“At play on the field of ghosts” – James Bridle on code/spaces of competitive sport

Reflecting upon the increasing instrumentation of the sporting field off play, for spectating, e.g. the ‘Hanwha chickens‘, and for the judgement of rules, e.g. ‘HawkEye’, James Bridle has written a nice piece on Medium about how the idea/ideal of ‘sport’ may be getting translated into something else…

This distinction between the actuality of the event and the fidelity of its recreation is narrow and could easily be dismissed as just another conjuration of spectacular TV coverage, were its remit limited to mere representation. But in the hyper-competitive domain of sports, lubricated with broadcasting and gambling dollars, recreation turns into prediction, and representation into judgement. The distinction between what is seen and what occurs becomes crucial.

More and more, the practice of human adjudication in sports is being crowded out by the supposed superiority of machine perception; a perception which is based on the recreation and prediction of real events, rather than their explicit witnessing. Since 2001, the Hawk-Eye computer system has become increasingly ubiquitous in major sporting competitions, combining machine vision with motion analysis to not only declare where precisely a ball touched or crossed a line, but where the ball would have gone if it were not rudely interrupted.

Gillian Rose on the shared visual imagination of drones / smart cities – great post

Gillian Rose has blogged about Derek Gregory’s recent lecture(s?) at Cambridge, which sounded interesting and provocative. It’s a great blogpost – I encourage people to read it.

I hadn’t thought of the similarities of visual imagination, or (systems of) visuality, across and between (military) drones and ‘smart cities’, but Gillian’s points make sense.

I was struck especially by this great point:

advocates of both smart cities and drone warfare share an absence of historical narrative so that their technologies can be seen as new, modern, better and more desirable.  (Which of course conveniently ignores various histories of failure, imprecision, rejection and unreliability.)

This seems especially important, and is a tactic/ approach shared by the kinds of computing R&D that I’ve studied and written about… it’s that lack of historical narrative ~ the ‘any-when’-ness, that facilitates some of the ways in which computing researchers have employed particular kinds of visual grammar to render particular kinds of possible future (in the) present.

Anyway – have a read

Projecting a genuine future for the living? On Latour & Stiegler comments after the Paris attacks

I was quite surprised at how quickly the translation of the short interview with Bernard Stiegler in le Monde spread on twitter, which is not usual for my posts…

Anyway, I have been struck by a similarity in ethos between the comments made by Bernard Stiegler in his interview and the commentary provided by Bruno Latour in an op-ed (translated by Jane Kuntz) for Reporterre, entitled “The Other State of Urgency” [via Installing (Social) Order].

It is an ethos of calling for the casting-off of a short-termism or ‘death-wish’ (pace Latour) focussed on (inadequately mitigating) destruction–destruction of states, of peoples and of our planet–towards affirming what Stiegler calls a ‘genuine’ future and what Latour sees as a taking of fate into our our hands. One might see it as a loosely vitalist ethos: an affirmation of life and its pluri-potency.

It seems to me significant that both Latour and Stiegler frame the issue in relation to the anthropocene and the COP21 talks being held in Paris. For both of them, the affirmation of a ‘genuine’ future entails combining stances towards ecological, economic, political and scientific atmospheres. Such an affirmation of a sustainable path towards a future of the living is set in contra-distinction to a rhetoric of war, which both thinkers reject in their own ways. To submit to war, in the manner of the French government, is to submit to a short-term imperative to (re)act, but to act for whom and to what ends is a question both Latour and Stiegler find troubling. It is analogous to government via catastrophism – such forms of reaction are already presumed in the mode of ‘normal’ operation: the ‘everywhere war’ and ‘state of exception’ is the new ‘normal’.

Who could argue against an affirmation of hope? I certainly would not. Yet, while there is plenty of diagnosis of the ‘state of urgency’, we are left to ponder: what is to be done?

I don’t think I buy Stiegler’s eurocentric call for policy, it is too easy to see how–even with the best of intentions–this would slip into the kind of technocratic malaise that has buggered up the Mediterranean EU countries. Yet, at least Stiegler attempts to offer strategies – and I think the wider outlining of a political-economics of contribution and of a kind of ‘neganthropy‘, while somewhat grandiloquent, remain inspiring. I would be very curious to see what Latour would suggest in order to “invent demonstrations more innovative than yet another march from Place de la République to Place de la Nation.”

It is, of course, excruciatingly hard to offer strategies for action – as Zizek likes to quip: we can see why it has been suggested that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than an end to the ideological milieu of capitalism. Working for a ‘genuine’ future hurts, but as both Latour and Stiegler demonstrate: it remains the task at hand.

Reblog> Submit your papers! Philosophy and the future

This looks really good!

Submit your papers! Philosophy and the future

Chiasma, an open-access philosophy journal, is now accepting submissions for their third issues. The deadline is December 15, 2015.

Read the full CFP below.

Chiasma Issue 3: Philosophy and The Future

Philosophy, being untimely, is inexorably embedded in time, dedicated to the future. For Chiasma‘s third issue, we will look for essays engaging with the future – as an object for philosophy, as a hermeneutic of philosophy, and also in terms of the future of philosophy – from an interdisciplinary background.

As Nietzsche writes in Untimely Meditations, philosophy is always “acting counter to our time, and thereby acting on our time, and, let us hope, to the benefit of a time to come.” Essays should focus on, first and foremost, the “time to come,” but also the various ways in which this “to come” affects the now. The future is not merely an ever-receding horizon, but also an immanent object of thought that is itself conditioned by past and present. We invite submissions that explore these and other modes of thinking the future.

Some possible topics include:

  • Philosophies of becoming and event: Badiou, Deleuze, Malabou, Nietzsche, Whitehead
  • Futures of the human: transhumanism, posthumanism, hyperobjects, extinction
  • Ecology and eco-criticism
  • Rhetorics of the future: futurity in capitalist rhetoric, critique of the future as figure, the cultural role of futurity (Marx, Edelman, Zizek)
  • Messianism and non-messianism: Benjamin, Butler, Derrida, Laruelle
  • Utopianism and utopian studies
  • Speculative fiction, science fiction, Meillassoux’s extro-science fiction, future histories
  • Missed futures and lost causes
  • Contemporary divergent futures: intersectionality in critical theory, ontological difference in ethnography and ethnology
  • Revolution and new forms of social action: Occupy, Zapatista, etc.
  • Future of the university: corporatization of the university, crisis of the humanities (Eileen Joy, Henry A. Giroux), alternative academic programs and modes (European Graduate School, New School, Global Centre)

 

Essays should be 5,000-7,000 words long and formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style. Please send papers with abstracts of no more than 150 words tochiasma.asiteforthought@gmail.com by December 15.

Reblog> New paper: Anticipatory Logics of the Global Smart City Imaginary by @jimmerricks

Over on the programmable city website there’s news of a new paper by Jim Merricks White on the anticipatory logics of smart cities… I have previous here so it’ll be an interesting read!

New paper: Anticipatory Logics of the Global Smart City Imaginary

Jim White’s paper, ‘Anticipatory Logics of the Global Smart City Imaginary’, is available for download on the Social Science Research Network as Programmable City Working Paper 8.

Abstract

The smart city encompasses a broad range of technological innovations which might be applied to any city for a broad range of reasons. In this article, I make a distinction between local efforts to effect the urban landscape, and a global smart city imaginary which those efforts draw upon and help sustain. While attention has been given to the malleability of the smart city concept at this global scale, there remains little effort to interrogate the way that the future is used to sanction specific solutions. Through a critical engagement with smart city marketing materials, industry documents and consultancy reports, I explore how the future is recruited, rearranged and represented as a rationalisation for technological intervention in the present. This is done across three recurring crises: massive demographic shifts and subsequent resource pressure; global climate change; and the conflicting demands of fiscal austerity and the desire of many cities to attract foreign direct investment and highly-skilled workers. In revealing how crises are pre-empted, precautioned and prepared for, I argue that the smart city imaginary normalises a style and scale of response deemed appropriate under liberal capitalism.

Keywords: smart cities, the urban age, anticipation, risk

[pdf download]

Reblog> to be invisible or not to be invisible: that is the power. or is it?

Over on her blog Visual / Method / Culture, Gillian Rose has written an interesting blogpost about the politics of ‘visibility’ online and the rendering visible of digital/electronic things and their infrastructures. She draws on some interesting work (that I didn’t know) by Shannon Mattern and Adam Rothstein.

This got me thinking about a couple of other related things, that compliment and provide further examples for Gillian’s argument…

Of course a big chunk of the early geographical fascination with all things web/internet was about visualisations and mappings as Dodge & Kitchin’s “Atlas of Cyberspace“ attests”¦ It also brings to mind the recent cases of the “right to be forgotten“ in search results, and the ways in which those with the means can render what they deem undesirable “invisible” – the corollary of which is the increasing practices of public ‘shaming’ [see this great essay by Ben Jackson in the LRB], and the repugnant exploit of “revenge porn”.

So the politics of visibility Gillian teases out – and perhaps, here, more the *in*visible than the visible – is refracted through existing politics of those that have (money, status and power and so the means to render themselves selectively visible) and those that do not – who increasingly find themselves visible to all sorts of agencies.

to be invisible or not to be invisible: that is the power. or is it?

I’ve been pondering the rhetoric of ‘invisibility’ that surrounds so much critical discussion of digital technologies, particularly those that intersect with our everyday lives: the software that ‘hides’ behind smartphone screens, for example, or the intangibility of the ‘cloud’ that stores our photos and our contacts, or the invisibility of digital infrastructure. As a both Shannon Mattern and Adam Rothstein have pointed out recently, it’s a rhetoric that’s also used to describe an awful lot of other kinds of infrastructure too at the moment.

read the whole blogpost.

Visualising mediated interaction

This video, edited by Tony Zhou, offers a nice articulation of the kinds of imaginative strategies for attempting to represent, on film, the ways we interact through screen-based devices (i.e. computers and phones). Zhou demonstrates how the clunky attempts at verité don’t work – showing the screen while someone types takes ages and so its expensive. Instead, employing abstraction – such as floating text bubbles –advances the narrative without the need to film screens.


A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Of course, because these kinds of sequences are in a linear narrative it necessitates the character reading the message instantly – whereas a lot of our screen-based interactions are asynchronous. Its also a narrative device that has been employed in ‘design fiction‘ films to illustrate the abstract communication that takes place by quasi-autonomous software programmes that (will/would/may) underpin the ‘internet of things’. For how else are we to represent the apparently immaterial and abstract mechanisms that constitute what Kitchin and Dodge have called ‘coded spaces’ (and/or coded objects, infrastructures and so on)? For example…


The Social Web of Things from comsicomsa on Vimeo.

What this does, of course, is to render processes that operate in diverse temporalities (like the not-quite-speed-of-light, the speeds of electro-magnetic radiation) which are frequently cyclical and sporadic (CPU cycles and so on) and organised in ways that are oriented towards different modes of legibility (for speed of processing) in the linear conventions of film/tv. We have nuanced understandings of how these things operate within our daily lives (up to a point – they’re mostly figured around individual sensibilities rather than complex collectives) but I’m not really convinced that we have, yet, have a nuanced means of articulating these things.

To adapt what Derek McCormack suggests, these are attempts to represent the ‘abstraction [that] is a constituent element of the background infrastructures that allow life to show up and register as experience’ [p. 720]. The reason I’m framing it this fairly awkward way is that I think what Zhou’s video points to is that it is increasingly difficult for the ‘lay person’ to appreciate and understand the complex assemblages (or, rather, ‘agencements‘) of electronic systems that intimately affect how we live our lives. They are manifestly abstract, but this abstraction is frequently not treated in an affirmative sense but rather in an obfuscatory way.

Thinking about Zhou’s video and the growing impetus amongst social scientists to study the complexities of contemporary networked technologies, I am drawn to the idea that perhaps the kinds of visual devices used in the kinds of videos I’ve discussed here ought to be further employed to help describe and explain how contemporary processes of mediation function”¦ Probably something the students on courses like ‘Design Informatics‘ are already doing..? Its certainly something that ought to be part of any kind of ‘digital studies‘.

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…]

 

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.

The appeal of the frontier narrative and MOOCs

Following on from the translation I made of Bernard Stiegler’s reflections on how digital (media) technologies can perform a valuable pedagogical role, I wanted to highlight that Martin Weller has given a very cogent and pointed critique of the fairly common narrative of ‘disruptive technology’ in relation to MOOCs.

This brings together two aspects of my own research: the ways in which those involved in computing R&D look to the future and anticipate the kinds of technologies they may want to produce (and the kinds of politics that produces); and what can be seen as the progressive commoditisation of our capacities to think and feel by certain applications of digital media.

Firstly, as Martin identifies in his blogpost, there is a widespread discourse of the necessity of breakthrough, disruption and revolution  in the mythology of the aspirational technology sector located in Silicon Valley. This has some obvious foundations in the need to continually destroy and re-create new markets in a finite global system of capital (as David Harvey cogently diagnoses). It also has an interesting basis in alternative discourses of progress on the counterculture movements in that same region of the US, with Stewart Brand (founder of the Whole Earth Network) a significant exponent of libertarian thought in the growing ICT industry that translated into the creation of WIRED magazine as the purveyor of this techno-economic orthodoxy (for more on this see Fred Turner’s brilliant book).

Martin offers the insight that the rather clunky, and somewhat messianic, narrative of the need for an external agent to intervene in a slow, inefficient, outmoded (and so on) sector, central to the disruptive technology spiel, allows sharp and charismatic entrepreneurs to step in as the pseudo-saviour, i.e. Sebastian Thrun of Udacity and others of his ilk. Criticism of the West Coast (capitalist) mythology is not new, of course, Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron offered a critique of the ‘Californian Ideology‘ in the 1990s, and Stiegler has criticised the ‘American model’ of  laissez faire ‘cultural capitalism’ led by the ‘programming industries’ of new media (“functionally dedicated to marketing and publicity” [p. 5]) in his The Decadence of Industrial Democracies. Indeed, we can look back to Adorno and Horkheimer’s stinging critique of the Culture Industry as a formidable progenitor. What we can perhaps take from that line of argument is that arguing for a supposed ‘greater’ choice is actually a deception, the ‘choice’ is merely to consume more.

Others, who set themselves up as more thoughtful commentators have also weighed in on the side of the need for a disruption/revolution. Martin highlights that Clay Shirky has also parroted the, now well-worn, technological deterministic ark of argument. As with others, Shirky suggests that ‘education is broken‘ and must therefore be fixed by shiny new technology, in the form of MOOCs . Some proponents of this line of argument suggest that this would bring wider access to university level learning. There are a few (also well-worn but compelling) critiques of this line.

An obvious initial critique, as Martin argues in his blogpost, is that the ‘education is broken and so it requires a technological fix’ argument has gained so much traction because it is neat and easy to digest by journalists. A simple story with a clear solution is always going to trump the slightly messy, perhaps convoluted, and multiple stories that approximate the truth, for which there are unclear and troubling political solutions that require quite a lot of explanation and working through.

Furthermore, the existing evidence of engagement with MOOCs also somewhat contradicts the rosy picture painted by their evangelists. Completion rates for MOOCs tell a mixed story (as Martin has pointed out in other blogposts) and this perhaps speaks to the negotiation (by both students and course designers/leaders) of legitimacy and value for these courses – this is a sector still very much in flux. Those who are passionate about providing equal and wider access to university level education are torn by the desire to offer courses that open up (frequently excellent) materials for anyone to access but this is, of course, only a fraction of what we as university lecturers and students do when running and participating in courses.

We’re all, of course, increasingly proficient at consuming content online and MOOCs leverage that behaviour. What such systems are not so good at is providing something analogous to tutorials. The stand in for this is peer discussion/ support, which, of course, come with their own social and cultural issues around facilitation and particular participants becoming overbearing etc. So, these (socio-)technological fixes are not necessarily a like-for-like stand-in for all of those significant but hard to define benefits of university study within the physical context of an institution. Which is not to say that whatever MOOCs turn into cannot be of value, its just that its neither a direct alternative nor a replacement but rather a new/emerging form of pedagogical practice.

We can also look to the somewhat obvious Marxian critique of the constant clarion for technological revolution that, far from bringing in egalitarian and widespread access to a better form of living, education and so on, it ushers in the creation of a new proletarianised class of knowledge worker, trained, in this case, by machines (the machine learning version of xMOOCs is the example here) and held even further away from access to critical debate and the means of production.

After all, in a ‘mature’ market for technology, devices (and sometimes services) become cheap through mass production and availability. This slashes profit margins and consumer-users become savvy at backwards engineering and ‘modding’. Customers taking power into their own hands is rather undesirable for the corporate technology producer, unless they can co-opt those developments into the next iteration of the product. Thus, constant ‘innovation’ brings with it the maintenance of a premium for the ‘latest’, ‘must-have’ etc. device/service and necessarily excludes those who cannot pay.

One can easily imagine, then, how a stratification of the market would rapidly take hold. Cheaper, gigantic and formulaic courses (with automated marking of assessments) would be seen as lesser ‘products’ than more exclusive courses (with human tutor support). Those with power and money, in this case, would most-likely still send their children to (very expensive) physical universities with small classes, lots of attention from staff and all of the accoutrements of elite institutions.

Leaving that rather depressing argument aside, the framing of this form of consumer market for higher education is very Anglo-American, where degrees have already become a form of currency – for which there isn’t really an alternative. I cannot help wondering what other forms of education are being ignored (and therefore probably saved). The system of apprenticeship in Germany, for example, where more than half of school-leavers enter apprenticeships, which are really valued in society – with a majority of apprentices staying on with their host companies, is very successful and neither needs or could support a Silicon Valley style ‘disruption’.

Where does this leave us with regard to Stiegler’s argument that it is precisely the forms of collaboration that are opened up by digital media that can and should be used to transform higher education? Well, the innovative media supports being created in the guise of MOOCs and so on are neither the envisioned radical break(through) claimed in the silicon valley rhetoric or a pedagogical nosedive. As with all forms of technicity, MOOCs are pharmacological – they have the capacity to be both ‘poison’ and ‘cure’. If we take seriously Stiegler’s challenge that we need ‘to drive a dynamic for the rethinking of the relationship between knowledge and its media [supports] (of which MOOCs are a possible dimension) with the universities and academic institutions’ then we also need to take (very) seriously Martin’s arguments that designing open education courses/experiences is hard. I’m certainly not going to attempt to offer ‘easy’ or glib answers to such a problem here…

If we want the kind of collaborative learners that Stiegler gestures towards do we simply hope that they are self-selecting? Almost like postgraduate education is, with motivated students seeking out the opportunities to learn and contribute to the production of knowledge. That, of course, is a relatively small minority of the student population. Equally,we might consider the example of the proactive producers of peer-to-peer knowledge using platforms like Wikipedia, who are self-selecting and a minority relative to the number of ‘passive’ users of the platform. If the degree remains the only currency for employability within certain sectors and for particular kinds of roles then we retain the significant tension between the ideals of the pursuit and production of knowledge, traditionally at the heart of higher education, and the purchasing of a passport for employment (often in an unrelated field, probably in the financial sector) which the university degree has become in the UK.

It seems to me that it is not the university side of higher education that is broken in the UK (although it is always worthwhile striving for the ideals that underpin it), instead it is the preparation of skilled employment that was once provided by a valued system of apprenticeships and polytechnic institutions that has been not only broken but decimated. The renewal of these complimentary forms of further and higher education, with the new media supports we are using throughout all areas of life, seems to be an immediate and pressing concern.