Skip navigation

Rouvroy’s argument fits perhaps too neatly into a tropes of computers and machines as emotionless systems and humans as curious, questioning and thereby disruptive individuals.  As Heidi M. Ravven describes in The Self Beyond Itself the idea of human bodies as unique individuals with distinct and free wills is inaccurate (she approaches this from neuroscientific, psychological, and historical perspectives) and carefully culturally constructed (from Christianity through Descartes to Neoliberalism).  I therefore think that the Arendtian perspective that was brought up by Rouvroy is extremely useful in order to detail the ways in which a society dominated by data-driven decision making could both fail to provide a stable structure and allow for the emergence of totalitarian or similarly oppressive governments.  Arendt recognizes the role of the newborn as central to the functioning of a healthy society of people and as a threat to totalitarian regimes in her work The Origins of Totalitarianism.  The newborn for her embodies the potential for outside or outsider knowledge and perspective to enter the public space without precedent or anticipation.  With the newborn comes the potential for normative and normalizing ideologies to be ruptured.  Ravven similarly recognizes the outsider/dissident/whistleblower/newborn as a (perhaps the) central figure in a society.

The argument for the outsider is complicated by efforts to delineate “good” and “bad” dissidence.  The Tsarnaev brothers certainly functioned as outsiders but it would be very difficult to justify their behavior (although admittedly that is the whole point because I am within ideology).  Their particular example of a “Terrorist” threats is exactly what data-driven policing is advertised as preventing.  Snowden is an excellent example of what might appear to be a “good” dissident in that his actions were nonviolent and informative.  Unfortunately, his actions would have been prevented by data-driven policing if it had been possible.  That “if it had been” is important, however, and questioning to what extent technology actually can be complete and live up to its hype almost inevitably leads to the conclusion that it cannot.

One perspective that I would also like to bring up is Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier’s vaguely technophilic understanding of the ways in which big data has been helpful with regards to disease prevention.  I think that from within the protective confines of critical theory one can be easily detached from the very real ways in which humans are suffering from natural causes or catastrophes.  There seems to be – and there may be further – ways through which big data can aid humanitarian efforts.  Since the ideology of big data devalues humans, however, I think that a delicate balancing of needing to address the suffering of others and of restricting the use of big data is required.  The use of biodata for purposes other than humanitarian or health aid could perhaps constitutes an abuse of that data.

 

I imagine that someone else will also link this video but just in case : music video that is definitely worth critiquing on the grounds that putting big quotation marks around something in no way gives you a free pass but nonetheless mobilizes the discourses of big data in a pretty funny way.