“Who Controls Control?”
In pre-production for“Minority Report” a film based on the novel by Phillip K. Dick, Spielberg invited 15 futurists (1) to a hotel in California for a three day “think tank” where they “decided upon aspects of the future world: architectural, socio-economical, political, and technological.”
The film is set in 2054, in a relatively near-future version of America where retina scanners, gestural interfaces, self driving cars and immersive personalised advertising are all ubiquitous. Living in this world is Tom Cruise, playing John Anderton, a police chief in charge of “Precrime”, a police department that utilises a collective of psychics (“precogs”) who identify criminals before they have committed the crime.
Cruise ends up being pre-judged as guilty by the psychics and then it’s a race against time to untangle the web of accusations and potentialities that led to the moment of law-breaking before actually being arrested. There is, it must be said, a lot of running.
Given that we’re only at 2023 it seems like the predictions made by both Phillip K Dick and then world-built by Spielberg and his team of futurists were both prescient and perhaps not even close to the reality facing us today. At the moment it can feel like society in general is Anderton, trying to outrun the prediction based techno-political structures threatening to subsume personal liberty.
This week we discussed algorithmic governance (Rouvroy), the automation of automation (Parisi), surveillance capitalism (Zuboff) and discriminating data (Chun).
Alongside these texts was Deleuze’s essay on “Postscript on the Societies of Control” which (accurately) predicts how a Marxist “disciplinary” society evolves into a “society of control”. In the former, a worker is controlled by the requirement to physically be at the factory, but outside of this work environment has a great deal of autonomy and freedom. In the society of control, Deleuze describes the new economy based on service-based corporations that outsource production. The workers in this new economy are economically entangled as “shareholders” and thus never entirely free in their downtime.
Deleuze uses Foucault’s reading of Bentham’s Panopticon to illustrate the surveillance concept – in the panopticon as initially envisioned, the guard at the center (in this case, the factory owner) would always have a 1-1 view over the inmates. In the surveillance economy, the panopticon is diffused through economic relations throughout the society – by removing unions, increasing competition between co-workers, encouraging the takeup of debt, micro-penalties and rewards.
Listing the surveillance methods and incentives above, it’s clear that the society of control was an accurate prediction of surveillance capitalism defined by Zuboff in her book of the same title. Zuboff identifies the value of datasets, and the extractive processes that all online (and increasingly, offline) users are the target of. In Discriminating Data, Wendy Chun explores how these algorithmic predictions have moved into governance, with predictive policing and sentencing, facial recognition and other automated algorithmic methods that have moved from science fiction into contemporary reality. Luciana Parisi (Contagious Architectures) describes the method employed by machine learning networks as “abductive reasoning” (as opposed to deductive / inductive) which is interesting, basically meaning “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” ( idk, best guess?) which I think is accurate and terrifying when applied to real-world police matters for example.
Rouvroy argues against this algorithmic governance:
“Algorithmic governmentality, on the other hand, is about optimising the current state of affairs so that it remains as favourable as possible to certain stakeholders. It’s a new form of rationality, the optimisation of a multitude of objective functions, which is today determined by industrial interests.”
In a comment that harkens back to discussions about the potential misuse of “situated knowledges” in the Haraway sense by libidinal capitalism, she continues –
“Today, we live in an optimisation society in which everybody must optimise themselves, to be and have everything, all of the time. We are no longer judged on values or morals. Everything is of equal value, so to speak.”
She calls for a return to collectivism, a pushback against this hyper-individualism which has atomised society (and made everybody a consumer / shareholder and everything a commodity).
“This can appear very liberating but what is lacking is a collective frame of reference, what Guattari and Deleuze called collective assemblages of enunciation. In these assemblages, we make sense collectively, we don’t calculate; there is something which transcends the individual optimised for his or herself, something that is common.”
“AI specialists demystify it best. They are the best defenders of politics: Yann LeCun, head of AI at Facebook, says that an AI will never be more intelligent than a cat… The living is everywhere; we should focus on this.”
Which is exactly what happens in Minority report. To extract himself from the automated predictive surveillance web he has found himself in, John Kimble rescues the psychic from the machine-assemblage prison pod and together they forge a new future, one with grass and trees and way less running. I think that’s something we can all aspire to achieve.
Wikipedia. (2023). Technologies in Minority Report. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technologies_in_Minority_Report
Green European Journal. (n.d.). Algorithmic Governmentality and the Death of Politics. [online] Available at: https://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/algorithmic-governmentality-and-the-death-of-politics/