‘Anti-Computing: Dissent and the Machine’ by Professor Caroline Bassett


Anti-Computing enlarges the horizons within which current waves of automation anxiety/automation fever (around AI, UBI, platform capitalism, LLMs for instance) can be explored and understood. In doing this it contributes to contesting the presentism that characterises dominant digital cultures. There are many (and many valuable) accounts of contemporary disenchantment with technologies including (e.g. big data, algorithmic capital, platforms, expropriation) but the vast majority stay in the present – and in doing so tend to read the problems arising as also located there. Anti-Computing takes a different pathway. It explores the tenacious rise and fall of computational dissent across the decades of the late 20th century/early decades of the 21st.

It seeks to understand commonalities and differences between different moments, but also to understand how and in what way older forms of dissent revive in salience and become relevant in new circumstances. It seeks to address why apparently new discontents with current digital technologies resonate with earlier moments and it asks how dissent or refusal might be categorized across time as more or less stable or ephemeral, doing so in order to enable a distinction to be made about what might be novel in relation to emerging forms and what constitutes an already familiar topoi which re-finds its force in relation to new contexts.

At the heart of the book is an accounting with historical recurrence explored through a series of cultural histories which are viewed as significant in their own terms, and which are also deployed to make a larger claim; namely they establish the existence of disjunctively continuous dissent as intrinsic to the history of digital media – and as a significant force to be reckoned with in thinking about digital futures.  In this talk I’ll discuss some of these ideas.

This lecture is a keynote address for the conference Data: Materialities, Infrastructures, Critiques being held in S1, Alison Richard Building, from 9am-6pm on 3 July 2023

Cambridge Digital Humanities

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