Not Everything, But… (Toyotatron)

I don’t mean to blame every bad thing in the world on computerization–but I think it is crucial part of computationalist discourse that when a critique of computerization is offered, instead of rebutting the critique, the answer is usually to raise some putative good that computers do (this is a pattern I encounter in person, at talks, in print, in class, and so on–persistent throughout the culture, and of course not by any means restricted, or directly related, to computationalist discourse). But there is rarely more elaborated discussion of the critique and whether it is correct. my view has never been that computers are without good effects–jesus christ!–but that we don’t want to look at the bad effects, so we focus almost exclusively on the good effects.

Which may be why it’s the case that a remarkable number of contemporary crises have computerization at least in part at their core. For example, as anyone paying attention (including no less a computer wizard than Woz himself) knows–the problem with Toyota’s cars isn’t related to mechanics but to the on-board computer-systems, and for that reason incredibly hard to pin down (as can very rare errors in any large computer system).

As long as I’m at it–all the data about the Toyota computers is completely proprietary, totally unavailable to customers or regulators, and has been held secret for years when it would have been useful to the public–neoliberal, free-market, radical libertarian computationalism at its best (within the corporation), and not a trace of openness–and by the way, the mechanical systems that used to operate brakes and acceleration in cars, remember them–they were open.

Computers, even computers in cars, do all kinds of good things. no doubt these computational systems have saved lives. they aid in navigation. but that doesn’t mean we can or should look away from the kinds of deep problems they can facilitate (not “create”–we create the problems).

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