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A New Dark Age

James Bridle

The history of computation and the history of the weather are deeply intertwined. The possibilities of mathematical prediction have driven a belief in our ability to model and control the world. Today, the pervasive metaphor of "the Cloud" shapes how we think about the world - but not always in useful or democratic ways. James Bridle's Cloud Index explored this history and sets out a new model for thinking about the world with the cloud at its heart: a nebulous, ever-changing set of possibilities, founded on unknowing. The Cloud Index (http://cloudindx.com, 2016) is an online artwork using neural networks to generate new weather patterns corresponding to differing electoral outcomes. The work challenges our ability to predict and thus control the future, and questions our intentions and ethics when it comes to the things we build. Using the Cloud Index as a starting point, Bridle's lecture explores the military and political histories of computation, networking, and weather control. As the processes of computational thinking - the belief that the gathering of ever-increasing volumes of data and the application of vast engines of computing power - fail to produce coherence or agency in the world, Bridle suggests that we should take the Cloud at its word. Cloud thinking is the acknowledgement that we cannot know or predict everything, and our technology is trying to teach us a different way of seeing and understanding the world.

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