The Allure of an Algorithmic Future
Associate Professor Ľubica Učník
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Max Weber [speaks about] the ‘romanticism of numbers’, [whereby,] as the habit grew, only numbers [are] counted – Lewis Mumford.
In this presentation, I will reflect on today’s experience of the present, defined by numbers, graphs, and, increasingly, an algorithmically defined future, which, I claim, robs us of an active role in defining that future for ourselves. The future, as determined algorithmically, thus becomes a “technological problem”, and we forgo the ‘freedom’ to make our own decisions by accepting that we can predict the future based on our past consumer selections. In other words, our present and future become calculable as the amalgamation of everything according to mathematical and formal reasoning, a process that began with the rise of modern science.
I want to trace this genealogy, and to reflect on the call by Elan Mastai, to realise that we must question our “outmoded dreams” to face up to them, in order to make us “free to imagine something … else”. As Marc Elsberg suggests, “[i]n this brave new world of ours, possibilities and chances are sacrificed to probability…because [our] future is assessed on the basis of [our] past’.” We must revisit old concepts and think through this ‘algorithmically defined future’. Why do we accept dangerous notions such as ‘the end of history’, the end of ideology’, ‘the end of theory’, and ‘the end of utopias’? Finally, I want to ask: Why – in the name of efficiency and a comfortable life, defined by the speed that social media and internet provide us with – are we renouncing the imagination of “new futures”.
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Johnston, Casey. “The self-driving car that will never arrive”. The Outline. Accessed: 28 April 2019. Available: https://theoutline.com/post/5964/the-self-driving-car-that-will-never-arrive. 20 August 2018.
Pasquale, Frank. “Odd Numbers: Algorithms alone can’t meaningfully hold other algorithms accountable”. Real Life. Accessed: 12 September 2018. Available: http://reallifemag.com/odd-numbers/. 20 August 2018.