Jean-François Blanchette


I am an Associate Professor of Informatics and a past Chair of the Department of Information Studies. My research focuses on electronic documents, the history and evolution of computing infrastructure, and data governance. I combine deep inquiry into the mathematical and technical foundations of computing with socio-historical methods to produce both theoretical and policy-oriented research.

Electronic documents
More than just a sales slogan, “paperlessness” denotes a violent transformation of the material foundations of our documentary heritage, with profound impacts on our theories and practices of document creation, authentication, and preservation. • I am currently leading On the Record All the Time, an IMLS funded project that builds bridges between the law enforcement and the information studies communities so as to train professionals that can competently and ethically manage the deluge of surveillance footage pouring from bodycams, drones, or lifelogging devices. • My first book, Burdens of Proof (MIT Press, 2012), analyzed France's first attempt at legislating digital (cryptographic) signatures together with cryptography’s own variegated practices of mathematical proof. • As a member of the US Technical Advisory Group to ISO Technical Committee 171 (PDF, -/A, -/E, -/UA), I am interested in the dynamics of standardization and how it shapes the evolution of PDF as a key technology in the preservation of the world’s documentary memory.

History and Evolution of Computing
Reaching past the constant talk of revolution, my research focuses on the slow-moving parts of the computing ecosystem, such as its material foundations, its layered structure, and enduring limitations of computational resources. • I am particularly interested in the design strategies required for interoperability, such as modularity and standardization, the evolutionary dynamics such strategies induce, and the implications for crafting policy in such an environment. • This includes developing pedagogies for computing that proceed bottom up from its materiality, rather than top down from its logico-mathematical structure as is the overwhelming norm.

Data Governance and Sustainability
While data is often presented as self-evident, elaborate social and technical processes, including sensing and measurement, standardization, normalization, aggregation, classification, description, algorithmic processing, and curation, must intervene before an event can be written into a database and form the basis of a decision by an individual or an institution. • I have written about these processes and the governance trade-offs they entail as a member of the advisory committee for Opus, a UCLA database that collects all information relative to faculty labor as a basis for promotion and tenure. • I am also developing a project that looks at Amazon as a search engine for product information and the various sources of data it leverages, so as to propose new designs that can increase sustainable consumption.

Publications I have written, courses I teach, students I advise.

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