The course proposes to study Black Boxes as object (or ‘hyper-object’) of media theory and graphic design. The term Black Box has emerged to define the complexity of natural or artificial systems in which only input and output are known – not what happens in between them. In a different way, climate models, stock markets, artificial intelligence and the brain have been defined as Black Boxes. However, this expression is often misused to promote a new sort of obscurantism and ‘dark age’ sentiment, according to which we have no control over the technosphere that shapes our everyday life.

The course challenges students to study and visualise the inner workings of old and new Black Box phenomena. The course will be a stimulating, experimental and playful Gedankenexperiment for first-year students. Rather than ‘thinking the unthinkable’, sometimes it is a matter of building new instruments of perception in order to access new scales of knowledge, like it happened already in human history with the invention of telescope, microscope and forms of symbolic annotation.

In fact, the tradition of narrative diagrams to unveil hidden power structures is large. The course considers that technological Black Box as artificial intelligence, for instance, are always ‘broken’ as they conceal social bias, political responsibilities and invisible labour. Students are invited to break these Black Boxes, to speculate about the political and social biases that they conceal, and to resist the idea that humankind is inevitably entering a new ‘dark age’ brought on by ignorance of the functioning of new technologies.

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Requirements for theory students (Schein): students have to a) develop a project in class and write a short thesis (10 pages), or b) write an extensive thesis (20 pages). Colloquia are extra hours allocated to project presentations and teaching of extra materials. All texts will be shared via Dropbox and in German translation where available.

Prof. James Langdon (Communication Design Dept.)
Prof. Dr. Matteo Pasquinelli (Media Theory Dept.)
Type of course: Basisjahr

Course assistant/HiWi: Marco Kempf

Tuesdays 10:00-13:00 / Room ‘Blackbox’, 3rd floor.
Wednesdays 10:00-13:00 / Room ‘Blackbox’, 3rd floor.
Fortnightly, 14-täglich!  First class: 30 October 2018.