The Philosophy of Software and the Ontology of Code, David Berry and Simon Yuill

David Berry speaking on The Philosophy of Software

Tonight I attended a public lecture at Goldsmiths with my friend Dr Sheena Calvert. The first speaker was Simon Yuill, an Artist and programmer based in Glasgow, Scotland. Unfortunately as Simon announced he was a quiet speaker, and without a microphone, it was difficult to hear most of what he was saying, even with continuous prompts from the audience to speak up.

However I managed to make some notes, however the ontology of code appears such an abstract subject for me that I tended to respond more to the visual than the verbal. This book jacket was the first slide that Simon projected and I really liked the simplicity of it:

The following is taken from my notebooks, I think that given the nature of the subject, and some of the inaudible moments, the notes will be more interesting than my standard appraisal.

_Automata as cognative neurological model
_Philosophy and simulation – thunderstorm
_Epistemological devices become ontological statements
_Campbell Smith – Origins of objects
_Ontology is political
_Ontology post-metaphysical moments inherently unstable
_Program as physical
_computation in the wild
_Dona Harraway – hybridity
_Adjacent – becoming of agency in the network
_Operations Research – WWII Industry and Government, control military to civilian, U-boats used to attack Atlantic convoys
_OR – capitalisation of warfare USA Rand Corp.
_MO Association of Scientist Workers 1917 – 1947
_Lubetkin – Finsbury Health Centre – socialist USS Enterprise
_Operational Research Coal Board ‘for and by the workers’ Soviet model
_National Coal Board – on behalf of the people – Harold Wilson ‘a socialist inspired technological revolution

_Tomlinson 1971 – each colliery transfer of manpower
_Collective Intelligence – Toby Seagram
_Post-Fordist production
_Systems Theory Levy
_Eric Raymond: Web 2.0 commerce, more about intelligence gathering
_Ontology driven information systems, filtering and clustering, not only information but desire and capacity
_data mining – privacy disclosure 1967 New Jersey
_Disclosure of military matter, migration of data, framing of online privacy
_Anonymisation – removal of identifiers in data
_Quasi Identifiers – Hegel
_Aggregation of mined data most useful, user outside the domain of production to which they are contributing
_Felix Stalder – ‘Oneness’ as a precarious configuration
_Creative commons license

David Berry

The digital university is coming, universities are being ‘softwarised’, no longer are we constrained by geography and architecture (evidenced by this BBC article). Berry gave us a mine of statistical data about the amount of images stored on Facebook (40 billion) and how many lines of code are in an F-16 fighter jet, not as many as you may think compared to high-end motorcars (200-300 million lines of code in future cars Berry predicts), Google processes 35,000 searches a second and Wal-mart houses 2.5 petabytes of data in its data warehouses (every transaction is recorded).

This preamble about Moore’s Law, data processing and quasi-visible technologies didn’t appear to be very philosophical to me, unless the statement ‘you don’t fly an F-16 – it flies you’ can be regarded as such. Much of Berry’s talk was aligned more towards social science discourse, affects, models and predictions of behavior and outcomes, much less ontology and philosophy.

Professor Sue Golding from the University of Greenwich questioned Berry’s assertion that computer science is effectively making philosophy obsolete, and this was very much the agitating premise that had the philosophers in the audience grinding their teeth.

However, I will have to read Berry’s book to fully understand what all this truly means, or embark on PhD study to embrace the philosophical constructs that underpinned the evening.

Berry’s closing points seem worthy of note here:

‘the surplus that remains non computational is desire’

and Berry quotes Apple’s Chairman Steve Jobs:

‘Apple is at the junction of technology and the liberal arts’

Berry asks ‘is the digital university a new form of sociology’ and ‘is philosophy no longer metaphysical?’

‘What is a sociologist? Does the social dissolve the technical?


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