How algorithms have brought new ways of seeing and imagining the world

Écrit par Nora O Murchú
Photo de couverture : ©Resonate Festival
Le 18.04.2017, à 13h54
04 MIN LI-
©Resonate Festival
Écrit par Nora O Murchú
Photo de couverture : ©Resonate Festival
From April 19 to 22, the We Are Europe project, which brings together 8 european festivals to promote electronic cultures around three thematic axes – digital, technological and political -, will come by Belgrade as part of the Resonate Festival. Prior to the series of conferences that will be held there (in rotation with live performances and DJ sets), Trax gives one of the speakers, researcher, curator and director of the Digital Media Design program at the University of Limerick Nora O Murchú, a platform to tackle the topic of the city in the age of algorithms.

The City is in continuous flux. It is endlessly transformed by people, machines and information. The cities we live in are no longer bricks and mortar — they are mutable spaces that adapt and transform by politics, infrastructure, social norms and algorithms. As every part of the city is measured and regulated by computation, what does this mean for the subcultures that inhabit these spaces?

If every part of the city is quantified and organised, do we risk the cultural image of a city to be only as good as its algorithms that shape it?

In the past 20 years, the city has undergone significant shifts — in part due to political and social upheavals but also due to the computational infrastructure that is fast becoming the means by which the city is regulated, performed and understood. As cities increasingly adopt to and depend on electronic flows of information, almost every thing and place within it is mirrored, represented or shared online. CCTV employs machine vision to track us, sensors inform us where to park, smart energy grids regulate the flows of electricity, TripAdvisor reviews recommend us where to eat and hashtags allow us to congregate.

These computational mechanisms direct the flow of relations through the city and have a profound affect on the public and social life within it. Not only do they redefine how we think, learn, socialise or work, but they sort and classify people, places, objects, and ideas. We now understand the image of our city through computation — algorithms that measure, track and automate our world. If every part of the city is quantified and organised, do we risk the cultural image of a city to be only as good as its algorithms that shape it? Can what is omitted by computation be new sites of experimentation where subculture emerges from?

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While we can’t ignore these mechanisms — doing so removes ourselves from shaping the connections they create in the city — we can remain critical and curious about their effect and possibilities. Algorithms have brought about new ways of seeing and imagining the world, propelled by new technologies. This in turn affects the ways in which the city is imagined, built and inhabited. However, they privilege quantification and management, and the image produced is often an over specified version of the city that leaves as little room for chance as possible. Think about how you navigate new cities: You might use Google search to look for suggestions, which returns listicles of top 10 things to do; or rely on ranking and recommendations to pick where to eat and what event to go to; You optimise your route through a city by using digital maps that keep you walking in the correct direction. There is certainly a convenience to these mechanisms but on the other hand we give up our agency to explore and engage with the unknown. The city we come to know becomes simplified by technical systems, constrained by performance criteria and are perpetuated by our willingness to sustain them through our habits we keep online. Our drive for instant satisfaction through online posting of social media selfies is quickly co-opted and used to reinforce a particular algorithmic view of the city. As algorithmic bias and ethics are questioned, it is becoming more urgent to understand these dynamics and the urgency to reimagine them is becoming increasingly necessary. We may begin to understand how to intervene by exploring how these computational conditions are defined.

If computation actively shapes the city, what means does it employ to define, produce or transform it? How might we hack the city to find opportunities for experimentation, the unknown and the imagination? How do we search for places that we know exist but the map doesn’t show? How might we meet others, form alternative practices and new communities?

Exploring these questions at the forefront of technological practice are artists, designers and musicians. These practitioners are working with software and hardware to continuously challenge our assumptions of it. They create new devices and interfaces by directly engaging with the various elements of the digital to alter our relationships with it. They draw from the political, economic and material conditions of technologies to create new subcultures that make space for new meanings and values to emerge. Artists such as Marius Watz have been at the forefront of this movement for some time. He has facilitated critical and accessible dialogue about how computational culture is seen. By critically questioning status quo, he is contributing to the production of alternative perspectives on what should be represented as cultural and social images. At a time where glitches, mistakes and stealth becomes rare it becomes pertinent to ask that computation does more, and is not reduced to banal corporate concerns.

This year at Resonate we continue to explore the possibilities for art, design and music that emerge from new technologies. The festival brings together a broad range of practitioners who are directly engaging with the various elements of digital technology and who are exploring what it means to be creative under computational conditions. Artists such as Gene Kogan are translating advanced scientific topics — AI and machine learning — to new contexts to guide public understanding of their potential. While, Florence To is investigating the relationship between sound, light and the natural resonance of architectural space to create new spaces for the experience of sensory tensions caused by sound, temporality and the resonance of the environment. Artistic innovation and experimentation is fast becoming an essential component of understanding how computation becomes embedded in our everyday. Their reflections on the changing cityscape, on the connections between society and technology point towards emerging territories that open up opportunities for critique about how computation shapes urban life.

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Join us in Belgrade from the 19 – 22 April to participate in this dialogue and understand how this emergent computational subculture plays an important role in defining the future of cities and the culture that unfolds within its infrastructure.


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