Visibility of unseen systems has been a recurring theme in the talks and research of my fellow travelers recently. And for good reason. Black-boxing of critical systems that support daily life creates significant long-term vulnerabilities for individuals, organizations and states. Two weeks ago I added a small piece to this conversation [now also available on Gizmodo], spurred by the uncertainty surrounding the disappearance of MH370, and the way the search for it has revealed systems and interconnections about which many average people are unaware. While experts sometimes have the tools to proactively probe and reveal the shape of these hidden systems, it often takes a crisis or wild card event to cast light on them for a public to whom they are effectively invisible.
The timing of the piece was serendipitous. Shortly after publishing (quietly), I was asked last week to chair the "Secret Lives of Systems and Services" panel at the end of FutureEverything in Manchester in Laurie Penny's absence. Filling in was a privilege, considering the panel was formed by Ella Saitta, James Bridle and Adam Harvey. Their talks focused on reaching not just into technological layers to point to existence and potential abuse of the "architectures of control" Anab Jain invoked in her keynote, but also on the criticality of understanding and using political and cultural levers to push back and contest these systems when abuses take place, and making them visible even when there aren't abuses, in order to return power back to the individual.
I'm hopeful that this ongoing focus on systems and infrastructure—and the assumptions and intentions embodied within them—will help steer a more fair and humane trajectory for the necessary elements of these systems, and I look forward to a great deal more discussion and action in this space.