Cybernetic Immanence and The Obsolescence of Critical Reflection: Scenes from Big Data Ideology

Presented at the London Conference of Critical Thought in June 26, 2015

Abstract:

At the heart of “big data ideology” lies its claim to an immanence (to the very lives of persons) of which human thought is incapable. It is with reference to the computational ability of real-time data processing that the proponents of big data advertise a sense of humanity and singularized individuality (personalized ads, precision medicine) without the inevitable bias of subjective human thought. It is in the name of this immanence, as Rouvroy noted, that reflective, critical thinking is short-circuited as transcendent and obsolete, if not “dangerous” or “reactionary”. The elimination of reflection is far from limited to the sphere of government/governance: It is the same claim to immanence (a principle of the cybernetic organon of which big data and algorithmic governmentality are the most recent manifestation)that underlies the so-called “fourth paradigm” in the sciences, replacing causal and explanatory theorization with real-time predictive modeling where hypotheses are replaced with transfer functions and parameter setting. As more scientific objects are being replaced with black boxes of high “reliability,” the question of truth as well as the questions of why and what are laid aside, and with them the human capacity of critical reflection. Assisted (read assailed) by data-based decision algorithms of all kinds and bombarded with visual stimuli, the thinking subject is short-circuited as data is connected directly to her unconscious body, desublimating desires into drives. The dividual celebrated as the digital savior of neoliberalism gives new meaning to Guattari’s concept of “machinic enslavement.”

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