big data, post-democracy and boardroom liberalism

Another interesting bit of the Andrejevic book. A lot of these ideas are extremely familiar but he puts them together in extremely creative ways, as well as writing with an astonishing degree of lucidity. From loc 524:

Lurking in these two questions is an assumption about the character of knowledge in the digital era: the notion that the only limit on our predictive power is the ability to effectively organize all the available information. If this were indeed the case, then the development of technological information storage and processing technology might compensate for the shortcomings of the human brain by ushering in new forms of aggregate “knowledge” and predictive power.

And from loc 572:

The apparent obstacle to such a resolution is the limit of human perceptions, analytic ability, and time. The ability to overcome such limits is relegated to the realm of the superhuman. As Laplace, the pioneer of mathematical probability, put it, “Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings who compose it – an intelligence sufficiently vast to submit these data to analysis … for it, nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes.” 8 The name for that intelligence, viewed through one historical lens, would be God. In the digital era, it is the computer and the database.

There’s a profoundly post-democratic slide underway here, building upon longer term trends which have led to a hollowing out of representative democracy. What I find concerning is the frequent assumption, in many cases a self-serving one, that social and political problems will melt away through the sustained accumulation of data. The well-reported wonkishness of Obama goes some way to explaining what has been called his ‘boardroom liberalism’. I suspect his sponsorship of the government data science service, using his power to institutionalise data science throughout the federal government, might very well turn out to be one of the most significant actions of his presidency.