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A journey through the uncomputable remains of computer history
Narrating some lesser known episodes from the deep history of digital machines, Alexander R. Galloway explains the technology that drives the world today, and the fascinating people who brought these machines to life. With an eye to both the computable and the uncomputable, Galloway shows how computation emerges or fails to emerge, how the digital thrives but also atrophies, how networks interconnect while also fray and fall apart. By re-building obsolete technology using today's software, the past comes to light in new ways, from intricate algebraic patterns woven on a hand loom, to striking artificial-life simulations, to war games and back boxes. A description of the past, this book is also an assessment of all that remains uncomputable as we continue to live in the aftermath of the long digital age.
About the Author
Alexander R. Galloway is Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. He is author or coauthor of several books, including The Interface Effect, Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization, and Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture.
“Uncomputable stages brilliant episodes from ‘the long digital age,’ from bold revisions of photography and weaving to lucid expositions of new media and software alike, bringing obscure engineers, scientists, artists, and philosophers into fascinating conversation with world-historical figures. What is at stake here is ‘the cybernetic hypothesis,’ or how the world came to be framed as a ‘system’ and subjects as ‘agents,’ and the many implications of this slow revolution in knowing and communicating, living and working. This is no less than a history of our informatic and algorithmic present, one that fully succeeds in its aim ‘to unify critical theory and digital media’ and to map the shifting boundaries between the computable and the uncomputable. If a code-illiterate like me can benefit massively from this book, anyone can—and must.”
—Hal Foster, Princeton University
“Alexander Galloway’s Uncomputable is a brilliant counter-history of some of the technological worlds we are all currently inhabiting. In this enthralling genealogy of computation, we encounter a refreshingly unfamiliar constellation of marginalized or overlooked practices, theories, artifacts and individual innovators.”
“How to translate political struggle into algorithm? How to transpose material entanglement into executable operations? What is the relation between passion, heartbreak and mathematics and what are the losses incurred by moving in-between them? Alexander Galloway’s intelligent and delicate treatise draws out the tensions between matter and thought, the invisible and the sharp impact of historical manifestation, the palpable and the operational and these other, unspeakable things and situations, that keep evading through the cracks, shining.”
“Through a series of wonderfully surprising hidden histories of computation, Galloway provides a radically different perspective on the digital age and computational media, illuminating its limitations and its possibilities.”
“At a historical moment characterized by totalizing forms of data-capture, rabid machine learning algorithms, and the colonization of everyday life by the logics of computation and capital, Galloway asks a pointed question: ‘What if things were otherwise?’ Using case studies from across the arts, humanities, and sciences, Uncomputable shows the alternate pathways of history, and provides a glimpse towards a theory, practice, and politics of radical refusal whose timeliness could not be more relevant.”