In this episode, John Linstrom tells us about Nature-Study, an educational movement that began in the rural classrooms of American Progressive Era. It takes students and learners of all kinds out of the classroom, away from the textbook, and into the world, to observe and learn. It offers us a mode of attunement to the world that we might use to heal the divide between rural and urban, and kindle the kind of social change we need to get the world off fossil fuels.

Our conversation is centered around the new scholarly edition John edited of Liberty Hyde Bailey’s The Nature-Study Idea (Cornell University Press, 2023), which just came out. It’s the first book in the new The Liberty Hyde Bailey Library, a series for Cornell University Press reintroducing the ecological and critical-agrarian writings of L. H. Bailey (1858-1954). John was one of our first guests on High Theory back in 2020 – so if you want to listen back, you can check out the episode on Ecosphere. John told me when were were preparing to record that there was some debate about the dash in “Nature-Study” back in the day, but that he was on the side of the dashers, because the women teachers who led the movement favored the dash.

John is a Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Climate and Inequality at the Climate Museum in NYC. He is also the author of a book of poems called To Leave for Our Own Country coming out with Black Lawrence Press in April 2024. He believes in poetry’s power to foster communities for change, human and more-than-human stories and visions of climate justice He received his PhD in Literature from New York University and his MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University. John, Kim, and Saronik spent a lot of time together as grad students at 244 Greene St. in NYC. John and Kim used to run a working group on agriculture and literature, called Farm to Text. John lives in Queens, where gleans deep joy from holding his baby daughter, singing choral music, and eating large quantities of pesto.

The image for this episode was made by Saronik Bosu, especially for his friend John, in 2023.

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Ethical AI

In this episode of High Theory, Alex Hanna talks with Nathan Kim about Ethical AI. Their conversation is part of our High Theory in STEM series, which tackles topics in science, technology, engineering, and medicine from a highly theoretical perspective. In this episode, Alex helps us think about the complicated recipes we call “artificial intelligence” and what we mean when we ask our technologies to be ethical. 

In the episode Alex references an article by Emily Tucker, called “Artifice and Intelligence,” (Tech Policy Press, 17 March 2022) which suggests we should stop using terms like “artificial intelligence” and an opinion piece in the Washington Post, on a similar theme, by Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, “We warned Google that people might believe AI was sentient. Now it’s happening” (17 June 2022). She also mentions a claim by Blake Lemoine that Google’s LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) is sentient.  We’ll leave that one to your googling, if not your judgment. 

Dr. Alex Hanna is Director of Research at the Distributed AI Research Institute (DAIR). A sociologist by training, her work centers on the data used in new computational technologies, and the ways in which these data exacerbate racial, gender, and class inequality. You can read her recent article, “AI Ethics Are in Danger. Funding Independent Research Could Help,” co-authored with Dylan Baker in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and learn more about her work on her website

This week’s image was produced by DALL-E 2 responding to the prompt: “generate the image of an artificial intelligence entity, deciding to protect shareholder interests over public good, in the style of Van Gogh.”

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Drone Life

Amy Gaeta uses the relationship between humans and technology, non-military use of drones being a prime example, to rethink concepts of passivity and how it can bring about change. She makes an intervention in science and technology studies from her position in feminist and disability studies, drawing from diverse theoretical sources like the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Saidiya Hartman, Alexander Weheliye, and Mark Fisher.

Amy Gaeta is not utopian; she is a student of understanding how we survive a world that is killing us on a dying planet, a feminist disability activist and scholar, poet, punk, and PhD candidate in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her academic work specializes in the psychological aspects of human-technology relations under the surveillance state. In poetry, she explores mental illness, desire, and the impossibility of being human.

Image: “‘Little Planet’ style edit of a 180-degree panorama of my daughter’s little league game this summer” by Tim Bish.

Music used in promotional material: ‘Unsunny Sundays’ by Chris Herb.

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