Warren Sack is a media theorist, software designer, and artist whose work explores theories and designs for online public space and public discussion. He is Professor of Film & Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz where he teaches digital arts and digital studies. Previously, he has been a visiting professor in France at Sciences Po, the FMSH and Télécom ParisTech. His artwork has been exhibited at SFMOMA (San Francisco), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and the ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany).
Media theory; history and philosophy of science and technology; science and technology studies; political theory; software studies; software design; digital studies
Decoding Digital Democracy
Today, computer programs with very limited intelligence play numerous roles in our everyday lives: non-player characters (NPCs) in computer games, voice-based phone interfaces (e.g., Apple’s Siri system), and computer programs that have automated a variety of jobs including those of travel agents (travel websites), bank tellers (ATM machines), librarians (search engines), election officials (voting machines) and government officials. Indeed, automated systems have become the primary decision makers of the American legal system taking human decision making out of the process of terminating individuals’ welfare benefits; targeting people for exclusion from air travel; identifying parents believed to owe child support and instructing state agencies to file collection proceedings against those parents; purging voters from the rolls; and, deeming small businesses ineligible for federal contracts. In the language of software design, these automated systems can be referred to as “agents” or “bots.” Everyday life that requires numerous interactions with agents takes place under what I will call the “computational condition.” I propose a project to examine the theories used to design software agents and explore why they pose serious challenges to democracy in the computational condition. Which theories of contemporary software design make it so toxic to the atmospheres of democracy? How can we avoid a future in which democracy, rule by the people, becomes rule by the machines?
“Peer to PCAST: What does open video have to do with open government?” (with Mark Deckert and Abram Stern), in Information Polity, vol. 16, 2011
“Searching the Net for Differences of Opinion” (with John Kelly and Michael Dale), in Todd Davies, Seeta Peña Gangadharan (éd.), Online Deliberation: Design, Research, and Practice, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
“Agonistics: A Language Game”, in Bruno Latour, Peter Weibel (éd.), Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, MIT Press, 2005.
“Discourse Architecture and Very Large-Scale Conversations”, in Robert Latham, Saskia Sassen (éd.), Digital Formations: IT and New Architectures in the Global Realm, Princeton University Press, 2005.