Orit Halpern

Young Bauhaus Research Colloquium




Orit Halpern

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, Montreal

Orit Halpern is presently an associate professor of Interactive Design in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University in Montréal. In her work, she studies the histories of digital technologies, cybernetics, the human and cognitive sciences, and design. Halpern especially focuses on histories of big data, interactivity, and ubiquitous computing. Her most recent book, Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945 (Duke Press 2015), is a genealogy of interactivity, the interface, and “big data”. She has also published and created works for a variety of venues including The Journal of Visual Culture, Public Culture, Configurations, and at ZKM.

The “Smart” Mandate: Infrastructure, Responsive Environments, and “Resilient Hope”.

Today, growing concerns with climate change, energy scarcity, security, and economic collapse have turned the focus of urban planners, investors, and governments towards “infrastructure” as a site of value production and potential salvation from a world consistently defined by catastrophes and “crisis”. From discussions about “disaster capitalism” to the embrace of a world after humans, the idea that some environmental, economic, or security catastrophe has arrived, or will arrive, is almost unquestioned. In response, there has emerged a new paradigm of high technology infrastructure development obsessed with “smart”, “ubiquitous”, or “resilient” infrastructures. Such “smartness” and “resilience” must be understood as quite specific as it directly refers to computationally and digitally managed systems—from electrical grids to building management systems—that can learn, and in theory adapt, through analyzing data about themselves. Whether threatened by terrorism, sub-prime mortgages, energy shortages, or hurricanes, the response is surprisingly similar.

This talk will interrogate the different forms of futurity and life that are currently emerging from this complex contemporary relationship between technology, analytics, and design by engaging in a genealogy of “smartness” ranging from cybernetic ideas of machine learning in the late 1950’s to early efforts to integrate computing into design at MIT in the Architecture Machine Group in the 1970’s to contemporary greenfield “smart” developments in South Korea, Abu Dhabi, and India. In doing so, the talk will ask how these contemporary practices in ubiquitous computing, responsive environments, data storage, and “resilient” planning are shaping the design of large scale infrastructures and our imaginaries of the future of life.