English 195bd. The Dark Side of Big Data

Instructor: Maria Dikcis
Tuesday & Thursday, 10:30-11:45 am | Location: TBA

Does it sometimes feel like Instagram ads are listening a little too closely to your conversations? Have you ever wondered if certain corporations might own images of your face? Today, fears abound that algorithms are not only populating our lives with annoying targeted advertisements but might also be creating the most unequal societies that have ever existed. In this interdisciplinary seminar, we will explore key methodological overlaps and differences between humanistic and scientific approaches to the phenomenon known as Big Data, or enormously large data sets that are analyzed by computer software to reveal patterns associated with human behavior and communications. In particular, we will focus our attention on the dark side of Big Data, which is increasingly embedded with harmful biases against women, people of color, immigrants, and low-socioeconomic status communities. Our inquires will thus concern a wide array of issues that stem from the misapplication of Big Data, such as data discrimination, biased artificial intelligence, search engines that reinforce racism, predictive policing, and surveillance capitalism, as well as how these issues intersect with race, class, gender, and citizenship. We will ground these discussions about contemporary theories of Big Data in engagements with a number of literary texts, films, and new media artworks. These cultural case studies range from a poetry collection exploring anti-Blackness and the carceral state, a documentary on social media data scandals, a glitch feminism manifesto, a memoir about working at an Amazon.com fulfillment center, queer video games, and robot love poems.​​​​​​​