Book Talk: Technologies of Speculation with Sun-ha Hong

Speaker(s): Sun-ha Hong

The Limits of Knowledge in a Data-Driven Society

What counts as knowledge in the age of big data and smart machines? In the pursuit of ‘better’ knowledge, technology is reshaping what counts as knowledge in its own image. The push for algorithmic certainty sets loose an expansive array of incomplete archives, speculative judgments, and simulated futures. All too often, data generates speculation as much as it does information.

Technologies of Speculation traces this twisted symbiosis of knowledge and uncertainty in emerging state and self-surveillance technologies. The book tells the story of vast dragnet systems constructed to predict the next terrorist, and how familiar forms of prejudice seep into the data by the back door. In software placeholders like ‘Mohammed Badguy,’ the fantasy of pure data collides with the old specter of national purity. It examines how smart machines for ubiquitous and automated self-tracking are manufacturing knowledge that paradoxically lies beyond the human senses. What counts as a productive or healthy subject is thus being reframed in terms of behavior that are the most predictable, or rather, machine-readable. For some, such a surfeit of data can seem an empowering thing, an opportunity to stride boldly towards a posthuman future. For others, to appear correctly in databases can be the unhappy obligation on which their lives depend.

Sun-ha Hong(Ph.D. ’16) is Assistant Professor of Communication at Simon Fraser University, and an Annenberg School alum. His research interrogates the social life of technological fantasies, with an emphasis on AI and data-driven surveillance. He is the author of Technologies of Speculation: The Limits of Knowledge in a Data-Driven Society (NYU Press, 2020). Follow him on Twitter:@sunhahong.

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