2018/03/19 16:10 Geoffrey Bowker, “How the West was Won by Data”, UToronto iSchool

Lecture at UToronto iSchool, on four overlapping epochs in data history

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Introduction by Brian Cantwell Smith

  • Geoffrey Bowker, now at U.C. Irvine, having previously been at U. Pittsburgh
  • Studied with Bruno Latour, where he met Susan Leigh Starr who would become a collaborator
  • A historian
  • Rigourous intellect

[Geoffrey Bowker]

UToronto iSchool

Visiting Toronto for dissertation by Sandra Danilovic, passed with flying colours

Italian librarian:

  • Shouldn’t ignore data centers
  • Data is moved into a central part of our culture, has been happening for a few hundred years

Key idea:  temporality

Babbage analytic engine

  • 9th bridgewater … computer time
  • Can program miracles into computers

Based work on trip in industrializing Britain

  • Economy of cities and manufacturers
  • Watch production:  used to be put together by a skilled watchmaker, can be turned into simple tasks to be farmed out to semi-skilled workers
  • Division of labour was the greatest invention to humanity
  • From distribution of mechanical labour to distribution of intellectual labour

Time of the clock, computer clock

  • 8Ghz, 8 billion clicks per second — who needs that?
  • Traders on Wall Street (who move buildings closer to Wall Street) and astronomers — theoretical and practical

Temporality of nothing happening

The world and data

Human world

  • Formation of different union structures
  • Census categories, e.g. age categories
  • Canada:  4 years, up to 90 in 4-year chunks … whereas U.S. goes up to 75
  • Even though people age differently at massively different rates, we build around the categories and make the categories more real over time

Also in the natural world

  • Histoire Naturelle, Generale and Particuliere
  • 1830s:  governmentality in the Foucault sense
  • Natural contract, Michel Serres:  world population increasing exponentially, agriculture linearly –> management need

Principles of Geology, Charles Lyell

  • 1830s
  • Dominant science of the times
  • Equations:  earth does double entry bookkeeping — accretion of land on Syrian shores, with submarine volcanoes — posed as a zero-sum game (even though it’s not really zero-sum)

Applies also to human development:  Dunoyer 1837

  • People will begin by grouping themselves more naturally
  • Single people, without confusion
  • Progress

Horkheimer:  synchronizing world history, as one for the whole human race

Soon after 9/11, Mapping American’s War on Terrorrism

  • Non-interacting gap, where the U.S. will have to carry out military operations.
  • Same argument as Bacon:  it’s the people in the gap who haven’t yet become part of civilization, we can afford to go to war with

Overlay a map of Internet communications.

Human Memome Project:

  • Like the human genome project
  • Peter Thiel:  the power of big data and psychographics
  • Fan of Things Hidden to the Foundation of the World, Rene Girard
  • A memetic core that will bring us into the world

Donning an electronic skin:  a rich data structure, but strongly philosophically charged

  • Hobbes Leviathan
  • Body of the King made up of people — no technology intervening between the ruler and his people

Neil Gross, 1999:  The Earth Will Don an Electronic Skin

  • Put out the vision of the Internet of Things
  • Gross coins the phrase
  • Skin does more than register superficial events, dead cells accumulate in layers to prevent unwanted penetration

2017 article:  graphene as electronic skin

  • What happens when data gathers insert themselves?
  • Dildonics to give pleasure at a distance
  • Seems to give immediacy, yet puts a layer of data in the immediacy

The Internet of Things:

  • Vehicles, assets, persons and pets — all managed the same way?
  • Internet of cows

Difference between ever faster time, and no time at all

  • Michelle Bastian:  Clock or calendar, can see becoming out-of-synch with some worlds, but not other
  • Clock time as coordinative time that works well in a data ecological system

Stewart Brand:  Clock of the Long Now

  • Rings every 10,000 years

Some recent articles on ecosystem services

  • What has species been doing for us, lately?

International Barcode of Life

  • Life can cause major economic losses
  • Nature is interesting, only to the extent it fits into the economic system we want
  • Want ever-faster, one that responds

Biodiversity associated with geodiversity:  preserving, for human benefit

  • Dangerous and false way
  • Preserving is dangerous
  • Want to preserve the principle of change

Put biocultural diversity into the same way

  • e.g. cut off Molokai for native Hawaiian population
  • Times are wrapped into the way we understand ecosystems

The Self and Data

Josh Berson, Computable Bodies

  • Great phenomenology of self
  • If bodily sense is an emergent property of the community, then how might we use instrumentation to expand the sphere of those comfortable in theiri skin

Watches have gone away, now coming back as Fitbit

Arthur Bentley, died in the 1960s, Leigh Starr said would have married him

  • The Human Skin: Philosophy’s Last Line of Defense
  • Skin is interesting and problematic

Joanne Recuse:  over 90% of the body is made of microflora

  • We’re interpenetrated by the outside
  • Digestive system is actually inside

The Data double, Star Trek TNG

  • Data double comes back and performs me
  • Idea of an inner self, separated from data flows, prevents political responses

[Will omit:  You’ve got to have skin, Shelly Berman]

Michel Serres:  The Natural Contract

  • Construction of the ecosystem around us should be mediated by data

Should have a discussion that is political

  • Cambridge Analytica
  • Palantir:  thesis of structural functionalist

The March of intellectual 1 (1828), William Hamilton

  • Vacuum tube between London and Egypt
  • Drones
  • Flying postman
  • Velocity, things are getting faster, goes back to early 19th century

The March of Intellect 2 (1828)

  • Leviathan pumping out printing press

Conjunction in govermentality:

  • Discovery of history
  • Also, March of the Intellect

Timothy Mitchell:  Carbon democracy

  • The late 19th century, decentralized projects, coal everywhere
  • Wouldn’t have gotten Marx and Keynes, writing outside of historical themes, they’re writing about their energy sources


Beats, frequencies, synchronization of sequences?

  • Rhythm is important
  • Question you didn’t ask:  industrial revolution and time getting faster, P.P. Thompson, for the working class, it was more about busy-busy time (speed clocks went faster, kept the child labourers working)
  • Also a chaotic time, work for a short period of time, then unemployment
  • Sarah Sharma:  gig economy
  • Business traveler out of time
  • Taxi driver forced to fit to the rhythm of others

Bad examples of the data-driven world, longer trajectory.  Are there positive examples for a liberatory agenda?

  • Early 1950s cybernetics was mechanical
  • Then second order cybernetics, Stafford Beer, Platform for Change
  • That agenda is attractive and possible
  • Think second order cybernetics built these
  • The Brain of the Firm:  ECG of the firm
  • Liberatory, different world from being a child, messing around with an encyclopedia
  • We all have access to encyclopedias, now
  • UToronto rescuing environmental data from Trump
  • We can create our liberatory data sets

Data not being separate from the self?  Laws around ownership of self, rights to integrity.  Ownership of data not written into law.  Can’t lend your hand to another agency.

  • Europe and Canada more interesting than the U.S.
  • Talk about privacy is irrelevant, it should be about agency (over ownership)
  • Not seeing much happening with agency
  • A shell game:  political questions on how we can create and deal with new forms of agency
  • Incredibly liberatory
  • A side of political action
  • Privacy:  Schoenberg, Forgetting in the Digital Age, it was easier to pick up Jews in Holland than in France, because the French lied
  • Seed vault in Norway, not Costa Rica:  both political climate and physical climate favourable
  • Fukuyama:  End of History, into permanent statis, uniform world

Time, and the spiritual:  Eckhardt Tolle, The Power of Now — there’s only right now.  Tolle as derivative of Buddhism, being present.  Many focused on right now.  Jesus, focus not on tomorrow or yesterday, focus on now.

  • Cynical aside:  Silicon Valley executives spend money to be in the now
  • Hedde:  Enlightment, trying to bring every part of nature onto a single timeline
  • Innumerably different times, e.g. elephant time, time of humans
  • That would be a true living in the present, being aware of an honouring of those rhythms
  • Unflattening, actor-network theory as a cartoon — unflattening all of our temporalities

Computers phenomenology.  Relativistic physics, a nanosecond and a flop.  We are slow, meso scale.  Contingent facts.  Re-imagine space-time to be more general.  Operating in relativistic space-time.

  • Michele 1830s:  Out in space is back in time
  • Paris is center, south of France is back in time
  • McKowski:  time
  • Reading Craig Callendar, What Makes Time Special — temporality is fundamentally different
  • Ontology:  have to develop a new ontology about what it means to be in the world — both a philosophical and political task

Value in disequilibrium analysis?

  • Know nothing about disequilibrium analysis
  • Do see an issue where people say we need to understand equilibria — things falling over each other
  • Climate change
  • Interest in fitness landscapes — they’re not about time, it’s not the fittest who survive, it’s the luckiest

West is invested in disproportionate distributions of time.  Colonial time.  Going back into past, making a trajectory of time, into the future.  Time artisans, extracting timelines.  What are a larger set of typologies in western time?  Temporalities of climate change, when did they begin?  Data as politics, substituting for?

  • Western history have problems with Vico, which is about circular time.
  • Separate ideology of circular time
  • Principle of remembering, Jewish spiritual traditions, celebrating certain festivals, presence of the past in the room with you, as a relative historical time
  • Universal time is western
  • Kalpa:  the unit of time, if you take a boulder, and stroke it once every 10,000 years, it’s the time it takes to fall to dust
  • Don’t think that there is a single universal time
  • Certain people get to live disjunctive lives, so other live in organized time
  • Science as Alienated:  universal space and time (Galilean) came with the rise of the capitalist form

Data double, partially true.  Authoritative tools.  Need to develop a politic of data and time?

  • Can create non-authoritative
  • Believe in liberatory technologies
  • Where is the site of these happening?  At Facebook?  In the computer clock?
  • Steppenwolf:  A person has an infinite number of souls within in them.
  • Leibniz, the fold, not things inside and outside, everything is folded into everything else
  • If get into folds, then process ontologies, Whitehead
  • Pure analytic philosophy:  identity of the thing — mereology, things are not identical over time, everything changes over time
  • Understanding selves is unstable folding
  • Terrorist group in France:  committee for the liberation or destruction of computers