On the 14th of February 2016 I partook in the discussion Software as a Critique organized by the good folks at laglab.org. The discussion in particular was about the practice of critique of software through software and its related production sites. Our contribution was on the universalism of Unicode and our attempt to critique it through its discussion list and request for comments procedure, as described in Modifying The Universal.
Due to the importance and ubiquity of software in our lives, it is urgent to recognise and deal with the political and social elements that are translated into the technical domain and vice versa. Looking from the technical side, code often replicates existing social constructions, reinforcing existing hegemonies or mirroring cultural patterns of inclusion and exclusion. Conversely, technological elements have their own political agency, beyond conventional parliamentary politics, aiming for example towards efficiency, quantification, transparency.
In this afternoon meeting, we will start by looking at the interactions between technical and non-technical aspects of specific pieces of software that raise political or ethical issues. We’ll be looking at questions like: What happens when you translate a body into a 3D mesh? What variety of people are involved in crypto-currencies, and how do their different political views transfer into decentralised banking systems? Who decides how we get to choose our gender from drop-down menus, and who benefits from a multiplicity of options? What is at stake in the challenge of a machine that writes poetry?
After considering how such questions translate in potential and existing software practices, we’d like to discuss whether they could inform a kind of critique that is not confined to the spaces of artistic or academic discourse. Can these approaches and methodologies create a space of critique inside software-centered communities that is not segregated from its productive practices?