To move my line of inquiry out of the abstract and digital, and into the material effects of City, I’ve been working on a few scenarios that show the felt effect of City rather than City itself.
Last tutorial we talked briefly about giving City a name, and so tentatively (for this week at least) I am calling her Le. Le sits at the intersection of two of my references – Hobbes’ (Le)viathan and (Le)na – the playboy model whose apparently average face has set the convention for facial recognition and has become a symbol for how our computers see the world. Furthermore, I like the multiple connotations that can be drawn from Le as a name; it is relatively gender neutral, allowing this incarnation of City to switch between male and female as necessary; it might allude to a persona with Chinese origins (China are undoubtedly playing an increasingly important role in shaping the character and control of dataspace); and if we take it’s literal French meaning, Le suggests a certain singularity (not in the AI or black hole sense though!) to the notion of City, (hopefully) further assisting in its personification.
So, if the power that comes with human agency were given to the mass of online sentiment, what material change might we see in the world? How deep are the pockets of an individual whose bank account is the entire population of a belief circle (tribe)?
Could behaviours and aspirations we believe to be unique to individuals make themselves manifest on a societal level. If a shift amongst average consumers toward healthier eating pushed Le into a diet, how might that effect the fast food business? Would Le literally shut down access to unhealthy food by disabling the EFTPOS transactions in chains, or would the effect occur more subtlely – with the change in Le’s heart foretelling a future of imminent death for fast food, leading businesses to change model or reinvent themselves before their own demise? In this model, perhaps one of Le’s primary methods of enacting change could be the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Le would be an invaluable asset to world leaders, whose agendas of control, peacekeeping and societal stability have long desired to tap into the collective consciousness. Le could bring a balancing voice to politics – comparing current issues to the great wins and epic failures of the past. However, if Le were personified, would she be used as a tool – much like the UN’s current ‘global pulse’ project, using Big Data to forecast and communicate, or would she be an independent entity with her own seat at the table? If so, what would Le’s will be worth? Does the vote of the collective weigh the same as the vote of the individual? Is an averaged intelligence really representative of the collective?
We have already considered Le’s prescient powers; surely this ability to see society/economy/culture with clarity would be hugely desired by corporations. Could Le, whilst being the city herself, also be an employee of the city? Might the great powers of today try to take advantage of her – and if so, how would she interface with them?
Parallel to these mini-speculations, I have been looking into how we might begin to understand Le today, before her birth into the world I hope to flesh out.
THE GDELT PROJECT
The GDELT (Global Data on Events, Location and Tone) project is an open source data base that compiles and analyses news articles from around the world in astronomical quantities. They are a self professed database of society with over a quarter of a billion event records, three quarters of a trillion emotional assessments and one and a half billion location references.
This data is free for the public to search (thanks to cooperation from the big players like Google) and when used in association with data mapping software such as GEPHI, which enables us to draw fancy charts from Excel spreadsheets, emerging global trends can be observed. Obviously the dataset is too large to ever comprehend all in one go, but I am starting to experiment with pulling small chunks of data out a bit at a time to try and get a handle on roughly how it works.
This very initial test compares the ‘connected-ness’ of individuals mentioned in articles that include the words ‘Presidential Election’ and either ‘Trump’ or ‘Clinton’ (a somewhat arbitrarily chosen way to sample global sentiment – but I thought it would be a good reference for now seeing as my Facebook wall is full of them at the moment). It was interesting to see that Hillary seems to be much more connected than Trump, and that she has (not-surprisingly) Obama and (perhaps more surprisingly) Jesus Christ in her conceptual network.
The project has facilitated other interesting visualisations – like this map that graphs the sentiment of news reports worldwide (red = negative, green = positive) – according to this India is pretty full of negativity!
Interactive zoomable version here.
What is interesting about this data set is that with their Global Knowledge Graph archive, it is possible to understand digital cultural memory too – as trends can be traced backward in time.
This is a graph of the most prominent cultural thematic associated with the tag word ‘music’ from Jan 2015 until now. Unfortunately as I am still getting to grips with the software the key is pretty illegible at the moment – but hopefully later iterations if I keep using this data set will become more useful/revealing!