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CSS Colloquium: Ana-Maria Cretu, Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol

Human Computers as Instruments

Oplysninger om arrangementet


onsdag 10. november 2021,  kl. 14:15 - 15:45


Auditorium D4 (1531-219)

Human computers and scanners were scientific workers who performed calculations or reduced and analysed data before the advent of digital computers. Their history spans many areas of science from astronomy, to particle physics, to computer science and straddles many eras of scientific knowledge production. Human computers have been employed in large-scale projects as ‘unskilled’ workers to ‘mindlessly’ analyse the data. Their lack of professional scientific training made them ‘ideal’ candidates for making the process of discovery and scientific knowledge production ‘more objective’. However, the objectivity norm ostensibly at work in these practices —i.e. mechanical objectivity — was nonetheless violated. Beyond ‘rote skill’, ‘insight’ and ‘interpretation’ which were characteristic of a distinct objectivity norm, i.e., trained judgement, also played important roles in the computers’ and scanners’ work.

In this talk, I use the novel analysis of two historical case studies — i.e., Bristol Scanners (1935-1955) and Harvard Computers  (1880-1920) — to i) understand what objectivity norms really operated within the practices in which scanners and human computers played a central role and to ii) investigate the impact of these norms on scientific knowledge. This analysis will ultimately serve as the basis for conceptualising a new category of scientific instruments: human computers as instruments.

Coffee, tea, cakes and fruit will be served before the colloquium @ 2 pm