New York, 3 Mar. The Algorithm’s Eye lecture at Pratt

March 3rd, 2016

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The Algorithm’s Eye: On the Growth of Pattern Police

Lecture by Matteo Pasquinelli at the Humanities and Media Studies Department, Pratt Institute New York. 3 March 2016, 5 pm. Room: Myrtle Hall 4th floor, 3 East (536 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn, main entrance on the back)
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“With the temporality put to work by microprocessors, enormous quantities of data and problems can be processed in minuscule periods of time, in such a way that the new machinic subjectivities keep on jumping ahead of the challenges and stakes with which they are confronted”
— Félix Guattari, Schizoanalytic Cartographies, 1989.
Data are not numbers but diagrams of surfaces, new landscapes of knowledge that open a vertiginous perspective over the world and society as a whole: the eye of the algorithm, or algorithmic vision. The accumulation of numbers by the Information Society has reached the point in which numbers themselves turn into space and create new topologies. The digital matrix eventually is morphing into a world of curves and waves leaving behind ‘bits’ and quantities.
As a symbolic and political form, the database is the new archive of power. Such a new datascape emerges as an extension of previous institutions of knowledge and power, although now under the complex and heavy rule of mathematics: see the PredPol algorithms used by the police in all the major US cities. If a Foucault of the 20th century could speak the same language of the institutional archives, a Foucault of the 21st century would require a heavy technical training to access such databases.
Algorithmic vision is about the understanding of vast datasets according to a specific vector: it may be about common patterns of behavior in social media, suspicious keywords in surveillance networks, buying and selling tendencies in stock markets or the oscillation of temperature in a given region of the planet. The eye of the algorithm blindly records emerging properties and forecasts new tendencies. Such procedures of computation are pretty repetitive and robotic and they generally operate along two main functions: pattern recognition and anomaly detection. The two epistemic poles of pattern and anomaly are the two sides of the same coin of algorithmic governance. An unexpected anomaly can be detected only against the ground of a pattern regularity. And conversely a pattern emerges only through the median equalization of different tendencies. Here mathematics starts to resound immediately as the new epistemology of power. A new collective geography opens to colonization.
“Because machines are in a position to articulate statements and record states of fact at the rhythm of the nanosecond and, perhaps tomorrow, the picosecond does not mean that they are diabolical powers that threaten to dominate man. In fact, people are all the less justified in turning away from machines given that, after all, they are nothing other than hyperdeveloped and hyperconcentrated forms of certain aspects of human subjectivity and, let us emphasize, precisely not those aspects that polarize humans into relations of domination and power.”
— Félix Guattari, Schizoanalytic Cartographies, 1989.

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