March 31, 2021
Joining me today is Ignas Kalpokas, Associate Professor at the Department of Public Communication at the Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania, to discuss his recent book Algorithmic Governance: Politics and Law in the Post-Human Era, published in 2019 with Palgrave Macmillan.
Algorithms govern our everyday lives in a myriad of ways. From determining what information and news we see, which commercials target us, to deciding if we are creditworthy, whether we get a chance to be hired, or, as in the case of many platform workers, whether we get fired. We are rated, and we rate others, we build behavioral nudges into our technologies, to optimize the Other, and we keep tracking and optimizing ourselves. Big data, with their promise of data-driven and real-time decision making, are transforming the ways in which we govern our societies and ourselves. Surveillance, monitoring and self-policing, have become ubiquitous. Shoshana Zuboff speaks of the age of surveillance capitalism, where data is the new oil and where futures are monetized. Cathy O´Neill has been warning of the dangers of these “weapons of math destruction” built on ‘dirty data’ and driven by concrete political and economic interests, pointing to the consequences of their mass deployment, such as the emergence of new forms of inequalities and reinforcement of old ones, and proliferation of new forms of algorithmic injustice. The covid-19 pandemic has been managed by governments worldwide through often extreme, ad hoc, and unpredictable measures, further revealing the underlying logic of algorithmic governance, where techno-optimism merges with technocracy. Relying on real-time data, statistical modelling of possible futures, and on the seductive aesthetics of purity and simplicity of the endless graphs, numbers and risk predictions, new regulations and prohibitions are imposed and others withdrawn on a continual basis. As I see it, this form of governance profoundly unsettles our traditional conceptions of the law and legal frameworks. It results in law that is personalized – much like a targeted commercial – granting access to certain goods for some, while restricting access to others and a legal landscape that is dynamic, and hence to far greater degree unpredictable. This creates further existential insecurities and anxieties in a world, rather paradoxically, hyper-focused on security and securitization of all there is, including health. In my view, this results in a short-term technocratic evidence-based and expert-driven politics – or rather the absence of politics proper. Ignas, your book unpacks precisely this underlying logic of algorithmic governance, analyzing the meanings of politics and law in what you deem the post-human era. In this conversation, Ignas and me discuss the logic of algorithms and the ways in which they are transforming politics and law, resulting in a hybridization of governance.
“Algorithmic governance—the increasingly prevalent form of governance in this digital world—is characterised by its tackling of problems through ‘their effects rather than their causation’: Instead of disentangling the multiplicity of causal relationships and getting to the root of every matter, this form of governance is intent on collecting as much data as possible in order to establish robust correlations; in other words, instead of decoding underlying essences, this mode of governance works by way of establishing connections, patterns, and, no less crucially, predictions. … This attitude that prides itself on replacing causes with trends also has the effect of altering the place of human persons, effectively objectifying and commodifying them, turning them into data generators where the data footprint is all that matters and is taken for the person.” (Kalpokas 2019: 2).
Kalpokas, Ignas. 2019. Algorithmic Governance: Politics and Law in the Post-Human Era. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
Text © Tereza Østbø Kuldova, 2021
Produced with the financial support of The Research Council of Norway under project no. 313626 – Algorithmic Governance and Cultures of Policing: Comparative Perspectives from Norway, India, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa (AGOPOL).