InSIS Seminar Series - An Algorithmic Imaginary: Anticipation and Stupidity

An Algorithmic Imaginary: Anticipation and Stupidity

The humanities and social sciences have variously leapt on the idea of the algorithm as an emblem for computational logic and forms of automation, and for the resulting (bio)politics of the increasingly widespread use of software in the mediation of various parts of our lives. Various scholars have offered thoughtful reflections on the definition and uses of the word 'algorithm', and how we might study algorithms. Yet the forms of geographical and social imaginary (taken for granted spatial and social orderings of the world) upon which the ideas and ideals of 'the algorithm' are founded, and their inherent future orientation, are unfortunately less-discussed.

In this paper Sam will unpack what can be called an 'algorithmic imaginary', which describes a collection of assumptions about computational agency and ordering. In doing so he will explore two key aspects: The first element is the anticipatory character of the 'algorithmic imaginary', both in terms of the calculation of possibility and the kinds of future we imagine are thereby produced. The second aspect is a dialectic of stupidity that undergirds our contemplation of 'the algorithm', which following Bernard Stiegler (2015) denotes both a (pre-emptive) stupor in the face of particular kinds of shock (we might think here of a bewildering vertigo in the face of the scope and speed of contemporary digital media) and the idiomaticity of language and thus of programming code. In unpacking this theorisation of an algorithmic imaginary Sam’s aim is to tackle it's inherent (bio)politics and how critical social scientists might engage.

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