I am a writer, scholar, linguist, researcher, and strategist. I currently split my time between researching and writing the cultural histories of invisible forces, writing about machines and AI from the POV of a linguistic anthropologist, and running research & strategy projects for clients (NIH, McCain Institute, and more) who are interesting in understanding how language, meaning, and culture impact their domains (genomics, human rights, precision medicine), and to understand what that means for their goals and their intentions.
My love of languages, culture, and the stories we tell ourselves began long ago. An obsessive reader as a child (and now), I also became a learner of languages, in a desire to read in the original, and trace the threads of culture across time and place. I read from the ancients to the present, though I admit to being far less fluent in popular culture, unless it flings itself at me.
My book for Bloomsbury Academic’s Object Lessons series, magnet, launches to the world September 19, 2019. It is a survey of many of the ways humans have tried to understand what the magnet is, how magnetic fields work, and a comparison to the sophisticated usage of non-human species as well as, possibly, our far back ancestors.
For three years I have been working on The Adelphi Project, a multi-year project to read 700 books published by Adelphi Edizioni in their Biblioteca catalogue. It has been a beautiful process of rediscovery, reconsideration, and reevaluation, far beyond the initial intent, which, retrospectively, was more akin to computational metaphysics.
I try to write regularly on what I read about linguistics, language, culture, translation, and artificial intelligence, though it hasn’t been the best year for that. I am fascinated, as a central point, by the possible evolution of language by non-human intelligences, if we can call the machines intelligent, yet, and by the way the existence of machines (bots, robots, AIs, intelligent agents, sexbots) changes the way humans use language amongst themselves, and between themselves and the machines. The language/culture connection seems to be the least discussed in the discussions on AI, and on the ethics of AI, and one of these days I shall raise my voice louder, with so many interesting points that go beyond what the computational linguists (or the newly hatched computational behaviorists) seem to be considering or studying.
I’ve been a strategist, researcher and (former) designer of complex products, interactions, and experiences, starting first in story at National Geographic, and moving to health care, where I worked on experiences and ways of supporting sick children. Shared language/shared meaning and culture as the basis of making change became the sole focus of my work several years ago, and now I focus on linguistic and anthro methods to explore language to create frameworks and model for meaning, meaning shift, behavior and behavioral shift. I use this research to create complex system models to show how language and beliefs impact a space, and recommend products, services, communications, and languages that can support organizational needs. I only work on projects that I feel have a positive social impact. I am not looking to create coercive or obfuscated language that makes the world a less good place. There is plenty of that going around.
So how did it come to all of this? I have three degrees, and much of my study was in linguistics, anthropology, philology, culture, and geography. I fell in love with these things as a child, and they’ve stuck evermore. I also really wanted to be a pirate, when I was a child, then a Jesuit (I thought they sat around and read and studied all day, a little gardening, and that was all), and a cat burglar (I practiced, I like climbing and heights, and stealth.)
I have a facility with languages (family trait), and can read many quite well, pick them up easily, and enjoy learning new ones. (Kio Stark wrote about me and my language learning ways, in her book Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything.) I’ve studied nine of them, formally, the rest, they just appear. I tend to say I read languages, as I care less about speaking them. I want to read and hear in the original language, and while I love translation and am fascinated with how it works, I still would prefer to know them all. That’s just the way I am. I have no desire to live forever, but a few hundreds years so I could fluently read every written text in the original, well, count me in.
I have spent — and continue to spend — a lot of time traveling. I like remote places and travel by slow forms; I like to talk to strangers because they tell me extraordinary stories about who they are, and why, and the ways in which they make themselves a reality. I’ve traveled more than 30k miles by ferry in the past five years. Some of those stories are here. I’ve been to almost as many countries as I am years old, and now that I write that, I should fix that. More countries than years, sounds like a fantastic goal.
For images of my travels, @ekbarbarossa, for images of The Adelphi Project, @theadelphiproject, for my obsession with AI, language, translation, and the evolution of languages in machines, I write at akathesia.com, but I am a bit behind, since I was writing a book. Will get back soon.
If you want to email me, the personal handle at gmail will do.