Technologies of Speculation
The Limits of Knowledge in a Data-Driven Society
Published by: NYU Press
288 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781479883066
- Published: July 2020
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.
Hong’s writing does not necessarily follow a clear, linear route; instead, it routinely dances back and forth between the different conceptual frameworks that together comprise data’s knowing. Data’s sublimation follows a similar pattern, and such a style helps in his attempt to articulate the deep interrelations involved in this epistemological shift. By illustrating how datafied knowledge and its speculative gaze moves with stealthy efficiency across bodies politic, temporal, and fleshlike, Technologies of Speculation sets up the stakes required to critically question what data—and we—can know. ~International Journal of Communication
Drawing luminous connections between mass surveillance and self-tracking, Technologies of Speculation incisively explores the interplay between the new capacities of data science and the often fanciful but significant castings of the power and objectivity that these sciences promise. Hong’s readings of the Snowden documents are among the smartest, freshest, and most incisive to date. He challenges our understanding of the digital terrain we traverse and that follows us forward. ~Matthew L Jones, author of Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage
Juxtaposing methods of state- and self-surveillance—from government terrorism forensics to personal biohacking projects—Sun-ha Hong illuminates the common epistemological dynamics of contemporary approaches to uncertainty and truth. Eschewing modern technological fantasies, Technologies of Speculation offers readers a prescient framework to make sense of the data-driven logics that seek to know, and shape, our lifeworlds. ~Natasha Dow Schüll, author of Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas
Hong takes the reader on a topological odyssey across the rills and gullies that data-driven technologies have incised into the contemporary landscape of knowledge production ... Technologies of Speculation provides a stark warning that the technological rationality represented by data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence represents an existential threat. ~Journal of Cultural Economy
Given this breadth, Technologies of Speculation could find a home in communications and media studies, cultural studies, political philosophy, and science and technology studies. Indeed, its combination of these fields into a politically engaged critical method for questioning technology makes an important contribution. These fields would all benefit from furthering this kind of interdisciplinary ideology critique, which attempts to make sense of and intervene in the present moment. Hong’s accessible and often humorous style also gives the book relevance outside academia, for anyone interested in understanding and engaging politically with an increasingly disorienting culture, which simultaneously pretends at unprecedented coherence. ~Critical Studies in Media Communication
Analyzes the fantasies, values, and sentimentalities surrounding big data and artificial intelligence in his book. By mapping out the smart technologies that have developed in recent years and the fierce debates revolving around them, he seeks to raise awareness of the ethical stakes of technological promises. ~International Journal of Communication