How can we understand the vast assemblages of networked computers that have come to subtend almost every aspect of political, social, and cultural life? Constantly at work on massive scales and at the speed of light, exceeding our ability to make sense of them, they construct the world in unpredictable and surprising ways. Hidden behind metaphors like ‘the cloud,’ fragments of these networks sometimes come into view. Geographies of wires, cables, data centers, servers, satellites, and other material things that make computing possible dot the landscape, if one knows where to look. Sometimes these networks become visible upon breakdown, as hacked appliances take down whole sections of the internet or as computational models fail spectacularly to predict human action and desires. And they are constantly producing new ways of seeing and acting in the world by making particular patterns, processes, and inferences visible to users. The cloud, then, poses unique theoretical and methodological challenges for scholars attempting to make sense of these emerging geographies. The reading list that follows offers a number of cuts on this problem from scholars in a range of disciplines, all with their heads in the cloud.
[Image by Ann Altstatt.]
Cloud geographies: computing, data, sovereignty
Progress in Human Geography
The challenge in studying the cloud is not in rendering its logics or geographies legible, but rather, in understanding how it brings into view those things that exceed human perception. How does the cloud see the world through abductive reasoning applied to patterns, making particular things legible and actionable?
Cloud and Field
What are the politics and ideologies that underlie attempts to map the geographies and computational logics of the cloud? And what do we miss when we pin down, classify, and make legible parts of these networks?
A speculative art project that uses machine learning to predict the weather under possible political futures. It argues for holding onto uncertainty in the face of algorithmic certainty, recognizing that our understanding of computational tools shapes us and the worlds we create.
How the machine ‘thinks’: Understanding opacity in machine learning algorithms Jenna Burrell
Dig Data & Society
Machine learning algorithms have little concern for human legibility, producing a huge gap between how the machine ‘thinks’ or ‘sees’ and our ability to interpret its logics.
A Dream Of An Algorithm
Institute of Network Cultures
As we become entangled within computational systems that exceed our understanding, they simultaneously become tools through which we see and think the world.
I. Computing Machinery and Intelligence
The 1950 paper that introduced the Turing Test and, with it, asks how can we understand machines as being capable of producing thought?
There is No Software
What are the implications for language and forms of representation when everything is reduced to and represented by voltage differences in electronic circuits?
The Black Stack
The cloud is a giant ‘accidental megastructure’ with important implications for shifting modes of governance and the construction of subjectivities. How can the schema of the software and hardware ‘Stack’ help us understand this new megastructure?
What Can an Algorithm Do?
The algorithm is a political object that does work in the world, so what happens if we avoid definitional questions and instead ask, ‘what can and algorithm do?’ In this account, policing and surveillance applications give us some insight into this shifting politics of aesthetics.
Is Photography Over?
Photographic devices, or ‘seeing machines’ as they are reconceptualized here, increasingly mediate not only how we see the world, but also how machines communicate the world to each other. The specific ‘scripts’ that determine the machines’ behaviors and their place within the network form a new ‘geography of photography.’
Proxy Politics: Signal and Noise
We are entering an era of ‘post-representative politics’ in which the production of digital images becomes highly relational and political in new ways. Proxies, in the form of algorithms, act as stand-ins for subjects by co-opting appearances and extending political agency in unpredictable ways.
The Cloud Is Not the Territory
Creative Time Reports
The cloud is not only a metaphor and an analytic, but also has a concrete, material geography that becomes visible in fragments across the landscape.