“Calculative Devices in a Digital Age”
Conference, 21-22 November 2013, Durham

At the end of November, we held an International Interdisciplinary Conference “Calculative Devices in a Digital Age” on the forms and techniques of calculation that emerge with digital computation, organised within the framework of Prof. Amoore’s current RCUK-funded ‘SAFE’ research project.

Calculative Devices in a Digital Age - Programme

The two-day event set in the wonderful Prior’s Hall of the Durham Cathedral (www.durhamcathedral.co.uk) attracted almost 50 participants from the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and the USA.

The Conference was set to address a number of important issues, such as:

  • How does the drive to make sense of, and productively use, large amounts of diverse data inform the development of new calculative devices, logics and techniques?
  • How do these devices, logics and techniques affect our capacity to decide and act?
  • In a world of changing data landscapes, how do mundane elements of our physical and virtual existence become data to be analysed and rearranged in complex ensembles of people and things? In what ways are conventional notions of public and private, individual and population, certainty and probability, rule and exception transformed and what are the consequences of these transformations?
  • How does the search for ‘hidden’ connections and patterns change our understanding of social relations and associative life? Do contemporary modes of calculation, based on constant incorporation of heterogeneous elements, produce new thresholds of calculability and computability, allowing for the improbable or the merely possible to be embraced and acted upon?
Calculative Devices in a Digital Age - Panel

left to right:
Prof. Louise Amoore (Durham University);
Prof. Mark Duffield (Bristol University)
and Lee Mackinnon (Goldsmiths, University of London)

The Conference was opened with a welcome address from the Head of the Department of Geography, Prof. Antony Long, and was framed by the three keynotes: “The Strategisation of Time, the Securitisation of Life, and the Event Object of Insurance”byProf. Luis Lobo-Guerrero from the University of Groningen; “ParallelRealities” by Stanza (www.stanza.co.uk); and “Preemption Contested: Intelligence, Data and Calculative Futures in the July 7 Inquest”by Prof.Marieke de Goede from the University of Amsterdam.

Presentations from 23 scholars were organised in six panels:

  • ‘Algorithmic Devices’
    • Martijn van Otterlo (Radboud University) “Artificially Intelligent Calculative Devices and Their Impact on Information Consumption”
    • Louise Amoore (Durham University) and VolhaPiotukh (Durham University) “Life Beyond Big Data: Governing by Little Analytics”
    • Andreas Birkbak (Aalborg University) and Hjalmar Bang Carlsen (University of Copenhagen) “The Public and its Algorithms: Comparing and Experimenting with Calculated Publics”
    • Daniel Neyland (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Patrick Murphy (Goldsmiths, University of London) “Bearing Account-able Witness to the Ethical Algorithm”
  • ‘Spaces of Calculation’
    • Ivan Ascher (University of Wisconsin) “Speculative Finance, Big Data and the Capitalist Mode of Prediction”
    • Will Davies (Warwick University) and Nathaniel Tkacz (Warwick University) “Dashboards: Indication, Performance and Expertise in Everyday Life”
    • Sarah Widmer (Université de Neuchâtel) “People Who Go to This Bar Also Tend to Go Here: On the Possible ‘Bubbling’ Effects of Personalised Location Recommendations”
  • ‘Signal, Visualise, Calculate’
    • Matthias Leese (University of Tuebingen) “‘Flagging out the Future’: Risk Calculations, Visual Triggers, and the Reduction of Contingency”
    • Oliver Belcher (University of Lapland) “Computational Counterinsurgency: Data-coding the Insurgent in U.S. Military Intelligence”
    • Philip Garnett (Durham University) “Graphs for Data Analytics and Modelling”
  • ‘Affective Devices’
    • Mark Duffield (Bristol University) “The Human Trace: Exploring the Rise of Cyber-Humanitarianism”
    • Lee Mackinnon (Goldsmiths, University of London) “Love’s Algorithm: ‘The Perfect Parts to My Machine’”
  • ‘Corporeal Devices’
    • Ernesto Schwartz-Marin (Durham University) “Tampering with Infinitude, or the Limits of Populations and ‘Ethno-Racial’ Calculations in the Making of Medical and Forensic Genetics in Latin America”
    • Richard Nisa (Fairleigh Dickinson University) “Capture at the Speed of Bandwidth: Digital Biometric Encounters in the Everywhere War”
    • Rebecca Coleman (Goldsmiths, University of London) “Change4Life: Calculation, Prediction and the Future”
  • ‘Calculated Futures’
    • Joe Deville (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Lonneke van der Velden (University of Amsterdam) “Tracking the Credit Trackers: Emerging Techniques of Digital Subprime Lending”
    • Nathaniel O’Grady (Durham University) “Operating at the Interstice: the Management of Real Events through Virtual Futures”

In the shared opinion of the participants, the event was a big success in bringing together scholars from different disciplines, generating many lively discussions and establishing the basis for possible future collaborations.

The organisers are considering a publication based on the conference contributions.