The Human Knowledge Project


October 29, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Harris School of Public Policy
1155 E. 60th St.
Room 289B

Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor and the Chair of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia

Kevin Kelly, a senior editor at Wired, has predicted the advent of a “universal library” in which all the world’s books will become a “single liquid fabric of inter-connected words and ideas” (New York Times, May 14 2006). The digitization efforts of Google Books and others will give us an absolutely searchable library that will connect every book ever written. Other, perhaps less sanguine observers, see the advent of digitization and new media forms of knowledge as ushering in an age of information overload. With the rise of digital media we produce, transmit and suffer a flood of data. In the face of this “tsunami of data,” a “glut” of information, what theories of knowledge formation and judgment might work better than our established tools of deduction and induction? Is there a future for hypothesis-driven science? Or is algorithmically driven pattern recognition the best way to understand the world? What are the methods and theories that guide the production of new knowledge? What would it mean to organize all of the world’s information? Such investigation must be grounded historically. This talk will examine the textual, technological and imaginative forms that desires for universal knowledge have taken. The talk will help us develop a better vocabulary and conceptual frame through which to tell the history of “the human knowledge project,” from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, all of which are concerned with questions of evidence, proper objects of study and application.

Siva Vaidhyanathan is the Robertson Professor and the Chair of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. He also teaches in the University of Virginia School of Law. Vaidhyanathan is the author of The Googlization of Everything And Why We Should Worry (University of California Press, 2011), Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001) and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System (Basic Books, 2004). He also co-edited (with Carolyn de la Pena) collection, Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007). In November 2004 The Chronicle of Higher Education called Vaidhyanathan "one of academe's best-known scholars of intellectual property and its role in contemporary culture," and he has testified as an expert before the U.S. Copyright Office on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. After five years as a professional journalist, Vaidhyanathan earned a PhD in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. He has taught previously at Wesleyan University, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Columbia University, New York University, and Universiteit van Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter at @sivavaid.

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