“Humans in the Loop: Humanities Hermeneutics and Machine Learning” (DHd2020 Conference)

“Humans in the Loop: Humanities Hermeneutics and Machine Learning.” Keynote for DHd2020 (7th Annual Conference of the German Society for Digital Humanities), University of Paderborn, 6 March 2020.

  • Abstract: As indicated by the emergent research fields of computational “interpretability” and “explainability,” machine learning creates fundamental hermeneutical problems. One of the least understood aspects of machine learning is how humans learn from machine learning. How does an individual, team, organization, or society “read” computational “distant reading” when it is performed by complex algorithms on immense datasets? Can methods of interpretation familiar to the humanities (e.g., traditional or poststructuralist ways of relating the general and the specific, the abstract and the concrete, the structure and the event, or the same and the different) be applied to machine learning? Further, can such traditions be applied with the explicitness, standardization, and reproducibility needed to engage meaningfully with the different Spielräum – scope for “play” (as in the “play of a rope,” “wiggle room,” or machine-part “tolerance”) – of computation? If so, how might that change the hermeneutics of the humanities themselves?
            In his keynote lecture, Alan Liu uses the example of the formalized “interpretation protocol” for topic models he is developing for the Mellon Foundation funded WhatEvery1Says project (which is text-analyzing millions of newspaper articles mentioning the humanities) to reflect on how humanistic traditions of interpretation can contribute to machine learning. But he also suggests how machine learning changes humanistic interpretation through fresh ideas about wholes and parts, mimetic representation and probabilistic modeling, and similarity and difference (or identity and culture).

“Open and Reproducible Workflows for the Digital Humanities–A 10,000 Meter Elevation View” (Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries convention, 2018)

“Open and Reproducible Workflows for the Digital Humanities–A 10,000 Meter Elevation View.” Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries Convention 2018. University of Helsinki, 7 March 2018.

  • Abstract: Can digital humanities projects that collect, analyze, and interpret texts and other materials make their provenance and data workflows transparent to others for reproduction or adaptation? How can the digital humanities learn from the workflow management systems of the “in silico” sciences? And how should they be different from the sciences? Ultimately, what is the combined humanistic and scientific meaning of open research—epistemological, infrastructural, institutional, and sociocultural–to which DH contributes? Extrapolating from the example of the “WhatEvery1Says” (WE1S) project, which he directs, Alan Liu offers a general humanistic vision of open, reproducible workflows for the digital humanities.
  • Video Video of this keynote talk (35 min.) taken from the audience by Timo Honkela (@THonkela).

“Close, Distant, and Unexpected Reading: The Modern Paradigm of Literary Analysis” (Digital Humanities Australasia 2012)

Liu Keynote Talk“Close, Distant, and Unexpected Reading: The Modern Paradigm of Literary Analysis.” Digital Humanities Australasia 2012 (inaugural conference of Australasian Association for Digital Humanities), Australian National University, Canberra. 28 March 2012.

  • VideoVideos of Keynote Presentations (3 hrs. 46 mins.)
    1. Julia Flanders, “Rethinking Collections” (0:0:0 to 0:47:00 | Q&A 0:47:01 to 1:14:39)
    2. Alan Liu, “Close, Distant, and Unexpected Reading” (1:14:40 to 2:12:00 | Q&A 2:12:01 to 2:29:35)
    3. Peter Robinson, Harold Short, John Unsworth — Panel on “Big Digital Humanities” (2:29:36 to 3:29:10 | Q&A 3:29:11 to 3:46:02)
  • Conference Program
  • Conference Photos

“Imagining the New Media Encounter” (U. Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Publicity Flyer for Lecture“Imagining the New Media Encounter.” Keynote lecture for “Interfaces and Visualizations: A State-of-the-Art Conference on the Humanities in Post-human Times” and Center for Advanced Study’s MillerComm Lecture Series. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 20 April 2007.

* Publicity flyer for lecture.
* Video Video of talk (1 hr 22 min.; RealVideo) (no longer online)
* Sound fileAudio only (1 hr 22 min.; RealAudio) (no longer online)