venerdì 27 febbraio 2015

Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene by McKenzie Wark @ Verso Books, Uk, April 2015

Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene

Radical new critical theory for the twenty-first century
In Molecular Red, McKenzie Wark creates philosophical tools for the Anthropocene, our new planetary epoch, in which human and natural forces are so entwined that the future of one determines that of the other.

Wark explores the implications of Anthropocene through the story of two empires, the Soviet and then the American. The fall of the former prefigures that of the latter. From the ruins of these mighty histories, Wark salvages ideas to help us picture what kind of worlds collective labor might yet build. From the Russian revolution, Wark unearths the work of Alexander Bogdanov—Lenin’s rival—as well as the great Proletkult writer and engineer Andrey Platonov.

The Soviet experiment emerges from the past as an allegory for the new organizational challenges of our time. From deep within the Californian military-entertainment complex, Wark retrieves Donna Haraway’s cyborg critique and science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian utopia as powerful resources for rethinking and remaking the world that climate change has wrought. Molecular Red proposes an alternative realism, where hope is found in what remains and endures.


An unavoidable topic for thinking about the future in the twenty-first century has to be the question of the Anthropocene. Any kind of critical social thought really has to come to terms with the fact that 'nature' is no longer an external or constant given. When the geologists, of all people, start saying that signs of human meddling are showing up even in the rocks, then its time to pay attention. That is why, in Molecular Red (due out this April with Verso) I subtitled the book 'Theory for the Anthropocene'. But not everyone is happy with the term Anthropocene and some of its implications. In my view this is partly a real issue and partly a distraction. In the extract adapted from Molecular Red below I try to briefly map out this problem.
Notes on the Anthropocene

Disparate times call for disparate methods. Let’s just say that this is the end of pre-history, this moment when planetary constraints start really coming to bear on the ever-expanding universe of the commodification of everything. This is the worldview-changing realization that some now call the Anthropocene. Let’s not despair. Some of the greatest accelerations in the life of our species-being have happened in moments of limit, if never before on such a scale.
The Anthropocene is the name Paul Crutzen and others give to this period of geological time upon which the planet has entered. Crutzen: “About 30-50% of the planet’s land surface is exploited by humans…. More than half of all accessible fresh water is used by mankind. Fisheries remove more than 25% of the primary production un upwelling ocean regions… Energy use has grown 16-fold during the twentieth century… More nitrogen fertilizer is applied in agriculture than is fixed naturally in all terrestrial ecosystems.”

martedì 24 febbraio 2015

Affect and Social Media: International research seminar, hosted by the EmotionUX lab in the School of Arts and Digital Industries, University of East London.

Affect and Social Media: International research seminar, including book launch for Ellis and Tucker’s Social Psychology of Emotion published by Sage in March.
Hosted by the EmotionUX lab in the School of Arts and Digital Industries, University of East London.
Friday 27th Feb, 2015 at UEL’s Docklands Campus.
Meet 12.30 at Docklands Campus reception 1pm start!
In Room NB 2.05
Introduction Tony D. Sampson
Session 1 – 1.15-2.25
Sara Marino (University of Westminster): Performances, belongings, and displacements. How Italians use new media to narrate their diasporic experience.
Evgenia Theodotou (AMC, Greece): Social network in higher education: a case study investigating creativity in the Greek context.
Darren Ellis (University of East London): Social Media, Affect and Process
Jacob Johanssen (University of East London): Alienation and Affect on Facebook
Break for late lunch 2.25-3pm
Session 2 – 3-4.10pm
Greg Singh (University of Stirling): Social Media as a False-Self System
Tamara Shepherd (London School of Economics) Mobility, Sociality, and Affect: The Commodification of Intimacy through Branded Mobile Apps
Ian Tucker (University of East London) and Lewis Goodings (Roehampton): Digitally mediated distress: Bodies, affect and digital care.
Break for refreshments 4.10-4.40pm
Session 3 4.40-6.00pm John Carter McKnight and Adam Fish (Lancaster University): “Sensible” Borrowers: Class Narratives and the Manipulation of Affect in the Marketing of Alternative Finance
Anne Vermeulen (University of Antwerp)Feeling happy: adolescents’ emotion sharing on social media
Closing discussion chaired by Tony D. Sampson
Book Launch and Social Event 6.30-8pm To celebrate the imminent (Sage, March 2015) publication of Social Psychology of Emotion by Darren Ellis and Ian Tucker – we will have some chat, drinks and nibbles… Book info:
Presenter Biogs
Sara Marino, University of Westminster Dr. Sara Marino is Research Fellow at CREAM-Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media, University of Westminster. Her main research interests include the digitalization of contemporary Italian Diaspora in UK, and more generally the impact of digital media (online communities, social networks, discussion forums and blogs) in the processes of integration/communication between migrant communities and receiving countries. She also writes on transnational cinema and diasporic audiences, with a specific focus on von Trier’s cinema and the representation of Otherness.
Anne Vermeulen, University of Antwerp Anne Vermeulen is master in Social-Economic Sciences (University of Antwerp, 2010) and master in Communication Studies: Strategic Communication (University of Antwerp, 2011). Since October 2011, she works as a PhD student and research and teaching assistant at the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Antwerp. She is a member of the research group MIOS. Anne’s main field of interest concerns the link between youngsters and ICT. For her PhD, she studies how youngsters share their (positive and negative) emotions with others; when and how do they use different communication modes (face-to-face and specific types of mediated communication) to share their emotions with strangers, friends and family?
Tamara Shepherd, London School of Economics and Political Science Tamara Shepherd is an LSE Fellow in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her work looks at the feminist political economy of digital culture, especially in relation to social media, mobile technologies, and digital games. For more, please see
John Carter McKnight, Lancaster University John Carter McKnight is a postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Sociology Lancaster University. His work, funded under a grant from the Research Councils UK Digital Economy Theme, examines how peer to peer digital lending and payment services present themselves as alternatives to mainstream banking practices through infrastructure, user experience, and marketing design, with a particular focus on the role of affective design and marketing in speaking to regional and class issues in promoting alternatives to high street banking.
Adam Fish, Lancaster University I am a social anthropologist of digital culture, business, and politics. I investigate the interface of economic and political power, cultural discourses and practices, and networked communication technologies. These interests coalesce into critical and ethnographic investigations into media industries and media activism. Based on my ethnographic research into media companies in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, I am presently writing a book about the corporate myths of media “democratization” and internet and television convergence. In my present project I am investigating the politics of information infrastructures through ethnographic fieldwork with cloud computing companies, peer-to-peer banks, and “internet freedom” activists.
Jacob Johanssen, University of East London Jacob Johanssen is a third year PhD student in psychosocial studies at the UEL. His research interests include psychoanalysis and media audience research, Freudian affect theory, as well as critical theory. Publications include the anthology ‘Cyborg Subjects: Discourses on Digital Culture’ (edited with Rambatan, 2013) and ‘Alienation and Digital Labour’ (with Krüger, 2014). His PhD thesis explores a psychoanalytic conception of the subject that is both theoretical and epistemological. The research involves interviews with viewers of ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ and explores their viewing practices and affective responses to the programme.
Greg Singh, University of Stirling Dr Greg Singh is Lecturer in Media and Communications at the University of Stirling, and is Programme Director of the Digital Media undergraduate programme. He has published widely on a number of subjects ranging from popular cinema, film theory and film-philosophy, and depth psychology, to representations of technology in television drama. He has published two monographs for Routledge (Film After Jung, 2009; Feeling Film: Authenticity, Affect and Popular Cinema, 2014). He is currently working on a book-length study for Routledge discussing psychosocial aspects of digital literacy and Web 2.0.
Ian Tucker, UEL Dr. Ian Tucker is Reader in Social Psychology at the University of East London. He has a long standing interest in the social psychological aspects of emotion and affect, which has theoretically informed empirical work in the areas of mental distress, social media and surveillance. He has conducted research for the Mental Health Foundation and EPSRC Communities and Culture Network+, and is currently working on a project exploring the impact of social media on psychological support in mental health communities. Ian has published numerous articles in the areas of mental health, space and place, embodiment, surveillance and social media.
Lewis Goodings, Roehampton Lewis Goodings has several years experience researching social media, which began with his PhD work on MySpace and its effects on identity, embodiment and space. He has worked on a number of projects looking at the intersections between technology and experience, for example, a  (Roehampton-funded) piece of research entitled ‘Transformative Publics: Social media and the production of bodies online’ which looked at the experience of ‘unwanted’ body-technical assemblages in social media. His interests focus on identifying the role of digital media in the production of communities defined by the way users feel connected, and how such feelings are dependent on the specific aspects of the online environment. More recently, he has been working on a EPSRC funded project with Dr Ian Tucker that is looking at how people use the social media site ‘Elefriends’.
Evgenia Theodotou, AMC in collaboration with University of East London Evgenia Theodotou is Programme Leader in Education Department in Metropolitan College (AMC), which in collaboration with University of East London offers Bachelors and Masters Degrees. She is a PhD candidate in the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in School of Early Childhood Education in the research area of “Literacy skills in the early years settings”. Her research activity involves technology enhanced learning, creativity, arts and literacy skills. She has participated in several research projects and published her research in international conferences, journals, edited books and monographs. She is the author of “When I play I learn… and I better understand” from Delta publications and of “Creativity in the contemporary era of ICT” from Kritiki publications. She is also the author of a series of children’s books which will be shortly available to public. She has a permanent column at “Anna Drouza” under the action of “The academic answers your queries”.
Darren Ellis, UEL Darren Ellis is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader in Psychosocial Studies at the University of East London. Darren has been interested in the ways that emotion, affect and feeling are experienced, expressed and constructed. These interests have influenced his writings on psychotherapy, the emotional disclosure paradigm, theorising police stop and search activity, surveillance studies, conspiracy theory studies, and understandings of social media interactivity. His forthcoming book (March 2015) is entitled ‘Social Psychology of Emotion’
pic above: Greg Dunn's neural painting
pic below: largest living organism in the world (a rizoma!!)

domenica 22 febbraio 2015

Evan Selinger on The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems — And Create More @ LARB, 17Feb2015

Evan Selinger on The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems — And Create More @ Los Angeles Review of Books
17 February 2015  - Read more @ LARB

The Black Box Within: Quantified Selves, Self-Directed Surveillance, and the Dark Side of Datification

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN “life as we know it” becomes a series of occasions to collect, analyze, and use data to determine what’s true, opportune, or even right to do? According to Luke Dormehl, much more than we bargained for.
Philosophers of technology as well as researchers in related fields have had a great deal to say about the dark side of datification, with fierce debate raging in particular over the threat of algocracy,” or “rule by algorithm.” It’s an important debate. Unfortunately, though, the typical scholarly contributions use rarified language and aren’t always accessible to broader audiences.
To his credit, Dormehl, a senior writer at Fast Company and a journalist covering the “digital humanities,” attempts precisely to broaden the conversation. This means that less charitable readers may well see The FormulaHow Algorithms Solve All Our Problems — And Create More as a watered down, derivative version of Evgeny Morozov’s take on solutionism.” But I think Dormehl’s book serves a crucial purpose as a user-friendly primer. The bite-sized bits of high theory (including snippets from Zygmunt Bauman, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour, Michel Serres, and others) and law scholar commentary (including brilliant reflections from Danielle Citron and Harry Surden) have the virtue of being painlessly illuminating. And the slim package of four chapters and a conclusion is quite sufficient to help readers better appreciate the subtle societal trade-offs involved in technological innovation.
To Thine Own Algorithms Be True
I’ll be the first to admit that “formula” is a terrible guiding metaphor for inspiring critical conversation about how technology is used, designed, and viewed. The word designates abstractions: mathematical relations and symbolically expressed rules. Indeed, the term seems divorced from the gritty specifics of human labor and social norms.
Dormehl, however, has the opposite agenda from those espousing computational purity. To cut through the “cyberbole,” he coins an idiosyncratic definition: “[I] use The Formula much as the late American political scientist and communications theorist Harold Lasswell used the word ‘technique’: referring […] to ‘the ensemble of practices by which one uses available resources to achieve values.’” The Formula, then, is meant to be an existential, sociological, and, at times, historical investigation into individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions embracing a “particular form of techno-rationality”: the conviction that all problems can be formulated in computational terms and “solved with the right algorithm.”
In the first chapter, “The Quantified Selves,” Dormehl outlines how data-oriented enterprises determine who we are and what makes us tick. Readers have undoubtedly noticed that the so-called Quantified Self movement is escalating in popularity. Broadly speaking, the Quantified Self (QS) draws on “body-hacking” and “somatic surveillance,” practices that, as their names suggest, subject our personal activities and choices to data-driven scrutiny. Typical endeavors include tracking and analyzing exercise regimes, identifying sleep patterns, and pinpointing bad habits that subvert goals. Recently democratized consumer technologies (especially smartphones that run all kinds of QS apps) enable users themselves to obtain and store diagnostic data and perform the requisite calculations.
Of course, there’s nothing new about believing truth is mathematically expressed, and, to be sure, attempts to better understand ourselves will fail if they aren’t backed up by data. Here’s the rub: while individuals self-track because they hope to be empowered by what they learn, companies are studying our data trails to learn more about us and profit from that knowledge. Behaviorally-targeted advertising is big business. Call centers aim to improve customer service by pairing callers with agents who specialize in responding to different personality types. Recruiters use new techniques to discover potential employees and assess whether they’ll be good fits, such as having them play games that analyze aptitude and skill. Corporations adopt neo-Taylorist policies of observation and standardization to extract efficient robotic labor from their employees.
By juxtaposing individual with corporate agendas, Dormehl tries to do more than call attention to the naivety of living in what Deleuze calls a “society of control.” He also aims to discern basic dilemmas worthy of more scrutiny. For example, “the filter bubble problem” suggests that personalization can harm society even in cases where individuals get exactly what they think they want; for example, shortcuts for avoiding putatively irrelevant material can, in fact, promote tunnel vision and even bolster fundamentalism. And the easier it becomes to classify differences on a granular level, the easier it also becomes to engage in discriminatory behavior — especially when so many of the algorithms feeding us personalized information are veiled in black box secrecy.
The predicament I find most intriguing is the one Dormehl describes as the “innate danger in attempting to quantify the unquantifiable.” He most assuredly isn’t arguing for a spiritual reality that inherently defies science. Rather, he’s alluding to epistemological limits — how “taking complex ideas and reducing them to measurable elements” can lead people to mistake incomplete representations and partial proxies for the real thing. A related mistake comes from erroneously believing that the technologies and techniques supporting quantified analysis are untainted by human biases and prejudices. I will return to both of these points later when I discuss Dormehl’s own failure to keep them in mind.
Frictionless Relationships
In the second chapter, “The Match and the Spark,” Dormehl discusses how algorithms shape our personal relationships. While companies like eHarmony and OkCupid boast algorithms that can help lonely hearts find highly compatible partners, others cast a narrower net and cater to niche interests: focuses on “beautiful men and women”; bills itself as “fun, private and secure environment to meet fit, athletic singles”; and is what you’d expect. And, what if your outlook is more in line with a “Eugenicist” orientation? No problem! uses the tag line, “love is no coincidence,” and extols its ability to pair people “by analyzing their DNA.”
With so many possibilities to choose from, including technologically facilitated options for fleeting and satisfying hookups, two issues become salient. First, it would appear that “there is a formula for everyone.” Meet and meat markets have become all-inclusive by virtue, somewhat paradoxically, of becoming so specialized, thanks to the commodification of rare tastes and kinky proclivities. Second, the “antirationalist view of love” is going the way of the dodo bird. The “evidence” doesn’t support the ineffable mystery of desire or even of attachment, nor of serendipity understood as the non-jury-rigged chance encounters.
While these procedures for streamlining how we meet others might seem like improvements over older and clunkier trial-and-error approaches, Dormehl points to disconcerting repercussions. After quoting Bauman on virtual relationships taking “the waiting out of wanting, [the] sweat out of effort and [the] effort out of results,” he asks us to consider whether we’re starting to look at relationships as ephemeral bonds that can be undone almost as easily as pushing the delete key on our computers. After all, fixing stressed relationships requires work. Matchmaking companies nudge us into starting new ones rather than working on old ones. Heck, some apps purport to recognize when you’re in a room with good matches worth talking to!
Once we stop viewing other people, including romantic others, as unique, and instead see them as patterned appearances, then, Dormehl suggests, we will need to face the vexing question of why we should even bother preferring real people to simulated versions. Technology cannot yet present us with compelling doppelgangers, but, soon enough the artificial intelligence behind today’s chatbots will be able to come pretty darn close. If robots become idealized automated lovers, would there be good reason to reject their offers to be whatever we want, whenever we want, especially if they don’t impose demands in return? Similarly, what if companies could get beyond hokey schemes for enabling subscribers to send prewritten messages to their loved ones after they die, and instead offered authentic-sounding, original dialog — say, after getting a sense of a person’s personality by data mining their email, texts, and social networking commentary, much like a less buggy version of the scenario depicted in the Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back”? Would we start obsessively interacting with the equivalent of ghosts?
Although Dormehl recognizes the importance of these questions, he doesn’t try to answer them. That’s okay. A robust response requires discussing normative theories of care and character. The point of reading The Formula is to become aware of the questions, not to find answers.
Algorithmic Futures
The main virtue of the remaining chapters lies in reorienting us to the future. Chapter three, “Do Algorithms Dream of Electric Laws,” begins by discussing predictive policing. It transitions from there to explaining how automation is disrupting the practice of law by dramatically reducing the manpower and cost required to perform select legal services (e.g., “e-discovery”). Dormehl picks up steam when he gets to the topic of “Ambient Law” — “the idea that […] laws can be embedded within and enforced by our devices and environment.” For example, cars could be programmed to test the amount of alcohol in a driver’s bloodstream, only letting the ignition start if the driver is under the legal limit. Or, a “smart office” could be configured to ensure its “own internal temperature” adhered to the levels “stipulated by health and safety regulations.” In these and related cases, surveillance and enforcement are outsourced to machines designed to ensure compliance.
It may indeed seem like a good idea to minimize how often citizens break the law, but Dormehl reminds us that removing choice impacts autonomy. The crucial questions then are: How much does freedom matter? Which circumstances warrant limiting or eliminating it? And when should people be permitted to make decisions that can result in harmful outcomes? Since machines are imperfect, it’s also important to figure out how to minimize the likelihood of their making life-impacting errors while also creating effective processes for rapidly fixing mistakes after they occur.
But the issue I find most fascinating concerns the difference between “rules” and “standards.” Whereas rules involve “hard-line binary decisions with very little in the way of flexibility,” standards allow for “human discretion.” Standards can be problematic — for instance, when they lead to prejudiced behavior. But they also can beneficial — for instance, when they lead to humane treatment. A police officer could pull over a car going “marginally” faster than the legal speed limit and then, after learning the person is a tourist unfamiliar with the rules, let the driver go with a warning. In short, when should forms of discretion be operationalized in Ambient Law programs, and when should Ambient Law initiatives be avoided because the appropriate discretion can’t be coded?
In chapter four, “The Machine That Made Art,” Dormehl considers topics that link the production and reception of creative works to algorithms; for instance, he asks whether machines can predict which scripts will yield high-grossing movies; and, to this end, he examines the efficacy of data mining in determining what content will have mass appeal — an issue that’s been hotly discussed after Netflix’s successful remake of House of Cards.
The most intriguing issue, however, concerns personalization. Dormehl asks us to imagine a future where individuals can “dictate the mood they want to achieve.” Aesthetic objects are then created to produce the desired effects: not just customized playlists to help runners sprint energetically along, but “electronic novels” that “monitor the electrical activity of neurons in the brain while they are being read, leading to algorithms” that rewrite the sections ahead “to match the reactions solicited.” If the processes were effective, they’d force us to confront the question of whether art is valued because it is “a creative substitute for mind-altering drugs,” or whether such a utilitarian outlook demeans much of art’s potential to be transformative, let alone transgressive.
The Existential Conundrum of Quantifying Moods
While there is much to praise in Dormehl’s book, the examples are less than stellar. They are marred by three types of omissions: critical analysis gets left out, crucial facts go unstated, and important context gets ignored.
Let’s start with an instance where critical reflection would have been useful.
Dormehl writes:
Consider […] the story of a young female member of the Quantified Self movement, referred to only as “Angela.” Angela was working in what she considered to be her dream job, when she downloaded an app that “pinged” her multiples times each day, asking her to rate her mood each time. As patterns started to emerge in the data, Angela realized that her “mood score” showed she wasn’t very happy at work, after all. When she discovered this, she handed in her notice and quit.
That’s all Dormehl has to say about “Angela”: she used technology to track how she was feeling. The data revealed she wasn’t thriving at a particular workplace; and the newfound discovery proved to be such an eye-opener that she felt justified in making a decision that had the potential to be life-changing. Dormehl doesn’t provide more detail because, ostensibly, these remarks are sufficient to make his point.
While there is explanatory value to discussing “Angela” in this context, the example is too rich to simply be treated as one amongst many other instances where someone is trying to gain self-knowledge by turning to data-rich insights. After all, throughout The Formula, Dormehl signals that he wants us to think carefully about what it means to be human in an age where algorithms increasingly tell us who we are, what we want, and how we’ll come to behave in the future. Indeed, Dormehl goes so far as to declare that our age is marked by a “crisis of self,” where the Enlightenment conception of “autonomous individuals” is challenged by an algorithmic alternative. Individuals have become construed as “one categorizable node in an aggregate mass.”
“Angela’s” case ought to provide an opportunity to explore core questions concerning the existential implications of self-directed surveillance. Can something as subjective and experientially rich as “moods” be translated into quantified terms? Or are attempts to accomplish this bound to miss or misrepresent important details? And, what is the ethical import of people outsourcing their awareness and decision-making to an app? What does it mean that they trust this app more than their own senses to tell them how they really feel?
A good way to start answering these questions is to analyze a host of specifics that Dormehl fails to pursue. Indeed, once he decided to discuss “Angela” in The Formula, he should have been prepared to tell the reader what kind of information she provided when the app pinged her. Did the interface give “Angela” a drop-down list of moods with categories to select from? If so, that type of design might predispose her to mistake subtle feelings for cruder forms; maybe there just weren’t nuanced options to choose from. It’s a safe bet that she wasn’t thinking about the problem of reductionism when using the technology.
Dormehl also should want to know if the app presented “Angela” with a scale to rate the intensity of her moods. If it did, then we might want to ask how she determined the best way to use it. Turning first-person experience into objective-looking mathematical terms requires translating terms across domains. Poor judgment and limited skill can, obviously, compromise the results. It’s easy to imagine, for example, “Angela” rating a moment of frustration a 10 out of 10 simply because it felt intense, and it’s also easy to imagine that the app recorded her response without offering feedback — by way of questioning, as a human inquirer might, whether the intensity really merited the highest possible rating.
Another important factor Dormehl should address is how — if at all — “Angela” tried to rule out confounding variables. Without some sense of how to separate signal from noise, she can’t determine whether being at work per se led to bad moods, or if the negative affect was generated in select situations, like dealing with a particularly annoying coworker or overly demanding boss. This information is crucial for making an informed decision about whether “Angela” should quit her job or just lodge a complaint with Human Resources.
Finally, Dormehl should plumb the reasons why “Angela” wasn’t confident enough in her own abilities to determine the source of her misery. When our jobs make us miserable, most of us are well aware of it. We don’t walk around plagued by the mystery of why we’re feeling down. Perhaps, then, the most relevant issue wasn’t that self-tracking enabled “Angela” to learn more about herself. Maybe she already knew how she felt about work but was waiting to quit until she could frame the choice as an evidence-based decision. If so, the question Dormehl should be asking is whether it’s a new type of “bad faith” to turn to data to validate difficult decisions we’re already inclined to make.
Persuasive Privacy Advocacy
In order to rhetorically dramatize some of the examples, Dormehl sometimes leaves out important information. Consider his depiction of Facedeals.
A Nashville-based start up called Facedeals promises shops the opportunity to equip themselves with facial recognition-enabled cameras. Once installed, these cameras would allow retailers to scan customers and link them to their Facebook profiles, then target them with personalized offers and services based upon the “likes” they have expressed online.
The operative word here is “allow.” If we interpret the word in an active sense, we get the impression that as soon as retailers install the facial recognition cameras they immediately can use biometric data to link every customer who gets scanned to his or her corresponding Facebook profile. But this isn’t how the program actually works. It isn’t a matter of installing the technology, turning it on, and then, boom, a brave new world of commerce begins. Privacy protections, which Dormehl doesn’t mention in this context, do determine, at least to some degree, what actually happens. In order to receive the personalized deals, users need to give their permission by opting in to the program and authorizing the Facedeals app. Consequently, customers remain in control of the situation; neither technology nor businesses is calling the shots.
Dormehl’s discussion of a related surveillance program is also plagued by the problem of omitting detail to create a heightened sense of unease.
In late 2013, UK supermarket giant Tesco announced similar plans to install video screens at its checkouts around the country, using inbuilt cameras equipped with custom algorithms to work out the age and gender of individual customers. Like loyalty cards on steroids, these would then allow customers to be shown tailored advertisements, which can be altered over time, depending on both the date and time of day, along with any extra insights gained from monitoring purchases.
The prospect of surveillance leading to “extra insights” sounds especially ominous if we don’t know about the constraints that limit what data can be collected and analyzed. Since Dormehl doesn’t identify any of them, I’ll highlight the most crucial limitation. When the program was announced, Tesco clarified that it won’t record personal information, including customers’ images. Had Dormehl mentioned this commitment, he would have given readers less reason to crinkle their faces in disgust and horror.
By mentioning such conspicuously absent detail, I’m not suggesting that there aren’t good reasons to be concerned about corporate surveillance creep. To the contrary, I believe it’s essential to have robust privacy discussions about the matter before it’s too late; technology develops rapidly, and consumer regulations obviously have a hard time keeping up. But in order for privacy advocates to stand a shot of being taken seriously, they need to express justifiable propositions. They can’t make credible cases for protecting privacy by omitting highly pertinent facts.
Why Universities Embrace Surveillance
At time Dormehl fails to capture the full significance of what makes an example troubling. For example, after introducing us to CourseSmart’s educational technology, which “uses algorithms to track whether students are skipping pages in their textbooks, not highlighting significant passages, hardly bothering to take notes, or even failing to study at all,” Dormehl only points to one worrisome implication: the tool — and others like it — allows people to be judged by ideologically questionable “engagement” metrics. This focus allows Dormehl to quickly segue from discussing colleges using these so-called smart textbooks to the rise of neo-Taylorist corporate practices, such as “Tesco warehouses in the UK” where “workers are made to wear arm-mounted electronic terminals so that managers can grade them on how hard they are working.”
Casting a net that unifies student and worker is problematic. Dormehl moves so quickly beyond the domain of education that he doesn’t ask an important question: beyond pedagogy, why are universities aggressively pushing for big-data driven policies? In other words, why are enhanced data collection and analysis regarded as central to the very survival of brick and mortar colleges? Such questions provide the proper context for understanding why administrators may be keen on the large-scale adoption of the type of technology CourseSmart offers, even if professors prefer more old-fashioned approaches to teaching.
Simply put, the engagement issue is a small part of a larger set of concerns — for instance, administrators wanting to increase the odds of students successfully graduating. This has come to mean their using predictive analytics and extensive surveillance to help students select right courses, do well in their classes, and avoid behaviors that compromise mental health. While these goals sound great in the abstract, in practice a host of troubling issues ensue, ranging from profiling to sensitive data being taken out of its intended context of use. In other words, the algorithms powering these operations and the logic sanctioning their use requires greater scrutiny. It might even be appropriate to consider regulating them because of ideals associated with “fair automation practices.
While I’ve been critical of how Dormehl presents some of his examples, the issues I raise are ultimately minor in comparison to what he does well. Dormehl packs a lot of content into a succinct text, and while he doesn’t offer his own theories or solutions, The Formula successfully demonstrates why academics shouldn’t be the only people interested in philosophical questions concerning technology.

Luke Dormehl is a journalist and filmmaker and author of The Apple Revolution: The Real Story of How Steve Jobs and the Crazy Ones Took Over the World. He writes for Fast Company.

mercoledì 18 febbraio 2015

Luca Doninelli: Minima moralia, "istruzioni" per resistere al potere @ Il, 18Feb2015

Luca Doninelli: 
Minima moralia, "istruzioni" per resistere al potere 
@ Il, 18Feb2015

Read more @ Il

Questa sera, presso la Sala Verri del Centro Culturale di Milano, avrà luogo un evento inatteso. Si festeggerà un compleanno speciale. Ci saranno Sergio Belardinelli, Mauro Magatti e altri amici. 
Non so se qualcun altro festeggerà. Sarà perché sono settant'anni — quando mai si festeggia un settantennio? —, anche se il festeggiato è di quelli che bisognerebbe ricordare sempre. 
E' un libro, uno dei più grandi libri del XX secolo, uno dei più necessari, uno dei grandi capolavori. Il suo autore, Theodor W. Adorno, e la Scuola di Francoforte, di cui faceva parte (con Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse e, spiritualmente, Walter Benjamin) hanno goduto, quando "c'era il pensiero" (G. Gaber), di grande prestigio. Ma quando il pensiero passa di moda, anche di loro si parla meno. 

Il titolo del libro, Minima Moralia, dovrebbe risuonare nelle orecchie dei non più giovani. Scritto in America tra il 1944 e il 1945, anche se pubblicato nel 1951, Minima Moralia è tra i primi grandi testi che costellano l'ultima fase — quella editorialmente più produttiva perché finalmente realizzata in tempo di libertà — della Scuola di Francoforte. 
Se mi permetto di sottolineare l'evento non è perché io abbia una qualunque autorità per parlare di questo libro, ma solo perché Minima Moralia mi accompagna da almeno trent'anni, e si può dire che, con I Demonidi Dostoevskij, sia il libro che ho riletto più volte nella mia vita.  Michel Foucault diceva che il pensiero teorico ci è utile, se non altro, per essere "un po' meno governati". Minima Moralia rappresenta il punto più alto in quest'ordine di esigenze. E', si potrebbe dire, il capolavoro di un pensiero resistenziale che coincide con il pensiero stesso, che è una sorta di "resistenza nella differenza". 
Mi spiego. Tutto è potere, a questo mondo: non solo quello politico o economico o dei mezzi di comunicazione ma anche quello quotidiano, che si esercita in un ufficio, alla stazione del metrò, in famiglia e perfino all'interno di un atto creativo come girare un film, o scrivere un romanzo. 

La caratteristica del potere è quella di omologare tutto. L'ideale è che tutti la pensino allo stesso modo, preferiscano le stesse cose, abbiano le stesse opinioni, guardino gli stessi film e così via. L'eliminazione delle differenze è il solo imperativo rimasto a un potere che si concepisce da solo (perciò non sa risolvere nessun problema). Lo chiamano "pensiero unico" ma del pensiero non ha niente. Per combattere l'omologazione occorre starci dentro: dentro la politica, l'economia, dentro il metrò, dentro il romanzo. Affermando un pensiero quotidiano, tattico, espresso perlopiù in piccoli gesti, che è come la materia oscura che costituisce il 90 per cento della massa dell'universo, noi opponiamo un argine a tutto ciò che cerca di delegittimare il nostro io, mostrandone la debolezza.
Scritto negli anni degli orrori nazisti, Minima Moralia non è solo un libro contro l'oppressione e il fanatismo ideologico, ma allarga la visuale: il tiranno più odioso non è, nonostante tutto, che una metafora di un'alienazione universale, di una falsificazione cui nemmeno i "salvatori" americani sono estranei.  Le vicende storiche che Adorno aveva davanti agli occhi lo condussero a identificare il movimento di falsificazione (dell'intelligenza, degli affetti, dei rapporti, di tutto) come un movimento universale. E anche se la critica marxista gli offre gli strumenti per leggere e descrivere questo baratro, tuttavia il marxismo si mantiene in lui a livello fenomenologico. 
Attraverso la fatica quotidiana del pensiero — che ci obbliga a essere sempre un po' diversi da noi stessi, disponendoci al nuovo, vorrei dire alla realtà se non fosse una parola molto ambigua — noi facciamo esperienza della grande falsificazione (possiamo anche ignorarla godendone i vantaggi) e al tempo stesso comprendiamo che non si esce dalla menzogna se non assumendo, nei confronti di tutte le cose, la prospettiva della loro redenzione.
In uno scritto tardivo, il grande amico di Adorno, Max Horkheimer, identificherà questo atteggiamento del pensiero come nostalgia del totalmente-Altro, rivelando la natura religiosa che ogni esperienza intellettuale ha nel tentativo stesso di mantenersi viva sotto i bombardamenti del potere e della menzogna.

martedì 17 febbraio 2015

Johannes Koehler , Jean Maximilien Lucas Le vite di Spinoza @ Quodlibet, Febbraio 2015

Le vite di Spinoza

seguite da alcuni frammenti dalla Prefazione di Jarig Jelles agli Opera posthuma

A cura di Roberto Bordoli
Prefazione di Giorgio Agamben
Introduzione di Filippo Mignini

In appendice
La biblioteca di Spinoza di Patrizia Pozzi

Nuova edizione riveduta e ampliata 

Forse mai la figura di un filosofo appare con tanta vivezza come nelle due brevi biografie di Spinoza – tradotte qui per la prima volta in italiano – che, pochi anni dopo la sua morte scrissero Jean-Maximilien Lucas e Johannes Colerus. Oltre a un vivace affresco dell’ambiente in cui egli visse, l’Olanda del secolo d’oro, e la cronaca del suo scontro con la comunità ebraica e con le sue tradizioni culminato nella scomunica (herem), il lettore troverà in queste pagine tutta una serie di episodi e aneddoti della vita del filosofo, il cui rilievo emblematico provoca e appassiona da secoli tanto i sostenitori che i detrattori dello «spinozismo». 
In realtà si è qui di fronte al paradosso di ogni autentica biografia filosofica: nel riso di Spinoza che osserva i ragni combattere, nel suo giustacuore lacerato dal coltello del fanatico (come nel gesto di Kant che a sera si avvoltola soddisfatto nelle coperte o in quello di Eraclito che si scalda nella bottega del fornaio), una vita divenuta indiscernibile dalla sua forma ci è restituita come un ultimo cristallo di pensiero, così limpido che di fronte ad esso non possiamo cessare di pensare.

Ludovico Pratesi: L'arte contro la guerra. Intervista con Shirin Neshat @ Exibart, 16Feb2015

L’Intervista/Shirin Neshat

L'ARTE CONTRO LA GUERRA Read more @ Exibart

È possibile. L’artista iraniana ci spiega come

Donne velate che puntano pistole con sguardo altero, con le mani coperte da  frasi scritte in farsi, l’antico persiano. Nei primi anni Novanta le opere fotografiche dell’artista iraniana Shirin Neshat (Qazvin, 1957) hanno denunciato la situazione delle donne in un Paese piegato dalla rivoluzione di Khomeini. Sono le Women of Allah, immagini scattate nel 1993 e esposte di recente al Mathaf, il museo d’arte moderna di Doha (Qatar) in occasione della mostra antologica Afterwards, insieme a opere più recenti, come The Book of Kings (2012) e Our House is on Fire (2013), dedicata ai protagonisti della Primavera Araba. Le opere di Shirin Neshat sono perciò sempre impregnate anche della complessa e spesso difficile realtà politica del suo Paese e del mondo arabo: per questo le abbiamo chiesto un’opinione dopo i fatti di Charlie Hebdo e il clima di terrore che l’Isis tenta di instaurare. 

Oggi, come artista iraniana, qual è la sua posizione sul massacro di Parigi e, in generale, sulla libertà di espressione?
«Credo nella libertà di espressione e per questo vivo in esilio e non nel mio Paese, che priva il suo popolo dei diritti umani fondamentali come la libertà di espressione. Nonostante questo, non credo nella provocazione come valore per affermare questa libertà. Però mi considero una musulmana laica, e per principio sono contraria a ogni forma di estremismo religioso che possa causare violenza o sofferenza, introducendosi nella vita privata delle persone, da qualunque fonte provenga: cristiana, musulmana o ebrea».

La libertà di espressione è un tema rilevante nel suo lavoro?
«Dal momento che vivo fuori dalla mia patria non mi confronto con le autorità iraniane ogni giorno, anche se il mio lavoro continua a indirizzarsi verso tematiche socio politiche e religiose relative all'Iran. Ma rifiuto di utilizzare l'arte come uno strumento per creare controversie, o per inasprire, offendere o contrastare qualsiasi forma di credo religioso o ideologia politica. In generale penso che qualsiasi espressione artistica che sia fondata su un pregiudizio sia sempre manipolativa e sbagliata, dal momento che spinge verso lo sdegno o addirittura la violenza».

Ricorda quali furono le prime reazioni alle sue Women of Allah?
«All'inizio della mia carriera, molti occidentali pensavano che  le parole scritte sui corpi femminili nella serie fotografica Women of Allah fossero versetti coranici. In realtà ho sempre usato soltanto versi poetici, perché non potrei mai immaginare di rendere banale ciò che è sacro per milioni di musulmani».

Adesso che reazioni provocherebbero?
«Quello che è successo al giornale Charlie Hebdo a Parigi, mi sembra che riaffermi l'idea che la rabbia nutre la barbarie, e che una forma di rabbia conduce ad un'altra forma di rabbia, e come siamo spinti verso un circolo vizioso di astio, rivincita e brutalità. La risposta può essere la creazione di dialoghi su come possiamo prevenire l'ira immotivata che causa tanta sofferenza. Mi piace credere che ci sono persone che hanno valori ai quali non aderisco personalmente, ma che rispetterò e tollererò finché saranno pacifici».

Crede nella possibilità di un dialogo vero e profondo tra l’Islam e l’Occidente?
«In qualità di artista e non di esperta, ritengo che la cultura occidentale non riesca a comprendere che non tutte le culture aderiscono ai valori razionali dell’Occidente. Il problema è il pregiudizio legato all’idea di confine, necessario ai musulmani per proteggere alcuni valori, e così estraneo agli occidentali che cercano di eliminare i confini per consentire una società aperta e giusta».  

In che modo?
«Può sembrare troppo ottimista e ingenuo da parte mia, ma credo che la risoluzione di questa divisione storica tra le culture islamica e occidentale sia possibile solo se i popoli cominciano ad assumere un approccio diverso da quello dei governi. Penso che una soluzione sia possibile soltanto nell’evitare ogni ritorsione, con una diplomazia pacifica che conduca al rispetto reciproco, alla tolleranza e perfino alla celebrazione delle nostre differenze».

Crede che gli artisti possano avere un ruolo in questo dialogo?
«Sono fermamente convinta che gli artisti possano giocare un ruolo significativo nel costruire un dialogo tra culture in conflitto, perché il linguaggio dell’arte ha l’abilità di rimanere al di sopra e oltre le differenze religiose, culturali e nazionali, e arrivare nel profondo della psiche umana. Spesso però gli artisti si trovano nella posizione difficile di rispondere alle problematiche politiche del loro tempo, senza essere apertamente controversi, manipolativi, di parte o didattici. Dopotutto, è molto più facile fare un’arte che punta il dito su quello che è giusto o sbagliato, e più difficile fare arte che crea un momento di discussione, un forum che apre nuove prospettive e invita lo spettatore a formarsi una propria interpretazione. È attraverso quest’ultimo approccio che gli artisti possono giocare un ruolo significativo in questo momento storico».

Per concludere, l’arte contemporanea può assumere un valore politico?
«Sicuramente dovrebbe essere più consapevole dei problemi politici. Oggi percepisco una forte assenza di dialogo critico su temi politici, anche quelli relativi alla libertà di espressione, che è al centro di ogni pratica artistica».

Pic: Shirin Neshat :: Women of Allah