2017-02-08
#rp17 Speaker: Felix Stalder

We’re happy to present to you the next #rp17 speaker. Felix Stalder is a professor for “Digital Culture” at the Zurich University of the Arts, board member of the “World Information Institute“ in Vienna and long-time moderator of the international digital culture mailing list <nettime>, which we’re sure some of you are subscribed to. The media and culture scholar has dedicated himself to the interrelationship between society, culture and technologies, as well as specific areas of conflict, such as personal privacy or copyright. Felix Stalder has been observing and analyzing the development of the internet since the mid-90’s. Recently his focus has turned to algorithms, as can be read in his 2016 book “Kultur der Digitalität“ (Culture of Digitalism) – published by Suhrkamp Verlag, and it is the topic of algorithms which will take center stage during his talk at #rp17.

“The significance of algorithms in our society is growing rapidly”. This is because we are leaving more and more (data) traces online – be it from smartphones or fitness trackers – meaning that data input is constantly rising and with it the automated surges of ordering systems. For Stalder, algorithms aren’t simply computer codes, but can be seen broadly as systems and processes in which decision-making chains have become partially automated. He has dedicated the field of “algorithmacy” (Algorithmizität) to these structures, which, next to “referentiality” (Referentialität) and “communality” (Gemeinschaftlichkeit), he sees as constituting one of the three characteristics of our contemporary culture.

Speaking on the regulations within algorithms, Stalder states that “intelligent infrastructures and (partially) automated decision-making processes are needed to address society’s future challenges. However, they can also pose a significant threat to personal autonomy, equal opportunity and democratic participation. Seeing as an algorithm isn’t simply just an algorithm, we must learn to distinguish and decide between the ones that we want and the ones which we need to prevent.” Stalder makes a proposal as to how we can make this differentiation, but this doesn’t mean that we’ll be needing federal inspections of algorithms any time soon. No more than we need wholesale condemnation of them either.

His blog felix.openflows has developed into multifaceted library full of essays covering a range of topics concerning the digital age. It is fully dedicated to transparency and written in such a way that draws the reader in, so that one enjoys taking part in his reflections on the subject. Countering the transient nature of the digital, Stalder’s writing provides away of observing and measuring the growth of the internet like the rings of a tree. Based on his research, he’ll take to the re:publica stage to offer up further considerations on the new technopolitical conditions for cooperation and the collective. He aims to explain why we cannot be satisfied with the algorithmic systems in their current state. So we’ll be sorting algorithms, so to speak – and we’re already curious what kind of suggestions a person, who has observed these developments for years, has for a regulatory mechanism in a field in which commercial players are increasingly defining what the “state of the algorithm” should be. 

@stalfel

Image credit: Ziko van Dijk, (CC BY-SA 3.0)