[Humanist] 24.409 coal-fired computers & ethics

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Oct 15 19:14:41 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 409.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2010 20:09:31 -0700
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Coal Fired Computers

UK media artists Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji, together known as 
YoHa,have recently created an installation "exploring the ecologies that 
have created and maintained power, and the subsequent health residues 
and crisis of fuelling that power". It consists of "a coal-fired boiler 
[that] powers a network of computers" that challenges us to consider 
"the relationships between power, art and media". See 

There are a number of ways to be challenged. One is certainly not to be 
stopped by a Luddite view on the juxtaposition that YoHa point to. We 
are unlikely to react in such a way, I would think. More important for 
us is to worry the ethical question yet again. Once upon a time (correct 
me if I am historically wrong) an artist who worked in bronze, even if 
he did not produce ornate swords and spears, might have worried the 
ethics of his situation. Now our bronze is the computer. So what do we 
*do* in response?

Those who have read Paul N. Edwards' The Closed World are well aware of 
how the computer bronze-like is steeped in gory intentions and deeds. 
And now it, and therefore we, are complicit. Should ethics become an 
explicit part of what do and teach? Doing so would help to make what we 
do appear, as it is, serious.

My thanks to Assoc Professor Brett Neilson for pointing to Coal Fired 
Computers in the latest issue of GrapE-Vine, Issue 46 – 15 October 2010, 
Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney.


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Professor, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney,
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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