Imperfect world

’Imperfect world’ is a series of conversations exploring exploring where politics, society, and technology meet. Hosted by Japan-based scholar, Dr Christopher Hobson.

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Episodes

2 days ago

In this episode, Christopher Hobson continues his dialogue with Australian scholar and writer, PC. The conversation explores how to understand the current moment in reference to institutional entropy, questioning whether polycrisis and other conceptual frames might help us comprehend the changes we are experiencing, and considering parallels and thinkers from fin de siècle Europe. For more information, visit imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net.

Monday May 16, 2022

In this final episode of the first season of 'Imperfect World', Christopher Hobson speaks again with PC, a scholar and writer based in Melbourne. Building on their discussion in episode 2, Hobson and PC think about the problem of the world no longer being made to fit humans, and specifically the consequences of our world effectively becoming too fast for us. The conversation revolves around a number of big themes related to narratives and meaning-making, complexity and synthesis, historical registers and the kinds of action they help enable, and much more. This is an open exploration about the challenges of living and making sense of a complex and changing world. For more information, visit imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net. This episode has been produced with support from a grant by the Toshiba International Foundation.

Sunday Apr 24, 2022

Christopher Hobson speaks with Andrew Pickering, a leading historian of science, known for his sociological studies of scientific practices and knowledge production in books such as Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics, The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science, and The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future. In his work, Pickering considers different ways of acting with the world, what he calls ‘dances of agency’ between human and non-human agents. Developing a distinction made by Martin Heidegger in ‘The Question Concerning Technology’, Pickering contrasts a logic of ‘enframing’, which is based on control and domination, with a logic of ‘poeisis’, which suggests more open, adaptive and experimental practices. He considers examples such as natural farming and alternate methods for managing soil erosion in Japan, traditions of indigenous fire management in Australia, and adaptive management of dams in Colorado. What these alternate approaches suggest are considered in this conversation, which explores big themes related to agency in the context of unknowability, alternate ways of living and being in the world, and the insights present in non-modern and non-Western traditions. For more information, imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net. This episode has been produced with support from a grant by the Toshiba International Foundation.

Sunday Apr 17, 2022

Christopher Hobson speaks with Elke Schwarz, a scholar working on the political and ethical implications of digital technologies and autonomous systems. Recently, she has been returning to the insights of Günther Anders, a 20th century thinker who foreshadowed the dangers that come with untethered technological development. Applying Anders' thinking to the present moment, Schwarz reflects that, ‘with contemporary AI, the rift between our products and our moral imagination has become a steep abyss.’ These issues are explored in the conversation, considering them in reference to categories like judgment and responsibility, and reflecting on whether we should be fearful or not. Langdon Winner once warned that, ‘in the technical realm, we repeatedly enter into a series of social contracts, the terms of which are revealed only after the signing’. The political and ethical consequences of this dynamic form the basis of this discussion with Elke Schwarz. For more information, visit imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net. This episode has been produced with support from a grant by the Toshiba International Foundation.

Sunday Apr 10, 2022

Christopher Hobson speaks with Sun-ha Hong, a scholar critically analysing the claims of big data. Hong’s work fits within the framing of this series, given his emphasis on the considerable imperfections present in data and the way it is used, along with the dangers that come from taking it as objective truth about how the world really ‘is’. Rather, he points to a much more tawdry but intuitively plausible state of affairs, whereby imperfect humans produce imperfect technologies. One of the powerful ideas that comes through this conversation - and Hong’s writing - is that the vision of the future provided by Silicon Valley is actually rather conservative and banal, displaying an inability to think in genuinely creative and different ways. The lure of big data may actually impede our capacity to tackle fundamental questions of meaning and value. For more information, visit imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net. This episode has been produced with support from a grant by the Toshiba International Foundation.

Sunday Apr 03, 2022

Christopher Hobson speaks with Gabriele de Seta, a scholar working on machine vision, digital media and related technologies in China. The conversation develops around his piece on the Chinese term ‘black technology’ (heikeji 黑科技) which has become a buzzword in China for describing the most advanced kind of technologies. We talk about the emergence and meaning of the term, doing so in relation to some of de Seta’s other work on digital practices in China, such as considering how ‘deep fakes’ are commonly known as huanlian, which literally means ‘changing faces’.  This discussion offers an important reminder of the need to consider how technologies are mediated through the social and cultural contexts in which they are used, as well as the value of moving beyond the Western frames that dominate how these issues are generally considered. For more information, visit imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net. This episode has been produced with support from a grant by the Toshiba International Foundation.

Saturday Mar 26, 2022

Christopher Hobson speaks with L.M. Sacasas, who has become a leading voice in examining the ethical, social and cultural consequences of technologies. His prior blog, The Frailest Thing, and current Substack newsletter, The Convivial Society, offer a wealth of insight, encouraging a greater awareness of the ways that technologies shape the conditions within which we live and act. In this rich and broad ranging conversation, Hobson and Sacasas reflect on the challenges of pursuing the good life in a world increasingly dominated by digital technologies, the importance of thinking and judgement, and explore powerful points of overlap and contrast between different traditions and cultures.  For more information, visit imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net. This episode has been produced with support from a grant by the Toshiba International Foundation.

Monday Mar 21, 2022

Christopher Hobson speaks with Claire Benn, a philosopher who explores how our growing reliance on digital technologies are impacting our moral landscape, and the ethical challenges that come from a world shaped by machines. In this conversation, Claire points to the importance of thinking about how humans think, feel and act, and considering whether machines might reason and act in quite different ways. We consider the benefits that come with advances in digital technologies, as well as the costs and compromises that come with them, and the potential value of discomfort. What comes through from this conversation is that ethics and technological development should not be considered separately, rather they are vitally connected. For more information, visit imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net. This episode has been produced with support from a grant by the Toshiba International Foundation.  

Monday Mar 14, 2022

Christopher Hobson speaks with PC, a scholar and writer based in Melbourne, who has recently started a substack called, Living together, somehow. The conversation commences with PC's reflections on the experience of tailgating, which are used as a way of thinking about how certain technologies shape our engagement with each other and the world. From that, the discussion traverses through considering how different cultures can lead to different practices with similar technologies, the roles played by regulation and restraint in shaping our behaviour, how the logic of extraction is a fundamental part of contemporary societal relations, and the radical possibilities of love as a response to the challenges of living together. This is an open discussed based on a long friendship and working relationship, which brings out some thought-provoking reflections on what the good life can be like in contemporary conditions. For more information, visit imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net. This episode has been produced with support from a grant by the Toshiba International Foundation.

Sunday Mar 06, 2022

In this episode, Christopher Hobson speaks with David Cayley, who spent much of his career producing long-form radio programs for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As part of this work, Cayley recorded a series of interviews with Ivan Illich, whose thinking on the way that technologies are reshaping people, as well as his acute critiques of major societal institutions, have been rediscovered in recent years. In 2021, Cayley published, Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey, which explores the life and work of this powerful thinker. This conversation with Cayley circles around some big issues present in his work and Illich’s, including the role of science in society, how to think about technology, the importance of limits, surprise, the pandemic, and much more. For more information, visit imperfectnotes.substack.com and christopherhobson.net. This episode has been produced with support from a grant by the Toshiba International Foundation.

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