Algorithms, Capital, and the Automation of the Common

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"We need to ask then not only how algorithmic automation works today (mainly in terms of control and monetization, feeding the debt economy) but also what kind of time and energy it subsumes and how it might be made to work once taken up by different social and political assemblages—autonomous ones not subsumed by or subjected to the capitalist drive to accumulation and exploitation."


"What is at stake in the following is the relationship between ‘algorithms’ and ‘capital’—that is, the increasing centrality of algorithms ‘to organizational practices arising out of the centrality of information and communication technologies stretching all the way from production to circulation, from industrial logistics to financial speculation, from urban planning and design to social communication.1 These apparently esoteric mathematical structures have also become part of the daily life of users of contemporary digital and networked media. Most users of the Internet daily interface or are subjected to the powers of algorithms such as Google’s Pagerank (which sorts the results of our search queries) or Facebook Edgerank (which automatically decides in which order we should get our news on our feed) not to talk about the many other less known algorithms (Appinions, Klout, Hummingbird, PKC, Perlin noise, Cinematch, KDP Select and many more) which modulate our relationship with data, digital devices and each other. This widespread presence of algorithms in the daily life of digital culture, however, is only one of the expressions of the pervasiveness of computational techniques as they become increasingly co-extensive with processes of production, consumption and distribution displayed in logistics, finance, architecture, medicine, urban planning, infographics, advertising, dating, gaming, publishing and all kinds of creative expressions (music, graphics, dance etc).

The staging of the encounter between ‘algorithms’ and ‘capital’ as a political problem invokes the possibility of breaking with the spell of ‘capitalist realism’—that is, the idea that capitalism constitutes the only possible economy while at the same time claiming that new ways of organizing the production and distribution of wealth need to seize on scientific and technological developments2. Going beyond the opposition between state and market, public and private, the concept of the common is used here as a way to instigate the thought and practice of a possible post-capitalist mode of existence for networked digital media."


Towards a Red Stack

Tiziana Terranova:

"Drawing on Bratton’s political prototype, I would like to propose the concept of the ‘Red Stack’—that is, a new nomos for the post-capitalist common. Materializing the ‘red stack’ involves engaging with (at least) three levels of socio-technical innovation: virtual money, social networks, and bio-hypermedia. These three levels, although ‘stacked’, that is, layered, are to be understood at the same time as interacting transversally and nonlinearly. They constitute a possible way to think about an infrastructure of autonomization linking together technology and subjectivation.

The contemporary economy, as Christian Marazzi and others have argued, is founded on a form of money which has been turned into a series of signs, with no fixed referent (such as gold) to anchor them, explicitly dependent on the computational automation of simulational models, screen media with automated displays of data (indexes, graphics etc) and algo-trading (bot-to-bot transactions) as its emerging mode of automation17. As Toni Negri also puts it, ‘money today—as abstract machine—has taken on the peculiar function of supreme measure of the values extracted out of society in the real subsumption of the latter under capital’18.

Since ownership and control of capital-money (different, as Maurizio Lazzarato remind us, from wage-money, in its capacity to be used not only as a means of exchange, but as a means of investment empowering certain futures over others) is crucial to maintaining populations bonded to the current power relation, how can we turn financial money into the money of the common? An experiment such as Bitcoin demonstrates that in a way ‘the taboo on money has been broken’19 and that beyond the limits of this experience, forkings are already developing in different directions. What kind of relationship can be established between the algorithms of money-creation and ‘a constituent practice which affirms other criteria for the measurement of wealth, valorizing new and old collective needs outside the logic of finance’?

Current attempts to develop new kinds of cryptocurrencies must be judged, valued and rethought on the basis of this simple question as posed by Andrea Fumagalli: Is the currency created not limited solely to being a means of exchange, but can it also affect the entire cycle of money creation – from finance to exchange? Does it allow speculation and hoarding, or does it promote investment in post-capitalist projects and facilitate freedom from exploitation, autonomy of organization etc.?

What is becoming increasingly clear is that algorithms are an essential part of the process of creation of the money of the common, but that algorithms also have politics (What are the gendered politics of individual ‘mining’, for example, and of the complex technical knowledge and machinery implied in mining bitcoins?) Furthermore, the drive to completely automate money production in order to escape the fallacies of subjective factors and social relations might cause such relations to come back in the form of speculative trading. In the same way as financial capital is intrinsically linked to a certain kind of subjectivity (the financial predator narrated by Hollywood cinema), so an autonomous form of money needs to be both jacked into and productive of a new kind of subjectivity not limited to the hacking milieu as such, but at the same time oriented not towards monetization and accumulation but towards the empowering of social cooperation. Other questions that the design of the money of the common might involve are: Is it possible to draw on the current financialization of the Internet by corporations such as Google (with its Adsense/Adword programme) to subtract money from the circuit of capitalist accumulation and turn it into a money able to finance new forms of commonfare (education, research, health, environment etc)? What are the lessons to be learned from crowdfunding models and their limits in thinking about new forms of financing autonomous projects of social cooperation? How can we perfect and extend experiments such as that carried out by the Inter-Occupy movement during the Katrina hurricane in turning social networks into crowdfunding networks which can then be used as logistical infrastructure able to move not only information, but also physical goods?"


"This short essay, a synthesis of a wider research process, means to propose another strategy for the construction of a machinic infrastructure of the common. The basic idea is that information technologies, which comprise algorithms as a central component, do not simply constitute a tool of capital, but are simultaneously constructing new potentialities for postneoliberal modes of government and postcapitalist modes of production. It is a matter here of opening possible lines of contamination with the large movements of programmers, hackers and makers involved in a process of re-coding of network architectures and information technologies based on values others than exchange and speculation, but also of acknowledging the wide process of technosocial literacy that has recently affected large swathes of the world population. It is a matter, then, of producing a convergence able to extend the problem of the reprogramming of the Internet away from recent trends towards corporatisation and monetisation at the expense of users’ freedom and control. Linking bio-informational communication to issues such as the production of a money of the commons able to socialize wealth, against current trends towards privatisation, accumulation and concentration, and saying that social networks and diffused communicational competences can also function as means to organize cooperation and produce new knowledges and values, means seeking for a new political synthesis which moves us away from the neoliberal paradigm of debt, austerity and accumulation. This is not a utopia, but a program for the invention of constituent social algorithms of the common."