[-empyre-] Introducing Machine Dreams Contributors: Ana Monroe and Jenny Rhee!

Ana Monroe ana at anamonroe.com
Tue May 30 03:51:26 AEST 2017

Hi All!
Thanks again for including me in this exciting discussion. I apologize for
my delay in reply; this discussion week caught me in the beaches, boulder
fields, and bogs of Iceland, where I was participating in an annual
feminist engagement with a small group of long time friends and
collaborators. Needless to say, while this this environment was
stimulating, exciting, and fascinating (we talked a lot about Earth
Sciences), it was not conducive to replying to emails in a timely manner.

I've often reflected on the humanization that people foist onto robots and
machine aids. I found this resonant with both Jenny's work, Petit Mal, as
well as in Margaret's work, Algorithm Beam. In the latter, I found myself
in the position of the poet. When reading, I see my child, my program, in
the work. I lovingly write the little, proscribed language that, when read
in sequence, can deliver to me a great delight: a red light, just as I told
her to do! A command fulfilled; I am satisfied. She's so filial, my child.
But in the moment following the moment of triumph, I find myself
disappointed as well: a daughter who only does what I say? That is so
lonely, so narcissistic, so limited-to-myself. I have never wanted a child
in my own image.

In my read, Jenny's study of Big Dog enters the machine-human interaction
into a couple ancient conversations. The first two in my mind are (1)
servant-master relationship and (2) the human-animal-civilization complex.
In regards to (1), if a person owns a thing, is it a crime to abuse it,
physically? If it damages the thing to kick it, or to drive it until its
parts fail, can the person be held responsible? Current society draws the
line as sentience, speaking to point (2). As an example, if a person drives
a Chevy Silverado until it comes apart, then it not a crime. If a person
drives a horse or mule or dog until it is lame or dies, then yes, it is a
crime. Big Dog uses reasoning so advanced that it could appear to be
sentient.  Does that advanced reasoning / mimicked sentience mean it should
not be beaten, kicked, or driven until it falls apart? I would answer no.
But my answer isn't couched in an explicit concern for Big Dog as
equivalent to a real dog.

It is, instead, couched in my concern for the human resultant from the
humanity that has most likely been imposed on Big Dog by its humans. A
human who finds that they have driven their Chevy Silverado to the point
that it comes apart will often express emotional distress similarly to
those expressed at the loss of an animal like a horse, mule, or dog. A
human who abuses a thing like Big Dog may not be hurting a real dog, but
may be hurting himself or others around him with his cruelty to this
non-sentient but emotionally laden object. A conclusion that then leads me
to reflect on the necessity of considering objects as having discreet and
staggeringly important histories, which which Jenny referred at the latter
end of her piece. Petit Mal was really such an interesting piece of
writing. Thank you so much for sharing this.

In answer to Margaret's question, my interest in robots stems from my
formal and informal study of (1) as an industrial designer, the
humanization of objects on the parts of humans and (2) as a historian, the
economic impact of technological access across societies. As someone from a
rural area, I can trace in my personal history the points at which access
to technology divided me from childhood friends, shifting the trajectories
of our lives away or towards each other. Formalizing this study during my
graduate work in Uganda, I find that one of the more understudied and
interesting aspects of the current technological paradigm is the uneven
distribution of technology - not just luxury technology - but work-a-day or
simple technology, across populations.

The practice of imaging the near future and its technological a-symmetry in
the form of a short story actually came quite naturally to me. Short
stories have often been vehicles for criticism and satire, and I explicitly
wanted to avoid taking on a technologically rigorous approach so as to talk
about the relationships humans have with each other, with non-sentient
machine objects, sentient beings, quasi-sentient beings, and artificial,
non-machine sentient beings. In the story, I wanted to produce a binary in
which two societies are tied together in political and economic name but
are extremely divided in practice. How will these societies use technology
differently from one another? What values will be foregrounded by
interpretation and how will those values differ across the societies in

In contrast to this comfortable-to-me approach to examining these topics
through short story in my thesis, I found the process of choosing the
excerpts for the Zine quite terrifying. Because I wish to discuss things
that are not quite nice and because short stories are packed with topics,
cutting any one out threatened to deflate or flatten the story. I'm not
entirely sure I made these excerpts correctly. I'm still conflicted. But I
think that the practice of having to select was good for me in terms of
developing as a writer. Having to make decisions, to make cuts, caused me
to see the story in a new light and to choose to foreground episodes which,
in the larger structure, I could blend together.


On Sat, May 27, 2017 at 2:32 PM, J. Rhee <rhee.jennifer.s at gmail.com> wrote:

> I’m excited to be joining such a great conversation! Thank you for
> facilitating this, Margaret! I love Keith’s “Uncanny Emmett Till” piece and
> his discussion of the valley as justification for the inhuman. I totally
> agree! The uncanny valley and other “tests” that define the human are often
> mobilized to de-humanize certain people. This also resonates with Mark’s
> thoughts on the chatbots and intersectionality.
> To respond to Margaret’s question, I first became interested in robots as
> a when I met the robot Leonardo at a robotics lab at MIT. Leonardo looks
> like a cute, cuddly stuffed animal with very expressive facial features and
> small, pink human-like hands. It looks a lot like a gremlin before it gets
> wet. As I was standing face-to-face with this robot, I was really arrested
> by it and all the complicated ways it was evoking and inscribing the human.
> I felt very compelled to explore these inscriptions from within the
> humanities. I felt this urgency even more strongly when I began researching
> the Department of Defense’s significant role in funding U.S. robotics
> research (including Leonardo, as well as Predator drones). My interest in
> robotic art comes from my desire to look for different robotic imaginaries
> (with their different funding structures and strategic priorities) that
> offer different visions of the human and possible futures outside of
> militarization (for example, the pieces in the *Machine Dreams Zine*!).
> I’m interested in how the robot inscribes certain visions of humanness and
> erases others, particularly in relation to race, gender, class, and
> citizenship. Or in other words, I’m interested in how the robot reflects
> larger societal practices of dehumanization. Speaking to Margaret’s
> question about revising, the further I got into my research on robots, the
> more I kept coming back to labor as the site where robots humanized and
> dehumanized. Robotic art plays with this attachment to labor in productive
> ways that at times reflects these attachments and at other times challenges
> them.
> all best,
> Jenny
> Jennifer Rhee
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> Media, Art, & Text Ph.D. Program
> Virginia Commonwealth University
> On May 26, 2017, at 3:31 PM, Margaret J Rhee <mrhee at uoregon.edu> wrote:
> Hi All,
> These conversation has been so generative, thanks everyone! Buoyed by all
> the very exciting work, and appreciate Keith and Sun Yung's insights, and
> joining the dialogue! To add to Keith and Sun Yung's wonderful
> contributions, I'm pleased to introduce two more participants from the
> Zine, Ana Monroe and Jenny Rhee!
> Ana Monroe is a designer and writer, and her inventive short fictional
> piece, Les Futures Flanuers, drawn from her MFA thesis at Art Center
> College of Design is on page 36.
> As a scholar, Jenny Rhee's moving piece, "Petit Mal, Proprioceptive
> Precocity, and Robotic Futures," on Big Dog, and other robotic art is
> excerpted from her forthcoming monograph, and included in the Machine
> Dreams Zine, page 45.
> Check out their respective work here: https://issuu.com/
> repcollective/docs/machine_dreams_issuu
> Their bios are below.
> To begin, like Sun Yung and Keith's exciting work on cyborg poetics and
> worlds, could you both speak on the inspirations behind your research on
> robots, and fiction writing? More specifically, I understand that both of
> your excerpts drew from a dissertation and a thesis, and I wondered if you
> could reflect on the process of revising into another form that was
> published in the Zine, and in your larger body of work?
> ------
> Jenny Rhee
> Jennifer Rhee is an assistant professor of English at Virginia
> Commonwealth University. Her book, All Too Human: Labor and Dehumanization
> in the Robotic Imaginary (forthcoming, University of Minnesota Press,
> 2018), examines cultural forms and technologies to highlight the robot's
> entanglement with dehumanization and devalued labor. Her work has appeared
> or is forthcoming in venues including Camera Obscura, Configurations,
> Postmodern Culture, Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of
> Literature, and Thresholds. She is working on a new book  on counting
> technologies and practices, from the emergence of statistics to
> contemporary digital surveillance. Bringing science and technology into
> conversation with artistic and literary works, this book examines who
> determines what counts, who constitutes the uncounted or the uncountable,
> and who is all too readily counted.
> Ana Monroe
> One year after earning her Modern History A.B. from Columbia University in
> 2004 and following a quick stint as a translator at the first Apple Store
> in the world (Soho, New York), Ana began her design training by jumping
> into the creative role of Prop Stylist for Still Photography projects. In
> this position, Ana was responsible for the physical elements of the shoot:
> the props, the sets, the fabricated, and the found.Moving quickly into
> Production Design for both larger scale Stills projects as well as Motion
> Picture, Ana led the Art Department section of movie making.
> As a Production Designer, Ana worked closely with the Director and
> Director of Photography to bring a script off the page. Research into the
> visual languages of diverse groups and historical periods, ethnographic
> inquiries, and sheer imagination all combine to form identity of a
> production. The practical side of both Styling and Designing required the
> development project management skills. She created and managed budgets,
> schedules, and personnel. The scope of this role honed not only the ability
> to conceptualize and produce myriad design styles, but also that of
> visualizing and evaluating options, managing teams, and growing client
> relationships.
> She applied and was accepted with an Honors scholarship to the award
> winning Media Design Practices Department at Art Center College of Design
> in 2014. Working in the field with UNICEF as part of her 2014-2015 year,
> Ana quickly gained praise for her self directed technology projects with
> Luzira Primary School as well as her evaluations of UNICEF’s MobiStation
> and ICT projects.
> During her 2015-2016 thesis year, she received both Honors and Thesis
> Awards and worked with advisors such as BMW DesignWorks lead Mike Milley
> and Art Center College of Design's DesignMatters Chair Mariana Amatullo.
> She is now a Service Designer leading multiple projects from The Innovation
> Lab at OPM, detailed to the Office of Veterans Experience at the Department
> of Veterans Affairs.
> --
> Margaret Rhee, Ph.D.
> Visiting Assistant Professor
> Women's and Gender Studies
> University of Oregon

Ana Monroe
<https://www.linkedin.com/in/anamonroe>  <https://twitter.com/aanatecture>
<https://www.pinterest.com/anatecture/> <https://instagram.com/anatecture/>
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