Category Archives: technology

Placing computation: the informatics of anticipation

I wrote an outline for a paper/chapter for a proposed book and related conference edited/convened by F. Xavier Olleros and Majlinda Zhegu at Université de Québec à Montréal which they have kindly accepted. So, I will be fleshing out the following over the summer. Obviously, I owe an intellectual debt to Rob Kitchin here but I’d like to think that I am substantively developing some of the themes of his code/space work (with Martin Dodge) through my own reading of Bernard Stiegler’s philosophical project. In particular, I am developing some of my ideas about the politics of anticipation (from my PhD work) through Stiegler’s theorisation of the ‘industrialisation of memory‘ and the ‘eventisation‘ capacities of increasingly data-driven commercial industries.

This paper addresses the transformative sense in which computation has become an infrastructure upon which has been founded mechanisms to both support and intervene in how we live our everyday lives. The past two decades have witnessed a steady movement of the capacity of digital computation away from spaces dedicated to housing the apparatus of computing—such as the computer centre and the home office—towards a diffusion of that capacity into a variety of everyday places (in the global North). A number of authors have both predicted and described the ways in which computation has moved from dedicated places for bulky apparatus into a capacity available through interconnected devices and systems in an increasing number of contexts (Greenfield, 2006; Kitchin, 2011; Kitchin and Dodge, 2011; Mitchell, 1995, 2000, 2003; Shepard, 2011; Rheingold, 2002; Weiser, 1991). Large-scale computing apparatus have not been eliminated, in fact they have increased in number in the guise of data centres, server farms and so on, but the capacity for the interconnection of those resources through international telecommunications infrastructures to large numbers of portable and embedded devices has transformed the scope and reach of computation (Graham and Marvin, 2001; Graham, 2004, 2005). The purpose of this paper is to interrogate the ways in which this widespread infrastructure of computation is being used not only to both support and surveil increasing amounts of everyday activities, through the collection and retention of vast quantities of data, but also to anticipate and intervene into how we perform the everyday.

Increasing amounts of information about ourselves and others is harvested and stored using electronic devices and we volunteer even more information to email providers, search engines and social networking systems. Many aspects of our everyday lives are now gathered in a range of contexts and recorded (via CCTV, cellphone networks and so on) and retained in databases (Agre, 1994; Graham, 2002; Haggerty and Ericson, 2000; Murakami Wood, 2008), as a growing system of memory of life otherwise forgotten or unthought. These systems are increasingly involved in the ways in which we convene and perform a sense of place. If places are spatial contexts that we convene and give meaning through particular kinds of activities or arrangements of various people and things, then the ways in which we perform that sense of place can be understood to be increasingly mediated by digital technologies. We use mobile devices to search commercial systems for information about and navigate to locations, relying upon travel instructions and databases of past experiences of those places. We allow those systems to use data about ourselves to recommend the ways in which we might act in those locations, where we might eat, shop or socialise. Furthermore, especially in urban environments, we are subject to the regulation of particular locations through real-time analytics based upon infrastructures that gather data for city governments. Infrastructures of software and hardware thus have a growing agency in how we collectively communicate, remember and conduct ourselves socially.

The gathering and recording of data and volunteered information through the expanding computational infrastructure facilitates the ordering of time both as forms of history, and thus the sharing of knowledge and culture, and as the means of anticipating, planning for, and perhaps preventing, futures. The logic of retained knowledge is thus ‘programmatic’ and has arguably become more so with the advent of software programmes, which have augmented our capacities to remember, process and act upon information. Furthermore, these infrastructures increasingly anticipate, in real-time, the ways in which we will behave in order to inform how commercial and governmental organisations intervene in and regulate how a variety of urban environments function. The production and performance of cities, then, increasingly ‘takes place’ in concert with a host of quasi-autonomous computational agents, regardless of whether or not we are aware of it.

To investigate the transformative nature of the anticipatory capacities of a growing number of computational infrastructures embedded within our everyday lives this paper proceeds in three parts. In the following, second, section several technology case studies are explored as means of capturing & retaining and anticipating & operating upon our everyday activities in ‘industrial’ scale systems. Particular attention is paid to the quasi-autonomous agency of these systems, that appear to operate at a scale and speed that exceeds a human capacity of oversight. In the third section the mnemonic and prognostic capabilities of networked infrastructures are brought into focus to be examined, through the work of the philosopher Bernard Stiegler (1998, 2009, 2010b, 2010a), as ‘mnemotechnologies’, technologies and technical supports that both support and reterritorialise what we collectively understand about our everyday lives. The conclusion of this article addresses the ways in which the informatics of an ‘industrialisation of memory’ that operates at a scale and speed that bleeds into apparatuses of anticipatory intervention both challenges and transforms the ways in which we negotiate what are private and public activities and spaces.

Reblog > Hybrid assemblages, environments and happenings – Eric Paulos

Eric Paulos reflects on a wealth of experience of interdisciplinary and participatory research, particularly in relation to the maker movement. Eric offers some great reflections on Mark Weiser’s interdisciplinarity and the importance of creative practice.

Hybrid Assemblages, Environments & Happenings -Eric Paulos

Abstract: This talk will present and critique a body of work evolving across several years of research at the intersection of computer science and design research. It will present an augment for hybrid materials, methods, and artifacts as strategic tools for insight and innovation within computing culture. It will explore and demonstrate the value of urban computing, citizen science, and maker culture as opportunistic landscapes for intervention, micro-volunteerism, and a new expert amateur. Finally, it will present and question emerging materials and strategies from the perspective of engineering, design, and new media.

https://twitter.com/epaulos

VIDEOS > Categorisation and processes of individuation – Stiegler

Simon Lincelles, apparently on behalf of the ‘indexation and editorialisation’ group at the Institute for Research and Innovation (IRI, founded at the Pompidou Centre by Bernard Stiegler), has posted some really interesting videos featuring edited excerpts from a seminar run at IRI cut together with relevant additional materials. There are English subtitles for the spoken French.

In particular, these videos offer an interesting and valuable introduction to how Stiegler conceptualises the idea of ‘categorisation’ in relation to processes of retention/protention (broadly – memory and anticipation) and how this is important to processes of becoming (co- and trans-individuation). This speaks more broadly to an understanding of how we share experiences within/of the world and how we might think about contributing to that sharing using various forms of technique/technology, which has become a significant concern for IRI and their focus on a ‘digital studies‘. Definitely worth a watch!

II 1 Categorization and transindividuation from Simon Lincelles on Vimeo.

II 2 Psychic Individuation and categorisation from Simon Lincelles on Vimeo.

II 3 Remarques sur l’expérience. from Simon Lincelles on Vimeo.

VIDEO > Trevor Pinch discusses the ‘material turn’ in STS

In this video from Edinburgh, STS scholar Prof. Trevor Pinch wrinkles his nose at multi-species ethnography and then goes on to identify what he sees as some of the problematic ways in which materiality has been discussed in STS. In particular he problematises the use of the term ‘affordance’, thinking through the various forms of intentionality that asks us to assume about both the ‘object’ to which the affordance is said to belong and the human ‘subject’ for which, Pinch suggests, that affordance is intended. Don’t think I would agree necessarily but I think this is an interesting voice to add to the broader material turn conversation…

Found via ANTHEM.

2013 Design Fictions – postscapes awards

Postscapes have an annual ‘Internet of Things‘ awards, with projects nominated under various categories for which the viewing public (with net access) are invited to vote. This is the third year of the awards and the second in which I have been aware of a ‘design fiction‘ category.

Postscapes identify/define design fiction in the following way:

Grounded as much in imagination as reality, design fiction is about bending the rules. It’s about asking “What if?”, and using the remains to probe the edges of our changing world.

The results may only be props or prototypes — but the best ones, as recognized by the Design Fiction award, end up helping us navigate our near futures and the stories they share.

(I’ve discussed how we might go about defining this sort of thing elsewhere on this blog and collected examples of similar kinds of fictions.)

Last year (in the awards for 2012), the ‘design fiction’ category was ‘won’ by the slightly creepy and maybe a little bit flawed ‘ear hacking’:

Ear Hacking from David Chatting on Vimeo.

In which we are asked to believe that there is a direct correlation between basic features of audio playback and our activity – in particular as runners. Anyway, it serves to demonstrate that humour works well in fostering and audience for design fiction. Notably, this ‘beat’ Google’s now infamous ‘project glass‘ video which, of course, was the forerunner for ‘glass‘.

In the running for the 2013 design fiction awards are a few interesting projects, you can see the whole list on the posts capes website but here are a couple that I think are in some way provocative…

Anne Galloway’s Design Culture Lab investigations of the Merino wool industry (see ‘counting sheep‘), with the lovely ‘bone knitter‘ that produces custom knitted casts for knitting back together broken limbs, and the rather unsettling ‘PermaLamb‘, vision of custom GM lamb production. Check out the ‘counting sheep‘ website for more, its worth exploring.

BoneKnitter during the knitting process.

James Bridle’s ‘surveillance spaulder’, a pithy and playful imagining of a device that viscerally reminds the wearer of their being surveilled:

Spike Jonze’s soon-to-be released film ‘Her’in the tradition of various imaginings of AI (e.g. Brian Aldiss):

[NB. posting them here doesn't necessarily mean approval...]

 

Friction – an interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance

Over on the Virality blog, Tony Sampson highlights this recent and rurally interesting call for papers for a conference concerning technology and resistance. I have reproduced the CFP below but see the original blog for Tony’s take…

Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistanceUniversity of Nottingham
Thursday 8th May & Friday 9th May, 2014Keynote talk by Pollyanna Ruiz (LSE)

With workshops led by: Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey; University of Leicester Technology Group; Jen Birks and John Downey; and Rachel Jacobs (Active Ingredient).

Current workshop themes include: evil media; data, digital leaks and political activism; hacklabs and artistic uses of data.

More TBC

Workshop and talk abstracts, and information about speakers will be appearing on our blog in the forthcoming weeks: http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/criticalmoment/

Friction:
noun
[mass noun]
The resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another:
· the action of one surface or object rubbing against another
· conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions

Oxford English Dictionary, 2013

We are now living in a frictionless economy in which money, jobs and products can move around the world in the blink of an eye. And yet we have not moved to a frictionless society. Rather, many of the technologies that support the frictionless economy create various forms of friction in society. Taking a lead from the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Critical Theory’s Technology and Resistance research strand, we are interested in proposals for papers and workshops that explore the concept/metaphor of ‘friction’ as a starting point for exploring the relationship between everyday technologies and resistance; with resistance understood in both a politically empowering and an inhibitory sense. On the one hand, we’re interested in modes of organised resistance: of activist movements making use of, or reacting against, technological developments. However we’re concerned with resistance in a second sense: of technologies resisting their intended function, breaking down, being exploited by hackers or triggering unexpected socio-economic complications.

We invite people to use the concept of ‘friction’ as a route into exploring these themes, with potential topics for discussion including (but not limited to):

· Data and ethics
· Cultural shifts relating to the capture of data
· The vulnerability of software to hacking and surveillance
· Resistance to surveillance and data harvesting
· Activist uses of data, particularly the circulation of leaked material
· The politics of hacking
· The exploitation of ambiguity in software design by hackers
· Activist and everyday contestations of technological developments
· The sociological and cultural factors required for technologies to ‘work’
· Everyday and/or activist reappropriations of technology
· Tensions between new technologies and existing infrastructures

We are an interdisciplinary group of researchers, including academics from Geography, Business, Critical Theory, Cultural Studies and Media & Communications: so we welcome a diverse range of perspectives and approaches to this theme.

We encourage interactive presentation formats, and will allocate longer time-slots to workshops to accommodate these, but also have space for shorter 20 minute position papers.

Extended deadline for proposals: 1st March 2014

If you are interested in participating please submit a 250 word proposal for a workshop or paper, along with your name and current email address, to centreforcriticaltheory@gmail.com

Please also feel free to contact us with more general enquiries, follow the Centre for Critical Theory’s Twitter account @criticaltheory

Rob Kitchin’s new book submitted and into production: The Data Revolution

Professor Rob Kitchin is currently engaged in a large five year EU-funded project: The Programmable City, concerned with the role of software on the ongoing production, performance and imagination of cities. Over on the blog for the project they have announced that Prof. Kitchin’s most recent book ‘The Data Revolution’ is now with the publishers, Sage, with a view to publication later this year. I’m looking forward to it…

Here’s the book outline blogpost from the Programmable City website:

Rob Kitchin has just submitted the final draft of a new book — The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences — to Sage and it’s moved into production.  The chapter titles are below and the book will be published later in the year.

Preface
1.  Conceptualising data
2.  Small data, data infrastructures and data brokers
3.  Open and linked data
4.  Big data
5.  Enablers and sources of big data
6.  Data analytics
7.  The governmental and business rationale for big data
8.  The reframing of science, social science and humanities research
9.  Technical and organisational issues
10. Ethical, political, social and legal concerns
11. Making sense of the data revolution
References

Parikka’s forthcoming ‘geology of media’

Jussi Parikka has written an interesting post on his blog offering a glimpse at his new writing project, with the tentative title ‘A Geology of Media’. He suggests that this is the third in his series of books theorising media ecology, with the other two being Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (2007) and continued with Insect Media (2010).

Here’s an excerpt:

This book on the geophysics and the non-organic ground of media complements the earlier takes by offering a media materialism from the point of view of geological resources, electronic waste and media arts. Through engaging with several contemporary art and technology projects it provides a media theoretical argument: to think of materiality of media beyond the focus on machines and technologies by focusing on what they consist of: the chemistry and geological materials of media, from metals to dust.

In short, I am interested to see if what pejoratively sometimes is called “hardware fetishism” is not hard enough, and even media and cultural theorists need to focus on the rocks and crust that make technical media possible. Earth history of deep times mixes with media history, which becomes a matter of not only thousands, but millions of years of non-linear history (to modify Manuel Delanda’s original idea). This way media materialism becomes a way to entangle media technologies, environmental issues and themes of global labour. Perhaps instead of the Anthropocene, we should just refer to the Anthropobscene.

Read the whole thing here.

Beware the internet of things… it’s coming to get you

Shawn Sobers linked to a funny comment piece by Stewart Heritage on the Grauniad riffing on the idea of the ‘Internet of Things‘, with the main schtick being that there is such a lack of imagination behind the implementation of such ‘things’ that if we extrapolate then surely the interlinked ‘things’ will do us a mischief… Now, this is humorous, of course, but humour is also a good way to get us to think about why on earth we’re letting ourselves in for a vision of such ‘things’. I am not ‘anti-’ technological innovation, I am merely arguing that we need to be critically reflective of the motivation behind the development of some of these systems and devices. The same kind of critical reflection we have seen in relation to the ‘MOOC revolution‘…

Here’s one of the funny bits from the article, extrapolating from actually existing technologies into the more ridiculous:

The Internet of Things has already produced some cool-sounding devices. There is the tennis racket kitted out with motion sensors to help you improve your game. There’s the parking sensor that directs your satnav to an empty spot. The basketball that, when bounced on the floor, automatically tells your home entertainment setup to start playing basketball-related content. The bridge that tells people when it’s about to collapse. The smoke alarm that switches itself off and works in conjunction with your electrical outlets to burn you to death in your sleep because it has become jealous of your capacity for love. The remote cave that fills itself with bears and poisonous snakes whenever it detects that someone has started sleeping in it because they’ve convinced themselves that their entire house has grown sentient and suddenly turned against them. All sorts, really. It’ll be fun.

Three new translations of books by Stiegler in 2014

Amongst the books to look out for this year are three translations of books by Bernard Stiegler.

The first to come out, in February, is an interesting collaborative critique of consumer capitalism by members of the Ars Industrialis association, fronted by Stiegler. In The Re-Enchantment of the World: The Value of Spirit Against Industrial Populismand following the Ars Industrialis manifesto, Stiegler (et al.) argues against the proletarianization of the subject into an unthinking and passive consumer and for the renewal of life skills (savour-vivre) through an ‘industrial populism’.

The second, coming out in April, will be the final volume of the Disbelief and Discredit series, which offers a critique of the effects of the development of industrial technologies on our capacities for rest, considered reflection, leisure, the development of skills and, importantly, care for one another and for society. In the final volume, The Lost Spirit of Capitalism, Stiegler advances his argument for a new ‘industrial spirit’ by fostering a ecology that not only looks after the planet but also renews the exploited energies of human desire. This is another excellent translation by Dan Ross for Polity.

The third, coming out in August, is the first volume of the important series: Symbolic Misery. The Hyperindustrial Epoque will be the first appearance of Stiegler’s work concerning aesthetics in an extended format and contains some of his critical work concerning cinema. In particular, Stiegler advances his critical articulation of cinema as the industrial temporal object in order to argue that it is the aesthetic experience that can combat the creeping conditioning of experience on its own territory. Again, Dan Ross brings his detailed knowledge of Stiegler’s oeuvre to provide a valuable and timely translation.