CARGC Colloquium by Beatrice Choi

Innovation on Standby: Political Pitfalls, Economic Uncertainty, and Scientific Frustrations in Brazilian Computer Innovation
14 Mar 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
3901 Walnut Street, 6th Floor

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This paper examines the National Computer Science Laboratory (LNCC) as a case study on computer innovation in Brazil under conditions of crisis. The LNCC which has received media coverage for building South America’s largest supercomputer, “Santos Dumont”, and for its high-profile international projects such as “Pampa Azul” which focuses on genetic mapping of the Zika genome. Recently, however, the LNCC has faced a highly publicized budget cutback due to the 2014 Lava Jato scandal and subsequent state fallout, necessitating that the laboratory place a significant number of its projects on “stand by”. The budget cutback has Brazilian scientists and experts fearing larger fiscal and technical consequences for the laboratory, which has led them to explore alternative measures to keep their projects and facilities afloat. Utilizing archival and ethnographic methods, this presentation examines the complicated business of scientific innovation in Brazil in crisis mode. 

By analyzing the LNCC’s growing prominence in the emerging field of bioinformatics, this paper shows how local experts attempt to ‘make do’ with and by-pass such constraints to produce knowledge on their own terms. The laboratory’s interdisciplinary use of open-source software provides a unique example of local innovation while at the same time presenting a case for how scientific institutions such as the LNCC continue to support its platforms and projects despite state-wide budget cuts. In this case, I argue that epistemological dependency in Brazilian scientific knowledge production rests not on conventional assumptions of failed technology transfer, but rather, on the local government’s history of obstructing the progress of local scientific endeavors." 


Beatrice Choi is a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University and a Predoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research examines innovation culture in Brazil. In her dissertation, she studies how histories of scientific enterprise and technological adoption during the countries’ colonial and authoritarian periods influence present innovation initiatives. Utilizing a mixed-methods approach, she maps a historical genealogy to document the rise of the Brazilian technocratic elite. She dovetails these historical accounts with ethnographic observation—at a makerspace, a computer graphics research institute, and a national scientific laboratory, respectively—to provide an intergenerational analysis of innovation. Choi received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication and International Studies at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and her Masters of Arts in Media Culture and Communication at New York University (NYU). In 2012 she began a Ph.D. program in Rhetoric and Public Culture at Northwestern University, where she received a Fulbright-Hays scholarship to conduct fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro.

Lunch begins at 11:45. Space is limited, RSVP to

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