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James Bridle on why technology is creating a new dark age
James Bridle on why technology is creating a social security calculator by age
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Graphics by Michele Doying / The VergeIn 2005, Stanford University researcher John Ioannidis published an essay with the explosive tiêu đề “ Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. ” Ioannidis alleged that many researchers were not running meaningful experiments ; they were simply sifting through huge amounts of dữ liệu Khủng find any publishable results, using a technique known as p-hacking or dữ liệu dredging. Technology made gathering information easier than ever, but the result here was not a deeper understanding of our world — it was greater confusion about it .The p-hacking problem is one of many high-tech parables in James Bridle’s book New Dark Age, which will be released in the US tomorrow. Bridle is already well-known for his creative critiques of modern công nghệ, including the 2012 drone-tracking project Dronestagram, a salt circle that traps self-driving cars, & last year’s influential essay about creepy YouTube kids ’ videos. New Dark Age integrates these critiques into a larger argument about the dangers of trusting computers Khủng explain ( &, increasingly, run ) the world. As Bridle writes, “ We know more & more about the world, while being less & less able bự bởi vì anything about it. ”But however grim a new dark age sounds, Bridle explains in an interview with The Verge that his vision isn’t a purely negative one, & his book is a Điện thoại tư vấn mập study not what computers are telling us, but how & why they’re doing it .This interview has been condensed & edited for clarity .
In your book, you talk about the notion that we’re in a state of knowing more about the world than ever, but we have less and less agency to change it, and we need to develop a kind of literacy around these computing systems. But it seems like we could develop literacy and still not gain any real power over the systems.
Oh, absolutely. That’s certainly possible. I don’t think that there’s any kind of anything that will guarantee you some kind of magical power kết thúc things. In fact, the hope that you can vì so sánh is itself kind of dangerous. But it’s one of the routes that I explore bự a possibility of gaining some kind of agency within these systems .One of the ways that I approach these problems is through one particular size of systemic literacy that I’ve developed through my work và my studies, but I also think it’s generalizable. I think anyone can get there from a background in any number of disciplines. And understanding that literacy is transferable & that we all have the capabilities Khủng apply it béo think clearly about subjects that seem difficult và complex is one of the main thrusts of the book .
You’ve given examples in the past of ways that people could resist “inevitable” technological progress, like taxi drivers making salt traps for self-driving cars. What else could they do?
I did a whole bunch of projects around self-driving cars, which also included building my own — poorly, but in a way that helped me learn how it’s done — so sánh that I gained an understanding of those systems, và possibly as a result would be able phệ produce a different kind of self-driving oto, essentially. In the same way that anyone who tries mập work on these systems, build them themselves, & understand them has the possibility of shaping them in a totally different way .The autonomous trap is another approach phệ some of the more threatening aspects of the self-driving oto. It’s quite a sort of aggressive action mập literally stop it. And I think working with và attempting Khủng stop và resist are both super useful approaches, but they both depend on having some màn chơi of understanding of these systems .
These seem like individual solutions to some extent. How do you deal with situations like climate change, where you need really large-scale systemic change?
There’s a couple of things I talk about regarding climate in the book, & one of them is Khủng be really, really super direct about the actual threat of it, which is horrific, và it’s kind of so sánh horrific that it’s difficult for us béo think about. Simply the act of articulating that — making it really, really clear, exploring some of the implications of it — that kind of realism is a super necessary act .We’re still fighting this rear-guard action of, “ Oh, it’s manageable, ” “ Oh, we can mitigate it, ” or “ It’s not really real. ” We’re still, despite everything we know, everything people say, stuck in this ridiculous bind where we seem incapable of taking any kind of action. And, for me, that’s part & parcel of this continuous argument we have kết thúc numbers và facts và figures và the dữ liệu và information that we’re gathering, as though this is some kind of argument that has lớn be won before we bởi vì anything. That excludes the possibility of doing anything concrete và powerful & present .
How does it feel to be a critic of these technologies for years and suddenly see people start agreeing with you?
I think there’s a lot of people right now who find themselves in the position of being “ Well yes, this is exactly what we meant, ” you know ? I remember having conversations years ago with someone saying, “ What’s the worst that can happen with someone having all this dữ liệu centralized ? ” And my answer Khủng that was, “ Well, the worst thing that can happen is that fascists take kết thúc và have control of that dữ liệu. ” And a few years ago, that felt lượt thích the worst possible thing, completely unimaginable. And here we are today — when fascism is alive & well in Europe, và growing in certain ways in the US as well. So it’s suddenly not so sánh remote .“ The really important thing … is mập constantly frame this as a struggle. ”But at the same giây phút, people who have been thinking about this for a while have also been building things that are capable of mitigating that. So while I argue against everything being magically fixed, putting this all out in the open in certain ways does start Khủng make some kind of difference. The really important thing, I think, is bự constantly frame this as a struggle. Which, again, we kind of don’t often vì, particularly in the context of công nghệ — where we see this stuff as a kind of ongoing, always upward unstoppable march .Technology always walks this kind of weird knife edge. It becomes hard for us bự understand và change — everything disappears behind glass, inside little Đen boxes. But at the same thời gian, if you bởi manage lớn crack them open just a little bit, if you get some kind of understanding, everything suddenly becomes really quite starkly clear in ways that it wasn’t before. I’m kind of insisting on that moment being the moment of possibility — not some kind of weird imaginary future point where it all becomes clear, but just these moments of doubt và uncertainty và retelling of different stories .
Speaking of stories, you reference authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Iain M. Banks in New Dark Age. How is fiction shaping the way we deal with this future?
A lot of the way that we think of công nghệ, và the mạng internet in particular, has been really shaped by the ideas of it that came along before the thing itself arrived, right ? Just as our ideas of space exploration are completely shaped by fantasies of space exploration from long before we got Khủng space practically. The really interesting science fiction Khủng me now happens kind of in the next week or the next year at most because it’s so sánh obvious bự us how little we can predict about long-term futures, which really, for me, is more of a reflection of reality than reality is a reflection of science fiction .I’m unsure about the value of stories béo pull us in a particular direction. Most science fiction writers insist that all their fiction is really about the present, so sánh they’re really just different ways of imagining that .
Jeff VanderMeer has also said that futuristic dystopias are a way of shifting real problems “over there” out of reality.
Yeah, exactly. There’s a whole genre of thiết kế fiction as well that posits these political things as thiết kế objects as a way bự kind of pull those futures into being. But I always think there’s something very risky about that, because it also positions them as somewhere else, right ? Not as tools that we have access phệ in the present. And VanderMeer’s fiction is pretty interesting, because while it’s obviously somewhat future-oriented, it’s also deeply about the weird & strange & difficult phệ understand .I think that is better than what I said before, really. That is the most interesting current within science fiction right now : not imaginings of weird futures, utopian or dystopian, but ones that really trang chính into how little we understand about the world around us right now .
How do we critique the idea of inevitable, upward progress without overly romanticizing the past? In the US, criticism of automation gets tied up with calls to protect jobs that fit a stereotypical 20th century white, male vision of work.
There’s always that danger of romanticization, it’s true. It’s still being played out. That also comes about because of our really narrow view of history — that we have these quite small & very essentially made-up histories of things that we’re so sánh acculturated Khủng. So one of the things I try béo bởi vì in the book is pull out these alternative histories of công nghệ, và that’s another current that’s quite strong at the moment .“ We have these quite small và very essentially made-up histories. ”I just read Claire Evans ’ book Broad Band, about the number of women involved in the creation of the mạng internet as we know it today. Many of the characters, real people in her book, they’re not just engineers & programmers. They’re also community moderators & communicators, people who shaped the mạng internet just as much as people who wrote the lines of code .And so sánh as soon as you dig up that history, you then can’t help but understand the mạng internet as something that’s very different in the present. And therefore you can understand the future as something else as well. So if we talk about automation, then one of the works we can bởi is not just Khủng hark back lớn some kind of golden age, but bự trouble that legacy as well, Khủng talk about who worked then & under what conditions, you know ?There’s always technological resistance. Like the Luddites, who are pretty well-known now, but the fact is that the Luddites weren’t smashers of công nghệ ; they were a mạng xã hội movement, performing a very violent & direct khung of critique of the destruction of their livelihoods, of what those machines were doing. And so sánh now we have many, many other tools of critique for that. But by retelling these stories, by understanding them in different ways, it’s possible bự rethink what might be possible in the present .Most Popular
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