Can a society be governed by data? In the age of big data, we seem certain that it can and should be. Despite many decades of research exposing its blind spots and biases, data collection is more insidious than ever, while the Covid-19 pandemic has propelled our already computerized lives into a the digital stratosphere. Dr. West's lecture, based on her book project CyberSovietica: A History of Soviet Big Data Socialism and Digital Utopianism, takes up the question of big data from a historical vantage point. She posits that the Soviet Union was the first “big data” society of its kind, where information and data played a critical role in conceiving every aspect of central planning from the earliest days of the country’s existence until its demise. Exploring the parallels between Soviet-style big data thinking and contemporary forms of digital utopianism, her lecture will contrast visions of free and open data with the ongoing rampant neoliberal data grab, and will offer a cautionary tale for the post-Covid-19 future.
Diana Kurkovsky West received her Ph.D. from the Princeton University School of Architecture, and has served as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Science and Human Culture at Northwestern University and Director of Science and Technology Studies Center at the European University at St. Petersburg, Russia. She is presently a Visiting Lecturer at Auburn University, where she teaches courses in History of Technology and Urban History. She is the author of several articles on Soviet cybernetic history, including “Cybernetics for Command Economy: Foreground Entropy in Late-Soviet Planning” in History of the Human Sciences (2020) and “The Cybernetic Eye: Scientific Ordering in the Soviet Mikroraion.” The Journal of Architecture (2019). She has also studied the cultures of Russian computer scientists, and her book chapter titled “Brain Drain and Boston’s ‘Upper-Middle-Tech,” was published in From Russia With Code: programming migrations in Post-Soviet times, edited by Mario Biagioli and Vincent Lepinay (Duke University Press, 2019.) She is presently completing her book manuscript on the nexus of Soviet systems thinking, cybernetics, and central planning.
Part of the REEEC Critical Methods Series in Area Studies Informatics
Hosted on Zoom.
Register at https://go.illinois.edu/west-lecture