How can we understand computerization as a social process? Life by Algorithms: How Roboprocesses Are Remaking Our World
(University of Chicago Press, 2019) is a timely and welcome edited volume in which a set of interdisciplinary contributors explore how people make automated processes work, and how these systems reciprocally transform everyday life. From farming to finance—not to mention schools to prisons—the volume amounts to an urgent plea to remove the veil of corporate and government secrecy shrouding technologies that subtly restructure our social and material worlds without any semblance of democratic oversight. I spoke with the book’s editors, Catherine Besteman
and Hugh Gusterson
, about how to do the anthropology of algorithms, and what they learned from bringing these accounts together.
Mikey McGovern is a PhD candidate in Princeton University’s Program in the History of Science. He is writing a dissertation on how people used statistics to make claims of discrimination in 1970s America, and how the relationship between rights and numbers became a flashpoint in political struggles over bureaucracy, race, and law.