Difference Machines Beyond the Exhibition

Oppression is systemic—that is, built into the fabric of our society. Even our technologies are not neutral: as many scholars and activists have shown, they are shaped by the biases and agendas of their creators. New digital tools (including facial recognition systems, search algorithms, and databases) created by corporations and governments reflect prejudices based on our collective identities. These tools are then used in ways that contribute to existing inequalities. For example, biased programs may discriminate against disabled people in job interviewssuggest harsher sentences for Hispanic defendants, and deny medical care to Black patients. The earliest computers were called “difference engines,” as they were used to calculate the differences between numbers. Today, computers are machines used to encode the differences between us.


Community Resources

The fall 2021 exhibition Difference Machines: Technology & Identity in Contemporary Art showed us how artists are intervening in the technological systems that define our world, using the very tools that technology provides. They not only show us that it is possible to influence the way these machines work but also invite us to participate in the reimagining and reinventing of these tools to create a more equitable world. The organizations below can guide you about how to get involved.

    Difference Machines Library

    Difference Machines drew on the work of many writers who have been investigating the intersections of technology and identity since the 1990s. Below you'll find links to the books of many of these writers about the machines that form and inform our lives. We hope these resources can serve as guides even beyond the walls of the museum, helping us all to orient ourselves in an increasingly complex world.