Category Archives: pervasive media

Stiegler: Stop the uberisation of society!

Posted below is a translation of a piece co-authored by Bernard Stiegler with Ariel Kyrou (journo),  Yann Moulier-Boutang (writer) and Bruno Teboul (Director of innovation at Keyrus) and published in Libération on the 10th April.

I suppose it doesn’t really propose anything especially novel, if you’re familiar with others involved in debates around “postcapitalism”, automation, worklessness and universal income (e.g. Srnicek and Williams, or Mason). What is perhaps novel is an application of the ideas in a distinctly European flavour, with examples in France and in the context of a much more robust unionised response to Uber (and the task/gig economy).

Anyway, it’s an interesting read I think…

The piece is rather conversational in tone and uses idioms I have only been able to infer (not being a fluent and native speaker) so it was quite difficult to translate, and so I’m pretty sure there are errors. As usual clarifications or original French are in [square brackets].

Stop the uberisation of society!

Libération, 10th April

The war by taxi companies against an Uber society cannot be reduced to the storyline of a film depicting an ancient evil battling benevolent forces of modernity. If on the one hand the participatory economy threatens our social structures, it can also, on the other, make possible a society with greater solidarity.

Since the first moves towards the draft Thévenoud law in June 2014[1], the urban transport soap opera has generated multiple variations on the theme of the standard storyline. On one side are the taxi federations, which have been labelled a horde of grumpy medieval malthusians by Uber, who in the opening of the second act of the performance of the trial of the 11th February demanded a whopping €100m in damages from Uber, on the other the ‘white knight’ of the new economic order, the high-tech Robin Hood of its pleb users whose UberPop service enables simple fellows in search of employment the opportunity to offer at cut-price their talents for automotive locomotion, between February 2014 and July 2015. This tale of jokers against modernisers is more attractive than the G7, queen of opaque rentier sorcery, who could not turn themselves with the wave of a magic wand into the cinderella of Parisian Transport.

Except that the movie script of the ancient evil against the benevolent ‘disruptors’ rings as hollow as any Hollywood blockbuster: seen quickly, soon forgotten. It works in the short-term, like the groan of the indefinite vigil for a taxi at 3 o’clock in the morning in the banlieue, but it hardly takes us any distance towards solving the questions about the future of our society and the search for sustainable solutions to the crisis we are experiencing.

Let’s not misunderstand this scenario: the agonism presented by this contemporary drama [série du moment] is neither the ardent need to pit global start-ups against French corporatism [corporatismes franchouillards] nor its exact opposite, namely the obligation to defend the capitalism of tired old barons against the hyper-capitalism of the rulers of the digital future. No, the issue that should be obvious to everyone with a stake in the debate is the urgent need to think about the society we want, and then act in order to build it.

For why should we anoint an ‘uberisation of the economy’ without interrogating its ideology and long-term deleterious effects? Uber, which declares only a fraction of its profits in France thanks to a complex form of tax evasion through the Netherlands, Bermuda and Delaware, is participating in the liquidation of our social structures. It embodies a short circuit that threatens the fragile economic balance between taxation, social law, transport policy, infrastructure investment at the local level and the pensions system. Worse still: its social and economic logic foreshadows the advent of a futuristic no-man’s land in which the a priori ideal of liberty becomes monetised against an a posteriori generalised casualisation throughout society. Indeed, the rictus predatory behaviour of platforms like Uber, Lyft and others such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is founded upon a low intensity of capital, little infrastructure, a minimum of salaried employees with more independent or self-employed workers.

The uberisation process forms the first wave in the tsunami of automation. Its primary consequence will be a net loss of five million jobs in industrialised countries by 2020, according to a report published on the 18th of January by the oracles of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the shameless apostles of the “fourth industrial revolution”. This deeply unappealing assertion has been amplified by several studies in the last three years (by Oxford, MIT, the Breugel Institute and Roland Berger) which predict around 47% fewer people in employment by 2025. This slow but inexorable extinction of of the salaried world effects not only warehouse workers, supermarket cashiers and lorry drivers but also barristers, solicitors, journalists, those working in medicine, and so on. Why should it remain necessary to use human beings for tasks that are reducible to systematic procedures? Which in our data economy robots and algorithms will soon perform much more efficiently. The combination of robotics and ‘big data’, algorithms and network effects, is already transforming us into the involuntary gravediggers for salaried employment. Welcome to a world that is ultimately ‘flexible’, boosted by robotic automation [robotisation] and work on the meter. A world where users and customers constantly account for themselves, where each becomes their own big brother and where most of the activity in every market, like with car insurance, will increasingly play out more in an automated big data-driven fashion than according to laws or to forms of trust that are not based in calculation.

Nevertheless we should beware skewed perspectives: such a world is not inevitable. The digital gives us an opportunity to reconsider work not only in terms of jobs doomed to become ever more precarious, provoking anxiety about self-exploitation, but also as a part of a project for a contributory society in which salaried employment would be one means amongst many, rather than an end in itself. A company like TaskRabbit certainly creates use value through its platform of small on-demand jobs, but it keeps for itself and its shareholders the [accompanying] exchange value in the form of profit. In contrast, Loconomics is a co-operative owned by those who use it to advertise their services. Against the platforms of the so-called sharing economy (which it is in name only) Trebor Scholz endorses a ‘platform cooperativism’ [2] to build a society of commons that operates beyond solely economic and financial dimensions.

This shambles needs to be urgently addressed. Thinking in the long-term, this is political in the principal sense of the word. To buckle down to the future of work equally concerns: expertise in data to use and liberate ourselves from algorithms and a care for people without the need for machines; to classify work in a way that is both protective of our ways of life and much less administrative than today; to examine the establishment of an adequate basic income, structurally justified by massive unemployment due to automation and the coming slow death of employment; to experiment with the extension of the regime of casual work in the context of a true society of contribution, with the acquisition and sharing of knowledge by and between everyone; to study tax reform based upon the principles of a financial transactions tax [la taxe pollen], beginning with the establishment of a European tax on the flows of High Frequency Trading, to finance a universal income.

Rather than the two opposing and yet complimentary nightmares that are the integral uberisation of society and the sovereignist protection of the capitalism of yesteryear we prefer the realisation of a dream: to imagine, to experiment, to build, step by step, a freer society with greater solidarity; preferring disagreement to the brainwashing that has played out, historically, through the carrot and the stick, or, in our high-tech times, through a blind obedience to shiny artificial devices [l’obéissance aveugle à de rutilantes mécaniques artificielles et augmentées].

1. For more information on the Thévenoud law see this article – Sam.

2. See this article on Medium by Scholz.

Reblog> Programme for Streams of Consciousness, Warwick, 21-22 April

Via Tony Sampson. All the names you’d expect/want to see and a few more… (can’t help finding it amusing that Thrift is opening the event).

It’d be interesting to hear what Rouvroy has to say…

Streams of Consciousness: Data, Cognition and Intelligent Devices

Download here short and full draft pdf versions of the programme

Register for the conference here 

Thursday 21st April

9.45 to 10.00: OPENING ADDRESS
Nathaniel Tkacz, Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick
10.00 TO 10.45: KEYNOTE SPEAKER 
Professor Nigel Thrift

10.45 to 13.00: PLENARY SESSION
Tony Sampson, University of East London 
Understanding Neurocapitalism or What Happens When Gramsci Does Human Computer Interaction
Nick Srnicek, Independent Researcher
The Eyes of the State
Antoinette Rouvroy, University of Namour (Video Conference)
Title TBC

13.00 to 14.00: LUNCH

14.00 to 16.00: BREAK OUT SESSIONS 
Sun-Ha Hong, University of Pennsylvania 
Data’s Intimacy: Machinic Sensibility and the Quantified Self
Elpida Prasopoulou, Coventry University 
The Body in the Internet of Things: An Auto-ethnography on Wearables
Aleksandra K. Przegalinska, Kozminski University 
Productivity 3.0: Mindtracking and the New Transparent Labour
Ana Viseu, Universidade Euroepia (TBC) 
Bodies, Data and the Question of Physiological Narcissism
Nathan Coombs, University of Edinburgh 
Intractable Algorithms: Representational Uncertainty in the German High-Frequency Trading Act
Tyler Reigeluth, Université Libre de Bruxelles 
“Let’s misbehave!”: The politics of Behaving with Algorithm
Jérémy Grosman, University of Namour 
A Prediction, not an Oracle – Neural Network, between Algorithms and Metaphors
Charalampos Fytros, Lancaster University 
Mediating Solvency
Miguel Prado, University of West England
Noise and Cognition in the Age of Big Data
Darshana Jayemanne, University of Melbourne
The Body Eclectic: Massively Multiplayer Mimesis
John McManus, Oxford University
Football Fans, Mimesis and the Enchanting Properties of Smartphone Use
Craig Hamilton, Birmingham City University 
Can Algorithms Make You Cry?: Popular Music and Machine-Derived Curation

16.00 to 16.15: COFFEE BREAK

16.15 to 18.30: PLENARY SESSION
Steve Fuller, University of Warwick 
Neuroscience as the Mind Instrumentalised: Telescope vs. Microscope
Michael Wheeler, University of Stirling 
The Knowledge Ecology: Epistemic Credit and the Technologically Extended Mind
Caroline Bassett, University of Sussex 
The Hubris of the ‘Artificial Intelligentsia’: Eliza and the Simulation of Smart


Friday 22nd April

09.00 to 11.00: PLENARY SESSION
Louise Amoore, Durham University 
Title TBC
David Berry, University of Sussex
Human Reason and Algorithmic Judgement
James Ash, Newcastle University 
The Interface Envelope: Power, Cognition and Gaming

11.15 to 11.30: COFFEE BREAK

11.30 to 13.10: BREAK OUT SESSIONS
Jacob Johanssen, University of Westminster 
Not Belonging to One’s Self: Affect and Alienation on Facebook’s Site Governance Page
Alex Gekker, Utrecht University
Numbers are Magic: Numerical User Interfaces and Disconnect
Heather Ford – Oxford Internet Institute
Ode to the Infobox
Alison Powell – London School of Economics and Political Science
A Goose in The Stream: Animals, ‘Accidents’ and Sensing Citizenships beyond the Calculative
Tero Karppi, Marc Böhlen and Yvette Granata, SUNY Buffalo
Killer Robots and Cultural Techniques
Ramon Bloomberg, Goldsmiths College
Becoming Platform
Beatrice Fazi, University of Sussex
Can a Machine Think Anything New?
Marc Böhlen (Video Conference), Tero Karppi and Yvette Granata – SUNY Buffalo
Robot Control
Roxana Fabius, Barad College
Business Intelligence and Aesthetic Criticality
Jonathan Gray, University of Amsterdam; Liliana Bounegru, University of Amsterdam, University of Groningen, University of Ghent; Stefania Milan, Amsterdam University; and Paolo Ciuccarelli Density Design, Politecnico di Milano 
Ways of Seeing Data
Lukasz Mirocha, University of Warsaw 
Challenging Technology Obfuscation Through Aesthetics of Real-time Visual Media: An Analysis of Glitches in Post-digital Consumer Mapping and Navigation Systems

13.10 to 14.00: LUNCH

PLENARY SESSION 14.00 to 16.15
Natasha Dow-Schüll, NYU (Video Conference)
From Mood Ring to MuseTM: Digital Sensor Technology and the Mediation of Sentience
Satinder Gill – Cambridge University 
Performing Knowledge: The Mediating Body
Will Davies – Goldsmiths College 
How Are We Now?: Mood as a Real-Time Indicator

16.15 to 16.30: COFFEE BREAK

PLENARY SESSION 16.30 to 17.15
Michael Dieter, University of Warwick
Title TBC
Jennifer Gabrys, Goldsmiths College
Digital Infrastructures of Withness: Constructing a Speculative “Smart” City


Internet of Things, ownership and Ts & Cs

Toothpaste terms of service

Decided to make a spoof image that follows some others’ attempts to satirically reflect on the kinds of business models that seem to be creeping in for ‘Internet of Things’ products and services. My impetus is that I’ve enjoyed some of the recent posts on the @internetofshit satirical twitter stream, which lampoons IoT business ideas. These got me thinking…

Many of the successful posts take to the extreme a model we are already experiencing – which is that we do not necessarily totally control those things we think we own. I am aware that other folk will probably have commented in more depth and with greater nuance, but there we are… this is just a blogpost! (I welcome suggestions for further reading though)

For example – I recently bought a Kindle Paperwhite and to remove the inbuilt advertising I had to pay (in addition to the retail price) a £10 fee to ‘unsubscribe’ from ‘Special Offers‘. So, I had bought the device but to remove the adverts I had to pay more.

This, of course, resonates with the inkjet printer business model – in which the printer manufacturer can almost give away some models because the ink itself is highly lucrative, which led to stories comparing it’s value to that of gold…

In my most recent lecture for my third-year option module (Geographies of Technology) I addressed some of these issues and invited the students to consider the following questions when thinking about an ‘internet of things and places’:

Questions of ownership/responsibility:

  • Whose things?
  • Whose data?
  • Who has access? How? When? Where?

Questions of power:

  • How are decisions made on the basis of the data?
  • How doe these decisions influence our lives?

Questions of value:

  • How can/should we negotiate the value(s) of our data?
  • What are we willing to give(-up) for perceived benefits?
    • When does giving away lots of data become not worth it?

Later the same day, on the train home, I idly tweeted a speculative satirical scenario:

Which led me to create a still image (above). I think there’s a lot of scope of using speculative design techniques in a satirical way to provoke more debate about the kinds of relationship we want to enter into with and through the technologies we bring into our everyday lives. My key inspiration here is Anne Galloway‘s work, especially the beautiful Counting Sheep project.

Apps & affect – Fibreculture 25

This issue of Fibreculture on “apps and affect” from last year (2015), stemming from a conference of the same name,  has some fairly substantial looking contributions from interesting people. These include a conversation between Alexander Galloway & Patricia Ticineto Clough, the ‘algorithmic agartha‘ paper by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy & Dan Mellamphy I’ve linked to before and (of particular interest to me at the mo) a paper by Melissa Gregg on speculative labour & app development. It’s edited by Svitlana Matviyenko, Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Alison Hearn, and Andrew Murphie.


In William Gibson’s recent futurist novel The Peripheral, the planet has been devastated by a massive eco-techno-political catastrophe (‘the jackpot’) but remaining inhabitants are still able to enjoy the luxury of activating digital devices simply by tapping their tongues on the roof of their mouths. This touch is sufficient to set into play systems that communicate across space and time – enabling the establishment of connections back in time, for example, to people closer to our own present-day, for whom mobiles are still (somewhat) separate from the body. Thirty years ago, in his first novel Neuromancer, Gibson immortalised cyberspace with the account of what now sounds like an amazingly clunky process whereby the hero ‘jacks-in’ to virtual reality. But in The Peripheral the process of translation and transition into networks is streamlined – occluded, internal, intimate and implanted – right at the tip of the tongue.

This issue of the Fibreculture Journal explores a moment along this hypothetical trajectory by investigating the contemporary intersection of ‘Apps and Affect’, publishing papers from a conference of that name organised in October 2013 by faculty and students at Western University (specifically from its Faculty of Information and Media Studies and Center for the Study of Theory and Criticism). By recognising apps as objects that are related to the constitution of subjects, as a component of biopolitical assemblages, and as a means of digital production and consumption, our conference aimed to make an intervention in what had – since the announcements of the App-Store and the iPhone3 in 2008 – been a largely technical and rather technophiliac public discussion of apps.

Isn’t it paradoxical, we asked, that instead of becoming ‘transparent’ and ‘invisible’ – as envisioned by the thinkers of ubiquitous computing decades ago – the app-ecosystem manifests itself as permanent excess: excessive downloads, excessive connections, excessive proximity, excessive ‘friends’-qua-‘contacts’, excessive speeds and excessive amounts of information? How does the app as ‘technique’ (Tenner), indeed as ‘cultural technique’ (Siegert) and as ‘technics’ (Stiegler), channel our ways of maintaining relations with/in the media environment? Do the specific and circumscribed operations of individual applications foster or foreclose what media theorists call the transformative and transductive potential of collective technological individuation (Simondon)? How might we think about the social, political and technical implications of this movement away from open-ended networks like the internet towards specific, focused, and individualised modes of computing? Do apps represent ‘a new reticular condition of trans-individuation grammatising new forms of social relations’ (Stiegler) or do they signal instead the triumph of ‘regulatory’ networks over ‘generative’ ones (Zittrain)? If apps are micro-programs residing by the hundreds and thousands on cell-phones, mobile-devices and tablets, and affects are corporeal excitements (and depressions) running beneath and beyond cognition, what is the relation of apps to affects?

– See more at:

Interesting new paper: Performing the sharing economy – Lizzie Richardson

This new article in Geoforum [paywall] by Lizzie Richardson (@LizzieCIRich) looks really good – I’ve only skim read it so far but looking forward digging in 🙂

Performing the sharing economy

Lizzie Richardson

Here’s the abstract:

The sharing economy converges around activities facilitated through digital platforms that enable peer-to-peer access to goods and services. It constitutes an apparent paradox, framed as both part of the capitalist economy and as an alternative. This duplicity necessitates focusing on the performances of the sharing economy: how it simultaneously constructs diverse economic activities whilst also inviting the deconstruction of ongoing practices of dominance. Such performances hold open the question of what the (sharing) economy is, suspending it as a space for both opportunity and critique. Drawing on participant observation at a sharing economy ‘festival’ and analysis of the vocabularies of online platforms, the paper outlines three performances of sharing through community, access and collaboration. It argues through these performances that the sharing economy is contingent and complexly articulated. It has the potential to both shake up and further entrench ‘business-as-usual’ through the ongoing reconfiguration of a divergent range of (economic) activities. Whilst offering an antidote to the narrative of economy as engendering isolation and separation, the sharing economy simultaneously masks new forms of inequality and polarisations of ownership. Nonetheless, the paper concludes in suggesting that by pointing to wider questions concerning participation in, access to and production of resources, the sharing economy should not be dismissed. Instead, it should serve as prompt to engage with ‘digital’ transformations of economy in the spirit of affirmative critique that might enact the promise of doing economy differently.

Imogen Heap on inventing new [blockchain] contracts for publishing/selling music digitally

This interview/article in Forbes with Imogen Heap offers an interesting insight into what some artists are beginning to think about in relation to how on earth one creates a ‘fair’ mechanism of reward/recognition of work as an artist in a world where one’s work is subject to near infinite digital reproducibility.

This, to me (in my naivety), seems to represent one of the more compelling and believable implementations of what the blockchain can enable. It’s worth checking out Heap’s articulation of Mycelia (the blockchain powered music publishing system she hopes to help create).

For years I’ve been so frustrated with the deep opacity of the music industry stopping me from really making the most out of my career and connecting the dots. The ‘black boxes,’ the NDAs, the endless contracts and statements. In the last few years, auditing labels and publishers seems to have become the norm, as it’s apparent how consistently the books don’t match up. You can pretty much guarantee you’ll find something, but it’s not always intentional; it’s just the deals, trigger points, and percentages are so complex – even more when mergers and acquisitions occur – that it’s hard to get it right every time, if you’re human!


Its success will come from the adoption of millions of music lovers. A grand scale ongoing, collective project like no-other. To document, protect and share that which we love and build a place for it to grow, enabling future generations of artists to blossom as well as honouring those of the past.

Open source, a living, breathing, smart, decentralised, transparent, adaptable, useful, shining home for our love of music. A home which allows creativity to flow, connect and facilitate collaboration on so many levels, many of which just haven’t been possible. With this grand library of all music forming the basis upon which all music businesses from digital radio to tour bookings can then grow and thrive from. Empowering the artists, turning and landing the industry finally on its feet.

Inspired by the largest living organisms on earth, ancient, unseen, core to life itself, Mycelium (plural Mycelia) can stretch for miles, beneath the surface.

Each artist acting like its own Mycelium, in full animated dialogue with others on the global network.

Mycelia is huge, as it holds all music related information ever recorded anywhere ever ever ever but this organism stretches across our planet between hundreds of thousands of personal computers. It is the world’s greatest and most treasured library and it belongs to the two collective parties who solely make music complete. The music makers and their audience.

Read the whole piece here.

Reblog> New Book – Smart Urbanism: Utopian Vision or False Dawn

Interesting new book highlighted by Colin McFarlane, including contributions by Rob Kitchin (and team) and Jennifer Gabrys…

New Book – Smart Urbanism: Utopian Vision or False Dawn

Andrés Luque-Ayala, Simon Marvin and myself have just published a new edited book on the ‘smart city’ debate. The book, Smart Urbanism: Utopian Vision or False Dawn? (Routledge), is a critical examination of the claims, drivers, imaginaries and consequences of smart city discourses.

As we all know, there is an incredible amount of hype and noise made about smart cities, much of it by multinational corporations like IBM and Cisco in their effort to sell expensive ‘urban solutions’. In this book, we sought to take this debate on by bringing together a group of critical, international and interdisciplinary researchers.Smart urbanism

The book examines how smart city initiatives are being rolled out, and makes a series of arguments that seeks to advance a critical research agenda. It finds, for example, that the discourse is often in reality a justification for the latest round of neoliberal development and displacement. It finds a common tendency to place far too much faith in technology, with far too little attention to the actual urban context. It also finds that most of the time, and despite high profile cases such as Rio’s control room, the smart city discourse is little more than discourse, bolstered by pervasive imagery that globally circulates and effectively constitutes a powerful form of marketing.

But the book also finds openings in the smart city discourse, including in the actions of social movements, civil society groups, and critical researchers to use or promote digital technologies in more socially and ecologically relevant ways. In these efforts, it is urbanism and social justice that inform whether or not digital technologies are useful, as opposed to the positivist view that technology can be added to cities awaiting ‘enhancement’ through sensors, dashboards and real-time data management. But as the book shows, it would be far too simple to argue that there is an ‘alternative’ smart city discourse that opposes a ‘mainstream’ discourse, partly because the various overlaps between what may initially appear mainstream and alternative, and partly because many critical initiatives with digital technology reject the entire smart city discourse altogether while others seeks to reframe it.

Here’s the list of contributors and chapter titles:

  1. IntroductionAndrés Luque-Ayala, Colin McFarlane and Simon Marvin
  2. Smart cities and the politics of urban dataRob Kitchin, Tracey Lauriault and Gavin McArdle
  3. IBM and the visual formation of smart citiesDonald McNeill
  4. The smart entrepreneurial city: Dholera and a 100 other utopias in IndiaAyona Datta
  5. Getting smart about smart cities in Cape Town: Beyond the rhetoricNancy Odendaal
  6. Programming environments: Environmentality and citizen sensing in the smart cityJennifer Gabrys
  7. Smart-city initiatives and the Foucauldian logics of governing through codeFrancisco Klauser and Ola Söderström
  8. Geographies of smart urban powerGareth Powells, Harriet Bulkeley and Anthony McLean
  9. Test-Bed as urban epistemologyNerea Calvillo, Orit Halpern, Jesse LeCavalier and Wolfgang Pietsch
  10. Beyond the corporate smart city?: Glimpses of other possibilities of smartnessRobert G. Hollands
  11. ConclusionsColin McFarlane Andrés Luque-Ayala and Simon Marvin

*.exe ~ Executions: conversations on code, power & death (version 0.1)

This event in Aarhus, this week, with Wendy Chun and Geoff Cox as ‘keynotes’ looks really good!

Executions: conversations on code, power & death (version 0.1)

Keynote presenters: Wendy Chun and Geoff Cox

Venue: Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS) | Høegh-Guldbergs Gade 6b, bygning 1630, Aarhus

When: December 3rd and 4th, 2015

This event investigates the cultural, material and political implications of execution. Software permeates our environment. We co-exist in an increasingly datafied present in which algorithms and abstract coded processes execute across different scales, materialising and operating at the micro and macro levels of our actions.

The aim of this event is to open up the concept of execution, both from a particular perspective of code and its execution, and more generally towards a wider discussion in relation to datafied culture and everyday life. How can we understand the affective, embodied, performative, programmed processes of execution in the world today? By gathering together researchers working with diverse artistic practices, we hope to encourage a critical curiosity and engagement with the theme of execution.
Topics will include:

execution as power / execution as decision / execution as performed instruction set / execution as enunciation / execution as critique / execution as temporal performance / execution as participation / execution as cruelty / indigestion/incorporation as execution / tuning as execution
In autumn 2015 and spring 2016, two-day events will take place (in Aarhus, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden respectively) that include keynote talks by Wendy Chun (Brown University) and Geoff Cox (Aarhus University), as well as workshops on the theme of execution.

These events are instantiations of an on-going discussion by the critical software thing group, a collection of researchers with a common interest in exploring, reflecting on and working with code.

See the dedicated wiki for more

“The dictatorship of data” (on BBC R4)

Just caught up with a programme aired on BBC Radio 4 last week called “The Dictatorship of Data“, presented by their Security Correspondent Gordon Corera. The role of the presenter certainly inflects the tone of the programme. It focuses on the growth in the collection of data, as the wholesale capture of data exhausts and meta-data from our devices and public platforms, and thus how that collection and then aggregation both allows and then presents problems for forms of surveillance.

It is an interesting programme insofar as it offers a general introduction to several key issues. The discussion of the geopolitical responses to the uses of social media platforms and how Russia in particular wants to capture some of that capability (particularly in relation to SORM) is good, and it mostly draws on the authors of a book that sounds good: “Red Web“. Likewise, there’s some entertaining and perhaps disquieting discussion of ‘The Hacking Team‘, purveyors of malware to governments. Again, this is understandably figured in geopolitical terms.

However, I’d say it is slightly wide of the mark in terms of the discussion offered of the prospects of social media enabling some kind of authoritarianism. The way it is discussed takes as it’s assumption that people are faithfully reporting their actual opinions, ‘real’ events and so on and that they are individuals (and not bots) – as though social media are some kind of unproblematic ‘social sensing platform’. Now, some will argue that there is a way to somehow ‘solve’ the ‘biasing’ of the sample represented by a given social media platform’s population and I’m no statistician so… meh. I remain skeptical that any kinds of claim about ‘representivity‘ are particularly meaningful.

I think those who want a more nuanced viewpoint on some of these issues probably ought to checkout Louise Amoore‘s The Politics of Possibility and her papers following on from this, likewise it’s worth checking out both David Murakami Wood and Francisco Klauser‘s work on surveillance too (of course, there’s more – but you have access to a search engine 😉 ).