March 21: Algorithmic Rituals, Myth of Automation and Contact Tracing Civitas Dei (Denisa Kera, TAU)

Algorithmic Rituals, Myth of Automation and Contact Tracing Civitas Dei (City of God): Technology as Redemption Dr. Denisa Reshef Kera (Coller School of Management, Tel-Aviv University) March 21, 18:00


The highest form of freedom is not being able to sin." (Superior libertas est non posse peccare)

--Bernard from Clairvaux inspired by Augustin


I will reverse Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law and claim that all magic and rituals are indistinguishable from advanced technology because they replace social institutions and human agency with automation. Algorithmic promises of trustless ledgers, in which it is impossible to cheat, or autonomous self-learning systems (ML, AIs) avoiding error embody a vision of automation replacing human vices with transcendental virtues. Creating systems, under which it is impossible to sin and die, is an old fantasy of redemption manifested in the present as smart cities, algorithmic governance and surveillance. Bernard from Clairvaux and lockdown architects using data from our phones and IoT infrastructure channel this 5th century Augustin's doctrine of the two/four freedoms: the goal of humanity is to evolve from the sinless state in the Garden (“posse non peccare”) to the final Kingdom, where no one is able to sin ("non posse peccare"). Augustin's description of the future Civitas Dei (City of God) as a "perpetual Sabbath" and final Kingdom shares the sentiments of the lockdown management via models and contact tracing: "to be able not to die, and not to be able to die; to be able not to desert the good, and not to be able to desert the good" (De correptione et gratia, 12. 33). In the present, we are reliving a 5th century utopia of mystic unity of believers and their ideal of (RNA) purity and sacrifice via our data and algorithms. We shall not mourn the fall or Rome (old normal) because we are dreaming "of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good" (T.S. Eliot). We are expecting redemption via science and technology in the sinless, post-COVID19 cities operated as a platform with outsourced governance to surveillance infrastructure (Nevada 2022, ReGen villages). I will reflect upon these echoes of Augustine's Civitas Dei and claim that we need a political theology of the algorithms to explain this convergence of technology and governance. To curb the myth of automation, we have to make visible and participatory the design of these utopian infrastructures. We need to reclaim sovereignty by using prototyping as a form of political deliberation. In my design work, I use sandboxes and hybrid environments to replace the discourse on disruption and redemption with pragmatic experiments supporting stakeholders negotiation and empowerment over prototypes.

Sunday, March 21, 18:00.