The Digital Divide
Stasi Headquarters. Campus for Democracy (Haus 22)
Ruschestraße 103, 10365 Berlin
English, with simultaneous translation into German
Attendance is possible without advance registration, admission is free. The conference will be livestreamed.
The livestream is conceived and realized by the Berliner Hochschule für Technik (BHT).
Curated by: Kader Attia and Noam Segal
With: Apryl Williams, Evgeny Morozov, Jean Lassègue, Katrin Becker, Maithu Bùi, Noel W Anderson, Ramak Molavi, Shazeda Ahmed, Tarek El-Ariss
The cultural logic of the information age is predicated on an inversion of the gaze. In 1999, Jonathan Crary suggested that the gaze “is both the object of attention and yet capable of monitoring, recording, and cross-referencing attentive behavior.”(1) An updated version of this observation might note that this gaze is now multidirectional and has been appropriated, abstracted, extrapolated, and hijacked.
Deeply enmeshed in the era of algorithmic governance, we are led to believe that our realities are increasingly similar. Because of behavioral loops that are made for us by predictive technologies, the flattening and homogenization of experience and culture is certainly a reality. But it is also true that experience remains differentiated to the benefit of some and the detriment of others. Modeling future actions on prior behavior prevents individuals from escaping the accidental circumstances of their birth. For many, the disappearance of difference is, in fact, a reinscription of inequality.
This conference will address a number of the issues associated with algorithmic governance. The participants will consider the oligarchic traits of crypto applications and how the blockchain emancipates itself from three essential dimensions of law—language, territory, and the body. This fundamentally disrupts how we perceive law and its impact on conceptions of subjectivity, democracy, regulation, and circulation of money.
1 Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA, 1999), p. 76.
Welcoming Remarks by Kader Attia
Lecture: Decentralization as Disembodiment
With its core features—decentralization, immutability, and transparency—blockchain technology promises to liberate the individual citizen from potentially corrupt institutions and data-greedy companies, and to accelerate and facilitate administrative and legal processes. The idea is to enable self-sovereign individuals to regulate their economic, social, and legal affairs in decentralized autonomous organizations or network states, and to thus create a better and fairer world. In this lecture, Katrin Becker will uncover the extent to which these promises are based on the invisibilization of various kinds of bodies, such as territory, legal corpus, and the human body. She argues that these very bodies are essential for matters of justice and democracy—and that it is their invisibility that keeps visions of blockchain justice caught between utopia and myopia.
Keynote: Tech Utopias After Solutionism
If the buzz around crypto or Web3 (tomorrow’s Web of decentralized blockchain technologies) teaches us anything, it is that there’s a longing for a tech-utopia beyond what Big Tech currently offers us. Evgeny Morozov will critique the two visions, finding common solutionist themes in both today’s web of Big Tech platforms and tomorrow’s Web of decentralized blockchain technologies. He will focus on what is still salvageable in the idea of techno-utopia, how it is to connect, if at all, to political utopias of the twentieth century, and what kind of ideological/theoretical content we could underpin once solutionism is discarded.
Followed by a Q&A moderated by
Panel: Algorithmic Surveillance and the Question of Automated Fairness
How has the discussion about the digital divide developed, what is understood by it, and how is the divide being exacerbated by the increasing use of artificial intelligence in all areas of life? Based on automated courtroom technologies used in China, Ramak Molavi and Shazeda Ahmed engage in a conversation about human rights in the light of algorithmic surveillance. Molavi traces the arc from unequal access to technology, to algorithmic control of workers and citizens, to the central role that surveillance plays in this evolution. The two speakers will address relations between digital and social inequality: How might courtroom automation interact with repressive governance, potentially thwarting the objectives of justice that these technologies purport to achieve? How can online trials be designed to include accountability mechanisms and other questions stemming from the combination of artificial intelligence and law?
Response: Social and Technical Reparation
In her research, Apryl Williams focuses on the experience of race and racism in digital spaces. In her comment, Williams will contribute her view on the effect of the widespread use of artificial intelligence in the US surveillance industry and the related bias, suggesting potential reparative solutions to that problem.
Panel: Resistance to Algorithmic Colonization
Noel W Anderson
In thinking about resistance to ongoing colonial conditions through algorithms, the speakers will discuss artistic means of production that are difficult to assimilate into computer vision and the algorithmic gaze. Their strategies span from material approaches to adopting leaks, hacks, and code language that come into play in technological precedents in digital minority cultures.
Epilog: Darning the Divide. Thinking Counterfactually
This conference is part of the discursive program of the 12th Berlin Biennale. Taking the restitution debate as a starting point, it explores how colonialism and imperialism continue to operate in the present.