Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: June 20, 2022, 8:11 a.m. Humanist 36.73 - computing, the person & what is known

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 73.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2022-06-19 21:08:24+00:00
        From: <>
        Subject: Indigenous Ways of Computing


The summer solstice here in Canada marks National Indigenous Peoples Day[1].
This year's celebration and commemoration fall in the first year of the United
Nations Decade of Indigenous Languages [2].

I take this opportunity to highlight the work of Jon Corbett. Indigenous
epistemologies inform his development of software (e.g. syllabics) and hardware
design (e.g. keyboard interface & circuit board).

A short 20 minute intro to his work presented at the Symposium on American
Indian Languages (SAIL 2021) traces his journey:

Also available online is a longer interview which appeared transcribed on
Esoteric Codes: 

I offer this snippet from the conclusion of that interview as it touches upon
questions of digital machines and personhood:


[...] what I most frequently talk about often overlaps considerably with things
that are not typically involved with programming: like belief systems and the
axiological concerns of programming as an activity. This introduces a greater
emphasis on the “value” that programming has, and not just its function. In an
Indigenous context this “value” extends beyond the concept of “making the
computer do something” to “making the computer an integrated member of the
community” and personifying to an extent that it is imbued with all those traits
that a community member has.

[…] our natural human inclination to refer to computers and our interfaces in a
very human way – how often have you heard things like “my mouse is being
finicky”, “my computer died”, or “my computer just decided to do {something} on
its own”, and we can also put our computer “to sleep” or “hibernate”, and “wake
it up”. Therefore, as humans, we have already established this human-computer
relationship that is in some way viewed more as human-human. So in constructing
my language(s) for the computer, I am very conscious about this dynamic.



My thanks to @DH_uOttawa and @DHatGuelph who hosted Jon Corbett in March 2022
presenting his work/journey decolonizing computer programming through language
and ceremony.

François Lachance, Ph.d.

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