BLACK BOX

After the Second World War, the modern cybernetic thought began to emerge from different directions, guided by personalities such as Norbert Wiener and John Von Neumann. Their aim was to explore the possibility of a new science capable of merging together the study of social and biological sciences with the methods of calculation and mathematic. 

Cybernetics began to view the world as a group of systems, which could be envisioned as black boxes in which data enter as inputs and comes out as outputs. It was not important what happened inside the box: the important thing was the data flow and the connection with the other systems.

This type of simplification led to huge technological advances, paired however with the relentless loss of intelligibility of processes themselves. Blindly following this path, scientific progress risks to worsen the darkness of the process, made up of boxes unintelligible in their internal mechanisms. In this new dark age everything becomes opaque: algorithms, science, technology, finance are impersonal and incomprehensible processes by definition, driven and guided by non-human intelligences, traveling at speeds, frequencies and according to schemes with whom we can no longer interface.

With the spread of digital technologies at a profoundly pervasive level in our lives and in the management of our relationships, datification has brought this darkness even into our daily lives. New friendships are suggested by incomprehensible algorithms formulated by code shamans living in the heart of California. Newspapers and newscast are replaced by reports that are scrolled under our eyes in buses, in bed or at the table, generating a chaotic, endless and heterogeneous flow of news mixed with informational junk. 

The ways of creating and using cultural products are profoundly altered by the economy of the platforms too: we listen to music and see films that are algorithmically recommended, based on our past listening and visions, but also on the “musical or visual DNA” of what the platforms know about us: every click, every play, every like is a switch that moves weights into algorithms that continually think about us.

How to look at a world that is changing so rapidly, modifying every few months the forms of information creation and use, and consequently transforming economic processes and the structures of cultural production itself? Opening the black boxes of complexity is an increasingly pressing necessity, to not drown in chaos, but managing how to live with it.

Daniele Gambetta and Andrea Zanni