Category Archives: technology

Stiegler on Daesh and ‘the age of disruption”

I offer a here a quick translation of an interview for Le Monde published past week with Bernard Stiegler, following the attacks in Paris in which he addresses Daesh/ISIS within the context of his conceptualisation of ‘disruption’, which is the context of his forthcoming book [Dans la Dusruption ~ “In the Age of Disruption”].

Only by planning a genuine future can we fight Daesh

The philosopher Bernard Stiegler develops this thesis in his forthcoming book: “In the Age of Disruption”.

Interview by Margherita Nasi.

For the philosopher Bernard Stiegler “war is economic”. The collapose of employment egenders a dispair that in turn leads to violence. “There is no future without a fundamental reversal of economic value”, he explains.

Since the attacks of the 13th of November the President of the Republic insists” “We are at war”, do you recognise yourself in such a war?

No. What is this “we”? They are at war, not me. War is economic, it is theirs and it creates casualties, including me, who cannot sleep at night, not because of terrorists but because of a lack of future for my children. This is not a war against Daesh, as they suggest, but a global economic war, which takes us into civil war if we do not combat it.

Employment will collapse, especially amongst young people, and dispair breeds violence. We no longer produce reasons for hope today. The attacks of the 13th of November were suicide attacks, which is not insignificant – suicide is developing around the world, especially amongst those young people who know they will not work for a long time.

Both Sarkozy and Hollande failed to provide any kind of prospects for these young people. It is against this stupidity, this madness, that I am at war. A war within myself as well: we are all subject to this tendency to find scapegoats, not to think and not to care. This is barbarism, and that is exactly what Daesh wants: to create civil war. There will be more attacks if we do not change our politics. This is the context of my next book ” In the Age of Disruption”.

What do you mean by disruption?

Disruption is a phenomenon of accelerating inovation which is the foundation of a strategy developed in Silicon Valley: it is a drive to go faster than societies in order to impose upon them models for the destruction of social structures, rendering public powers powerless It is a strategy that tetanises the opponent. In my book, I analyse a text signed by Abu Bakr Al-Naji, as summarised by Ignance Leverrier [former diplomat and journalist], that defines a collective, including former officers of Saddam Hussein that became Islamists. It is a sort of Daesh manual, in the image of corporate bibles that detail the rules to set up a franchise. This book explains how Daesh actors should seize power. One must create chaos and thus exploit the need for some kind of authority.

I compare this strategy with that of the website “Les Barbares attaquent” [The barbarians are coming], founded by Nicolas Colin, a former tax inspector known for his report on the tax system and the digital economy, in which hie highlighted the inadequacy of the tax system for dealing with digital companies, which he describes as the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’, in this case GAFA [acronym for: Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple]. He has since moved to the other side, from public service into the economy which he described as so damaging, to create an investment fund that raises money to practice disruption on the French. Yet, repeating the strategy of GAFA, he can only extend their ecosystem and intensify the colonisation of Europe, wrecking transport, housing, education—all sectors—through new models such as Uber. However, such disruptive practices destroy the social balance, what [German Philosopher] Theodor W. Adorno anticipated by speaking in 1944 of a “new form of barbarism” in relation to the cultural industries.

It is not by declaring war on Daesh that this takes place. This declaration is one way of absolving oneself of one’s own responsibilities by scapegoating people that have become extremely dangerous and who we have co-produced with Daesh.

This radicalisation is thus built on the ruins of ultraliberalism?

Yes. We turn radicalism into a question of religion, and this is outrageous, Most recruits of radical Islam have no religious culture. It is not religion in question but despair. Richard Dur, the murderer of eight members of the Nanterre Council in March 2002, prefigures his actions by speaking about his feelings not existing: he wanted to become somebody by these actions.

In 2012 you launched a call for a global economic peace treaty, is this still a possible contemporary solution for eradicating barbarism?

We need to open out a debate in Europe, take things head-on, since the birth of the web we have all been losing. Exploited by the kinds of disruption practised by GAFA, digital technologies have accentuated the environmental toxicity that has been growing since the beginning of the anthropocene – an era in which humans have become the major geological factor – in terms of the climate, the atmosphere and in mental terms.

There is no future without a fundamental reversal of economic value: only the transition to an economy producing sustainable forms of value will overcome the challenges that are the subject of the COP21 next week.

We must launch a new European policy rather than aligning ourselves with the American model that is disruptive and suicidal/ We must invent a new Web in the service of viable marcoeconomic model, rather than developing a completely ruinous economy of data. These are the themes of the “Conversations about a new industrial world”, orgainsed at the Pompidou Centre on the 14th and 15th of December. Only by planning [projetant] a genuine [véritable] future for the planet can we combat Daesh, in other words to combat despair.

“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 😉 ).

Event> The Politics and Economics of Attention (14/12)

Both Clive Barnett and I will be speaking at the sixth seminar in the Behaviour Change & Psychological Governance series (funded by the ESRC) which is being held at the University of Bristol on the 14th of December.

I’ll be revisiting some of the things Patrick Crogan and I wrote about back in 2012 in the themed issue of Culture Machine we co-edited following an ESF-funded conference on attention in 2010. My move forward is probably being a little more critical in my thinking about what constitutes the process of valuing attention (critically reflecting on why a Labour Theory of Value might not quite fit) and thinking (with the work of Bernard Stiegler) about how the socio-technical systems that attempt to economise (something that gets called) attention are a kind of pharmakon (an indeterminacy, originating from the idea of a drug as both poison and cure). By looking at some examples I hope to offer some suggestions about how we might understand what’s going on (in networked technology systems in particular) when an attempt is made to place a financial value on ‘attention’.

The problematic imaginative geographies of collective ‘grieving’ on social media

This provocative article “Got a French flag on your Facebook profile picture? Congratulations on your corporate white supremacy” on The Independent‘s website makes for a compelling read.

I think is worth reading alongside the excellent letter from Paris by Judith Butler posted to the Verso blog “Mourning becomes the law” – also a must-read, really:

Mourning seems fully restricted within the national frame. The nearly 50 dead in Beirut from the day before are barely mentioned, and neither are the 111 in Palestine killed in the last weeks alone, or the scores in Ankara. Most people I know describe themseves as “at an impasse”, not able to think the situation through. One way to think about it may be to come up with a concept of transversal grief, to consider how the metrics of grievability work, why the cafe as target pulls at my heart in ways that other targets cannot. It seems that fear and rage may well turn into a fierce embrace of a police state. I suppose this is why I prefer those who find themselves at an impasse. That means that this will take some time to think through.  It is difficult to think when one is appalled. It requires time, and those who are willing to take it with you

A few snippets from The Independent article:

So you want to show solidarity with France – specifically, with those killed in Paris this weekend. If you’re a British person who wants to do that because you feel sympathy and sadness for people who are brutally massacred, regardless of their nationality, then fine. I just hope that you also change your profile picture to a different country’s flag every time people are wrongly killed as the result of international conflicts – for example, during the attack on Beirut in Lebanon just the day before.

Flags are politically and historically charged symbols (just look at the infamous and aptly self-styled Isis flag itself), symbolising states and representing influence, power, segregation, borders, nationalism and identity – some of the most commonly held reasons for armed conflict. It’s important, before overlaying a flag on your smiling face, to think about this.

I’m guessing you didn’t feel moved to drape yourself in the Tricolore [sic] until Facebook pushed that option out to you, possibly even until you saw how many people had already snapped it up. But paint-by-numbers solidarity when it’s foisted on you by one of the most powerful companies in the world is simply not the way to help a traumatised nation in shock after murder.

I’d just add that apparently the tricolor overlay implemented by Facebook has a setting that allows the user to automatically switch it off after a given length of time… how convenient.

There has, of course, been some interesting academic and journalistic discussion of what has been referred to as ‘recreational grieving’ and ‘mourning sickness‘ that is cognate to this argument, but the article above puts in sharper relief complex issues concerning the kinds of imaginative geographies that are being (re)produced and performed in response to the incredibly sad and horrific events that took place in Paris last weekend and their aftermath… something Derek Gregory has also written about on his blog.

CFP> Streams of Consciousness: Data, Cognition and Intelligent Devices, Apr 2016

This looks interesting:

Streams of Consciousness

Data, Cognition and Intelligent Devices

21st and 22nd of April 2016

Call for Papers

consc

“What’s on your mind?” This is the question to which every Facebook now responds. Millions of users sharing their thoughts in one giant performance of what Clay Shirky once called “cognitive surplus”. Contemporary media platforms aren’t simply a stage for this cognitive performance. They are more like directors, staging scenes, tweaking scripts, working to get the best or fully “optimized” performance. As Katherine Hayles has pointed out, media theory has long taken for granted that we think “through, with and alongside media”. Pen and paper, the abacus, and modern calculators are obvious cases in point, but the list quickly expands and with it longstanding conceptions of the Cartesian mind dissolve away. Within the cognitive sciences, cognition is now routinely described as embodied, extended, and distributed. They too recognize that cognition takes place beyond the brain, in between people, between people and things, and combinations thereof. The varieties of specifically human thought, from decision-making to reasoning and interpretation, are now considered one part of a broader cognitive spectrum shared with other animals, systems, and intelligent devices.

Today, the technology we mostly think through, with and alongside are computers. We routinely rely on intelligent devices for any number of operations, but this is no straightforward “augmentation”. Our cognitive capacities are equally instrumentalized, plugged into larger cognitive operations from which we have little autonomy. Our cognitive weaknesses are exploited and manipulated by techniques drawn from behavioural economics and psychology. If Vannevar Bush once pondered how we would think in the future, he received a partial response in Steve Krug’s best selling book on web usability: Don’t Make Me Think! Streams of Consciousness aims to explore cognition, broadly conceived, in an age of intelligent devices. We aim to critically interrogate our contemporary infatuation with specific cognitive qualities – such as “smartness” and “intelligence” – while seeking to genuinely understand the specific forms of cognition that are privileged in our current technological milieu. We are especially interested in devices that mediate access to otherwise imperceptible forms of data (too big, too fast), so it can be acted upon in routine or novel ways.

Topics of the conference include but are not limited to:

  • data and cognition
  • decision-making technologies
  • algorithms, AI and machine learning
  • visualization, perception
  • sense and sensation
  • business intelligence and data exploration
  • signal intelligence and drones
  • smart and dumb things
  • choice and decision architecture
  • behavioural economics and design
  • technologies of nudging
  • interfaces
  • bodies, data, and (wearable) devices
  • optimization
  • web and data analytics (including A/B and multivariate testing)

Please submit individual abstracts of no longer than 300 words. Panel proposals are also welcome and should also be 300 words. Panel proposals should also include indvidual abstracts. The deadline for submissions is Friday the 18th of December and submissions should be made to cimconf@warwick.ac.uk. Accepted submissions will be notified by 20th of January 2016.
Streams of Consciousness is organised by Nathaniel Tkacz and Ana Gross. The event is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Performing the Humanities at 24 fps, Gay Hall in conversation with Stelarc

This is worth a watch:

Performing the Humanities @ 24 fps: Part 1

This is the first part of an interview conducted and filmed by the artist Stelarc for the Alternate Anatomies Lab at Curtin University, Perth, Australia. The second part of the interview is avaiulable here. Other interviews in the series are available on the website of the Alternate Anatomies Lab here.

See also Hall’s piece in Culture Machine [open access] on “Pirate Philosophy“, discussed in the video…

Algorithmic catastrophe—the revenge of contingency, new paper by @digital_objects

A new issue of Parrhesia is out and it contains a new paper from Yuk Hui.

 

All catastrophes are algorithmic, even the natural ones, when we consider the universe to be governed by regular and automated laws of motion and principles of emergence.

It begins with this bold statement qualified through a reading of Aristotle that leads us to:

But these material, technological catastrophes are not examples of what I am proposing here to call algorithmic catastrophes. Algorithmic catastrophe doesn’t refer to material failure, but rather to the failure of reason.

And it is this form of catastrophe to which the discussion tends. Through a reading of the work of Bernard Steigler, in relation to Martha Nussbaum and Plato/Socrates, Hui argues that the history of Occidental philosophy has the techno-logical ‘accident’:

This resonates with the two senses of accident that we have explained above: on one hand, the revelation of substance through accidents, meaning the accidents become necessary; on the other hand, the overcoming of the irrational through reason.

Hui then expertly dissects understandings of accident and contingency in relation to what is thought of as ‘automatic’, which leads to this lovely passage:

As an engineer and designer, one has to be assured that it is normal to have a catastrophe. If catastrophe is thus anticipated and becomes a principle of operation, it no longer plays the role it did with the laws of nature. This use of anticipation to overcome catastrophes can never be completed, however, and indeed accident expresses itself in a second level of contingency generated by the machines’ own operations. Herein also lies the second difference between the algorithmic contingency and the contingency of laws of nature, which we would like to approach in the next section. It doesn’t mean that the algorithm itself is not perfect, but rather that the complexity it produces overwhelms the simplicity and clarity of algorithmic thinking. This necessity of contingency takes a different form from the necessity in tragedy and in nature…

Automisation then becomes the target of deconstruction, with a haunting of Virilio, explicated through the ‘Flash Crash’. Nevertheless, the tendency here is towards automation that exceeds the human capacity to react, as Hui has it:

The automation of machines will be much faster than human intelligence, and hence will lead to a temporal gap in terms of operation. The gap can produce disastrous effects since the human is always too late, and machines won’t stop on their own. In face of our inability to fully understand the causality, Wiener warns us that “if we adhere simply to the creed of the scientist, that an incomplete knowledge of the world and of ourselves is better than no knowledge, we can still by no means always justify the naive assumption that the faster we rush ahead to employ the new powers for action which are opened up to us, the better it will be.”

The paper moves on to consider a speculative aesthetics of the accident, through a reading of Meillassoux’s ‘speculative realism’. Just as Meillassoux attempts to reach back beyond the ‘ancestrally’ of the human, Hui argues that we are challenged by atomisation, in the figure of algorithms:

exteriorized reasons, where we find more and more that human reason is becoming less and less capable of understanding the system that it has succeeded in constructing.

Thus:

In the digital age, accidents in both senses come to the fore and beyond, as indicated by the contingency, the unknown, which also comes to the front.

The algorithmic catastrophe also resonates with current research on speculative reason, especially what Meillasoux proposes as the absolutization of contingency, which reinvents the metaphysical concept of contingency as necessity while it renounces the subjectivist approach towards knowledge. The celebration of speculative reason seems to be an appropriation of the catastrophic aesthetics of our time, where the unknown and black box become the sole explanations.

It is certainly an interesting, if dense, article and probably requires some knowledge of

I am left wondering, as a less-sophisticated non-philosopher, how one might square this argument with technics as the ‘horizon of all possibility to come and all possibility of a future’, pace Stiegler in Technics and Time — the computational ‘transindividuations’ (the becomings of trans-individual assemblages) that we initiate and cultivate through digital ‘industry’ may begin to probe their way into possibilities outside of our sensory or conscious capacities but they remain, at present, limited precisely by their foundation in a human phenomenological domain. Nevertheless, as Hui argues in his final paragraph:

it would be ignorant to just dismiss the algorithmic catastrophe as something from science fiction. The words of the physicists [Hawking et al. warning about the risks of AI] also remind us of Book III of Plato’s Republic, where the physicians return as guardians of the polis. Should these guardians be scientifically well-trained philosophers or philosophically trained physicians is not a question without importance, since it means a new pedagogical program and a new conception of responsibility. Beyond the reach of this single article, what Virilio proposes as a rethinking of responsibility remains largely undiscussed.

I probably don’t know enough of the references Hui is drawing upon to be able to offer a cogent response to this, but it is a very interesting article and worth a read [it is open access!].

Reblog> Does Academia.edu Mean Open Access Is Becoming Irrelevant?

A really interesting post by Gary Hall on his blog around what ‘open access’ means and how we negotiate what might be understood as the ‘attention economy’ of academia in relation to the ways in which sites like academia.edu and research gate leverage the ‘respectability’ of our work and our collective need to find audiences in order to generate valuable metadata. As Hall argues:

 In this world who gate-keeps access to (and so can extract maximum value from) content is less important, because that access is already free, than who gate-keeps(and so can extract maximum value from) the data generated around the use of that content, which is used more because access to it is free.

I heartily recommend reading the whole piece

Does Academia.edu Mean Open Access Is Becoming Irrelevant?

brief discussion took place this month on the Association of Internet Researchers air-l listserve concerning a new book from the publishers Edward Elgar: Handbook of Digital Politics. Edited by Stephen Coleman and Deen Freelon, this 512 page volume features contributions from Peter Dahlgren, Nick Couldry, Christian Fuchs, Fadi Hirzalla and Liesbet van Zoonen, among numerous others. The discussion was provoked, however, not by something one of its many contributors had written about digital politics, but by the book’s cost: $240 on Amazon in the US. (In the UK the hardback is £150.00 on Amazon. Handbook of Digital Politics is also available online direct from the publishers for £135.00, with the ebook available for £40.) As one of those on the list commented, ‘I’d love to buy it, but not at that price’ – to which another participant in the discussion responded: ‘I encourage everyone to use the preprint option to post their piece on ssrn.com and academia.edu, perhaps others have other open access suggestions (e.g. Institutional Repositories of individual universities)’. Now, to be fair, the idea that is implied by this suggestion – that the Academia.edu platform for sharing research represents just another form of open access – is a common one. Yet posting on Academia.edu is far from being ethically and politically equivalent to using an institutional open access repository.

Read the whole post here.

Nuance doesn’t sell… @mweller on mature debates concerning technology

On his blog Martin Weller has written a nice piece about what it means to be ‘critical’ in relation to ed-tech and the difficulty of doing so. Martin’s point is (I think) that it is really easy to either proselytise or disparage the uses of (educational) technology in ‘popular’ debate and actually quite hard to offer a nuanced view.

I really like this passage in particular, and feel its worth reproducing:

There is something about throwing technology in the mix that demands people set aside critical faculty. If you want the big keynotes, the money slot on TV or the big book deals then you’d better be coming with a dystopian or utopian vision. Preferably based on sweeping generalisations from your own personal experience. That’s what sells here.

There is profound truth in this statement. A significant proportion of the popular discussion of technology is ‘selling snake oil’. Replace the nouns and adjectives referring to the tech with nouns/adjectives concerning god or magic and that tends to quickly reveal the stakes…

Martin’s blogpost is worth a read.

Ash, Kitchin, Leszczynski on what ‘digital’ means for geography

Saw this only this morning, blogged over on The Programmable City website. Looks like a fairly comprehensive description of a set of issues within geography.

New paper: Digital Turn, Digital Geography?

James Ash, Rob Kitchin and Agnieszka Leszczynski have published a new paper entitled ‘Digital Turn, Digital Geography?‘ available as Programmable City Working Paper 17 on SSRN.

Abstract

In this paper, we examine the relationship between the digital and geography. Our analysis provides an overview of the rich scholarship that has examined: (1) geographies of the digital, (2) geographies produced by the digital, and (3) geographies produced through the digital. Using this material we reflect on two questions: has there been a digital turn in geography? and, would it be productive to delimit ‘digital geography’ as a field of study within the discipline, as has recently occurred with the attempt to establish ‘digital anthropology’ and ‘digital sociology’? We argue that while there has been a digital turn across geographical sub-disciplines, the digital is now so pervasive in mediating the production of space and in producing geographic knowledge that it makes little sense to delimit digital geography as a distinct field. Instead, we believe it is more productive to think about how the digital reshapes many geographies

I would say, having only skim-read the paper, that it does sort of perpetuate a disquiet I’ve felt for some time about how a particular ind of discursive regime, with a particular set of power brokers, is being built around the “geographies” prefixed with ‘algorithmic’; ‘data’; ‘digital’… perhaps there are some others… and what that might mean… maybe its just that there are only a few people that actually write stuff about this and they all know each other… anglophone geography is after all quite a small discipline. Maybe I’m a part of that too, with the little I’ve written on the subject. However, its evident in other disciplinary contexts too, such as the way in which particular people seem to be the leading lights in ‘digital sociology‘.

Maybe I’m just performing my own anxiety about career, struggling to write myself and being on probation in an institution with rather lofty expectations, but maybe there’s also something to my observation about the politics of being a researcher of a modish subject. Perhaps people who do stuff on the ‘anthropocene’ and anthropogenic climate change feel similarly, perhaps not… Perhaps I’m also damaging my own ‘career’ by blogging like this. Who knows… I certainly don’t mean it as a slight to the authors of the above paper, or anyone else.

How I learned to stopped worrying and to love discipline