Computer science tends to foreclose the reading of its texts by social science and humanities scholars – via code and scale, mathematics, black box opacities, secret or proprietary models. Yet, when computer science papers are read in order to better understand what machine learning means for societies, a form of reading is brought to bear that is not primarily about excavating the hidden meaning of a text or exposing underlying truths about science. Not strictly reading to make sense or to discern definitive meaning of computer science texts, reading is an engagement with the sense-making and meaning-making that takes place. We propose a strategy for reading computer science that is attentive to the act of reading itself, that stays close to the difficulty involved in all forms of reading, and that works with the text as already properly belonging to the ethico-politics that this difficulty engenders. Addressing a series of three “reading problems” – genre, readability, and meaning – we discuss machine learning textbooks and papers as sites where today's algorithmic models are actively giving accounts of their paradigmatic worldview. Much more than matters of technical definition or proof of concept, texts are sites where concepts are forged and contested. In our times, when the political application of AI and machine learning is so commonly geared to settle or predict difficult societal problems in advance, a reading strategy must open the gaps and difficulties of that which cannot be settled or resolved.
Amoore, L., Campolo, A., Jacobsen, B., & Rella, L. (2023). Machine learning, meaning making: On reading computer science texts. Big Data and Society, 10(1), https://doi.org/10.1177/20539517231166887