“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 exciting new field of “interpretability studies” in artificial intelligence research, contemporary machine learning and data science create fundamental problems of interpretation. These issues of “explainability” are related to changing, computationally-inflected, and often antithetical views of knowledge as both generalizable and domain-specific, abstract (a “model”) and experiential (a “ground truth”), supervised and unsupervised, and open and reproducible. Perhaps the least understood dimension of machine learning is the “human in the loop” problem: how humans can or should engage sociologically, ethnographically, politically, institutionally, ethically, and hermeneutically in the processes of machine learning. In philosophical terms, how does the “hermeneutical circle” affect the human in the loop?

             In this talk, Alan Liu uses the example of the “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 might contribute to machine learning. Reversing this direction of thought, he also reflects on how machine learning might change the understanding of humanistic interpretation itself through fresh ideas about the relation between wholes and parts, similarity and difference, and “representations” and “models.”

“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)