Brussels / 2 & 3 February 2019


Algorithmic Sovereignty and the state of community-driven open source development

Is there a radical interface pedagogy for algorithmic governementality?

Algorithms are growing in power and importance. Their logic is often hidden, while their results are manifest: the free and open source movement mostly addresses this condition. Yet moving beyond transparency, there is an urgent need for awereness and governmentality on decisions made by algorithms about the social and economical context in which we live. Community driven development may be the perfect answer to this, but faces many challenges ahead.

The metaphor of a “black box society” is apt to describe the role that algorithms have taken in our contemporary and highly digitised world, following a pervasive adoption from industrial automation to public administration. Who understands what is inscribed in such algorithms? What are the consequences of their execution and what is the agency left for the living world? Is there any chance for sovereignty outside of technical expert circles?

There is nothing neutral in an algorithm, to the contrary every algorithm has to be seen as the cultural product of a negotiation of power and its analysis requires the understanding of its language applied to the living world. The concept of sovereignty I'm proposing represents the way a community of participants can influence an algorithm, appropriate it, distribute it, share it and create new ones.

The free and open source community has gone a long way to realise this condition for the technical elites that can interact with the literature of algorithms. But is transparency, as opposed to secrecy, enough of a condition to make algorithms functional to the creation of an intelligible society? By moving forward with an answer this talk proposes that "openness" and "transparency" are not sufficient conditions to realise the good ethical propositions of the free software movement. It now becomes even more urgent to understand this limit and envision how to move forward as computing becomes more pervasive and relevant to many functions supporting the living economies of our planet.

This talk will not be limited to describe the problem and the contexts where it can arise, but also to give practical examples, from software design patterns to social experimentations as working solutions.


Photo of Denis Roio (Jaromil) Denis Roio (Jaromil)