In our contemporary moment, when machine learning algorithms are reshaping many aspects of society, the work of N. Katherine Hayles stands as a powerful corpus for understanding what is at stake in a new regime of computation. A renowned literary theorist whose work bridges the humanities and sciences among her many works, Hayles has detailed ways to think about embodiment in an age of virtuality (How We Became Posthuman, 1999), how code as performative practice is located (My Mother Was a Computer, 2005), and the reciprocal relations among human bodies and technics (How We Think, 2012). This special issue follows the 2017 publication of her book Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious, in which Hayles traces the nonconscious cognition of biological life-forms and computational media. The articles in the special issue respond in different ways to Hayles’ oeuvre, mapping the specific contours of computational regimes and developing some of the ‘inflection points’ she advocates in the deep engagement with technical systems.
This article, from a Theory, Culture and Society special issue on Thinking with Algorithms: Cognition and Computation in the Work of N. Katherine Hayles relates to some of the articles and videos I have recently shared on ‘machines’ and cognition (particularly around this idea of ‘nonconscious cognition’). I’m also saving it here as it will no doubt be relevant to our later block on algorithmic cultures!