NYU Press, 2020
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An inquiry into what we can know in an age of surveillance and algorithms
Knitting together contemporary technologies of datafication to reveal a broader, underlying shift in what counts as knowledge, Technologies of Speculation reframes today’s major moral and political controversies around algorithms and artificial intelligence. How many times we toss and turn in our sleep, our voluminous social media activity and location data, our average resting heart rate and body temperature: new technologies of state and self-surveillance promise to re-enlighten the black boxes of our bodies and minds. But Sun-ha Hong suggests that the burden to know and to digest this information at alarming rates is stripping away the liberal subject that ‘knows for themselves’, and risks undermining the pursuit of a rational public. What we choose to track, and what kind of data is extracted from us, shapes a society in which my own experience and sensation is increasingly overruled by data-driven systems.
From the rapidly growing Quantified Self community to large-scale dragnet data collection in the name of counter-terrorism and drone warfare, Hong argues that data’s promise of objective truth results in new cultures of speculation. In his analysis of the Snowden affair, Hong demonstrates an entirely new way of thinking through what we could know, and the political and philosophical stakes of the belief that data equates to knowledge. When we simply cannot process all the data at our fingertips, he argues, we look past the inconvenient and the complicated to favor the comprehensible. In the process, racial stereotypes and other longstanding prejudices re-enter our newest technologies by the back door. Hong reveals the moral and philosophical equations embedded into the algorithmic eye that now follows us all.