Chun is Associate Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. She has studied both Systems Design Engineering and English Literature, which she combines and mutates in her current work on digital media. She is author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (MIT, 2005), and co-editor (with Thomas Keenan) of New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader (Routledge, 2005).  She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard and a Wriston Fellow at Brown. She is currently working on a monograph entitled Programmed Visions: Software, DNA, Race.

Directions: The ACEbase is complex 522, behind Bonney Research Center, in the shadow of the Science Library.
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