Seeing with Software

How is life mapped, analyzed, and regulated through the algorithmic? This text investigates a particular algorithmic object—Palantir Gotham, a platform promising to uncover insights from vast amounts of information. Developed initially for intelligence and military organizations, the platform has been rapidly adopted by an array of law enforcement agencies as well as corporations in the financial, health, food, and media sectors, infusing the algorithmic further into the everyday. The highly complex algorithmic ecology of Gotham is unpacked using the notion of the machine—strategic intersections of matter with particular flows and capacities. The first machine is composed of several Gotham tools, the ‘stack’ of hardware which powers those tools, and the analyst which uses them to uncover patterns of life. The second machine zeroes in on a particular instance of Gotham, examining how the analyst and license-plate data used by the LAPD comes together to regulate human life in Los Angeles. This unpacking reveals the logic and performativities specific to the algorithmic, qualities which signal a shift in the modalities of power, from the somatic to the systematic. But power is never totalizing and these machines also reveal the inconsistencies in algorithmic logic, errors which inspire more effective models for response than that of resistance or refusal.

Seeing With Software