Designing geopolitics

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Participants of the second annual "Designing Geopolitics" symposium at UCSD tour the Calit2 facilities. 

Excerpted from The Huffington Post

This year's "Designing Geopolitics" event, held at UCSD's Calit2 in early June, focused on design and policy approaches, and followed the interdisciplinary thinking of last year's conference. In the words of the Center for Design and Geopolitics (D:GP) director and Lybba fellow Benjamin H. Bratton, this interdisciplinarity was linked to an emerging relationship between governance and technology. 

Bratton said, "Our interest is not so much design at a geopolitical scale, rather to take the geopolitical architecture we have inherited from the Treaty of Westphalia, from Empires past, etc. and to literally take the world map as an open design question once again . . . We're looking at planetary scale computation as a force that represents a long-term challenge to the world map."

Each of the panels explored the perceived and actual sovereignty of bodies and identities across shifting practices and jurisdictions.

Split between a "Policies" morning session and a "Projects" afternoon session, the event reflected the known dichotomy of "obstacle courses" and "opportunities" in policy and the design of pervasive networks of resources and ideas, to engage, from the perspective of ubiquitous computing and networking across fields of practice, other forms of critically assessing and cooperating, within technological apparatuses, connectivity, accessibility, and ultimately, creative potential in content formulation.

In the panel "Cloud-Polis", Larry Smarr described his life as a devout member of the Quantified Self Movement and speculated on its global impacts for health care.

In "Clouded Futures and Sovereign Sunshine", Peter Cowhey presented challenges for globalized economies, including lessons from alternative banking systems models.

In the second panel ("Data Sovereignty"), Usman Haque's one image of the Pachube Network grounded questions on representation, awareness, and engagement. John Wilbanks' "Science Commons, Creative Commons" reflected on a "politics of the commons", by looking at models of tracking and verifying data objects across history.

Sovereignty is paradigmatically linked to concepts of freedom and/or ownership (in the case of land). However, in any "cloud" construct or system, the free flow of data and therefore its public character is key to helping produce new forms of validated and shareable knowledge and "objects/things" (cf. the term "Internet of things").

A poignant question here is how to go beyond the dialectic of the last two decades that splits the camps into absolute "transparency" vs. "secrecy" of live data, and instead rethink versions of state and social constructs that address identities' shifting/fluid borders. What clearly seems to be a political problem can greatly be helped by a design (inclusive synthesis) approach.

So, what are agencies of design within political agencies?

In the "Postscripting Alterglobalization" panel, we saw design productively confound the problems it is "commissioned" to "solve": Jeffrey Inaba's "Extra-Spatial" talk described several projects that productively entangle city planning with critical spatial, industrial, and graphic design, and METAHAVEN showed evocative work creating identity and branding strategies for new virtual platforms with possible (future?) state sovereignty, including Wikileaks and Facebook.

The "Biopolitical Architectures" panel concluded with politics in design and artistic practices, with the work of architect Alisa Andrasek/Biothing and synthetic biology artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg giving two different takes on the complexity and promise of "biodesign" as focus of generative architecture methods, and design/artist roles in creative/scientific multi-disciplinary teams.

A recurrent theme in the conference (and in discussions of "cloud" structures) was the difficulty in maintaining regulatory and organizational concepts of identity or categorization. The desire for increasing 'resolution' (imaging and processing power) in representational and generational processes is only matched by the incapacity to pin totalizing models to observed realities.

Perhaps new constructs of "resolution" that present simultaneous, contradicting yet overlapping, representations that include scale-based identity "flickers" across entities (us and our microbiomes) and speed. This may better represent the near-future evolution of our present, and better inspire novel forms of management, categorization, and ethics.

 

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