Surveillance Capitalism & Cognitive Architecture @Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

Surveillance Capitalism is becoming an established notion with a number of meanings around the commodification of personal information, the Berlin lecture by the social psychologist Professor Shoshana Zuboff on 6 November 2019, organised by our partner Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, is already fully booked.

Surveillance Capitalism

Professor Shoshana Zuboff
6 November 2019

@ Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society



Hybrid Space Lab has been working on these issues, see the 2010 contribution of Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar to the publication “From Biopolitics to Noopolitics Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information”, edited by Deborah Hauptmann, Warren Neidich, Delft School of Design Series on Architecture and Urbanism.

A whole new set of navigational techniques and tools will be needed to steer us through this stratified complex hybrid space. Semi-intelligent systems will filter and select information from the exploding information multiplicity. Personalized, customized software agents will interactively form our selective spatial perception and guide us through the complexities of the hybrid city.

In our age of information overload, human attention is a scarce commodity. The intelligent agents that guide our interest and focus our concentration are decisive forces in the so-called ‘economy of attention.’ By what logic do these intelligent agents operate?

The hierarchies and choices defined by Google™ search-machine algorithms are heavily influenced by the commercial logics of Internet marketing. Another intelligent agent function of Google™ identifies groups of people connected to their consumption preferences and patterns in order to post personalized advertisements. A next well known example, Amazon, uses software agents that make book suggestions based on our previous purchases, sparing us the creative experience of unexpected discovery.

Today most of us are willing to pass on private information and relinquish control just for the sake of a convenient application. This makes the (economically very attractive) marketing service of long-term data mining possible. These data-mining tools track our physical and emotional movements, our wishes and desires – to use the gained information for developing economically relevant transaction activities.

This tracking and tracing of our Internet searches and real-time movements – of the media and physical links and connections we make – has a different character to real-time monitoring for real-time threats, such as terror. Nevertheless, our search profile, that enable software agents to guide us through information complexity, can with a small step – by linking, for example, our Internet-ID to passport information – turn into a tag that labels us and our activities (within space).

The conditioning traditionally given by parents, implanting their children with their norms, wishes, and visions, continued by teachers and other socialization agencies, has long been supplemented by media environments. Software agents extend this task with so-called ‘indirect management.’ The information landscapes are not just passive environments to be explored by active users. Information spaces are formative environments. Within human computer interaction not only the users manipulate data – the software agents manipulate the users as well.

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