Brief History of An Algorithm

The so-called “hard-forking” of reality (now a euphemism for a human’s cyber-massaged biases and pet projects) is one of the greatest tricks played on us by Capitalism (TM), and facilitated by all those extinction circuits that render it effective in our sensory lives.  The fun fact is that reality-as-such has remained fundamentally the same – we only experience and interpret it in various ways. And in the global white-supremacist North these ways are simply (or not) the result of systems and algorithms that render us complicit, in silos, “hard-forked”, and hard-fucked.

We can do better with different algorithms.

Homophily“; a bit of thinkspeak from Laura Kurgan, Dare Brawley, Brian House, Jia Zhang, and Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, ala E-FLUX.

Excerpts that made my brain hum:

The word “homophily” was coined in a highly-cited 1954 essay by Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Robert K. Merton on friendship in a mixed-race housing project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The researchers were suspicious of the “familiar and egregiously misleading question: do birds of a feather flock together?” They focused on “racial attitudes,” and concluded that friendships form and persist not simply on the basis of shared identities but also thanks to shared values and beliefs…

The afterlife of the concept has been remarkable, effectively reconstructing social worlds in its image. Today, the assumption that homophily is a rule also underlies online social and economic interactions, as platforms reinforce the axiom that “similarity breeds connection.” What began as descriptions or questions about social life have become a rule for algorithms shaping social interactions online.

While smart city discourses predict calculable cities using data and maps as engines of change, researching maps and data and their long urban histories can uncover the dangers lurking in what’s called progress. The ties between network science, urban planning, and social engineering are deeply historical, conceptual, and bi-directional. Network science is haunted by the consequences of urban planning, and vice versa—smart cities are just the latest manifestation of this intricate web of influence…

“The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true. The serious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error.” [perhaps a new definition of hyperstition?]

Merton’s solution to this “reign of error” was large-scale institutional change. Describing the survey of Addison Terrace residents, he showed that while many white residents had anticipated that there would be racial tension, the majority felt after living at Addison Terrace that “the races get along fairly well.” Thus, he argues that institutions like mixed-race housing can reverse the feelings of animosity and apprehension that lead to racism: “under appropriate institutional and administrative conditions the experience of interracial amity can supplant the fear of interracial conflict.” If Addison Terrace had been built following the logic of homophily (that illiberals are most likely to be friends with other illiberals), then the assumption of segregation would likely be replicated and maintained by the institution itself, according to the logic of the self-fulfilling prophecy. But instead, the project was intentionally structured to encourage and model co-existence and encounters across racial lines….

Unpacking the black box of homophily shows that it’s not only math that drives algorithms, but also concepts and “institutional and administrative conditions.” Homophily has turned into a generative formula that segregates cities and polarizes networks, rather than encouraging their integration and internal differentiation. The algorithms can be re-engineered, with higher tolerances and structures that privilege difference and inclusion. Who will have the courage… not only to state this, but to put it into practice?

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