Display all headersFrom: Alexander Galloway Subject: Re: SWITCH interview Date: Mon, 12 Jul 2004 13:08:06 -0400 To: noema at shechen dot at (aka stephan hechenberger)
IN WHAT PART OF THE ART & TECHNOLOGY CROSS-OVER ARE YOU PARTICULARLY INTERESTED?
In the last few years I've been occupied with the problem of trying to elaborate a political critique of information. This lead me to write the book Protocol
which starts to address some of these questions. The book offers the first critical analysis of the core protocols that make up the Internet. I try to put forth a general theory of "protocol" to help explain the new type of management style that exists in computerized networks. Protocol is a management style but it is also a type of control. Thus I write about how this control has been established historically and also how it can be resisted in various ways.
But the development that interests me most today is the rise of video games as an aesthetic medium. Today gaming is the vanguard of culture--all the interesting work on interactivity, narrative, immersion, virtual spaces, and networking is all being done in the gaming community. I predict a coming golden age for video games into the next decade not unlike what the cinema experienced in the late 1930s and 1940s. So after protocol, I have been trying to think through some specific problems within the medium of the video game.WHAT IS CURRENTLY YOUR MAIN FOCUS AT NYU?
I describe it as a "political physics" of information. For example with the Protocol
book I tried to address informatic control itself, not necessarily control exerted by a particular person or set of laws. Authors like Lessig
do a good job talking about how, for example, the government or corporations exert control. But in my book I don't talk about commercial control, organizational control, juridical control, state control, or anything of the like. Instead, the Internet protocols gain their authority from another place, from the technology itself and how aggregate groups of people program it and use it.
Politics are always embedded inside technologies. Sometimes the politics are obvious, while sometimes they are subtle. Sometimes the politics are insidious, while sometimes they are quite mild. I would *not* say that there is a group of people behind the system of technological control that I'm calling protocol. This is not a conspiracy theory
. It's not so easy to point out a specific person or a specific group and say that they are the new ruling elite. But that's not bad--we can still talk about control and organization without attributing it to specific people's agendas. my interest is whether or not technology itself is embedded with an agenda, one that has been sedimented and calcified within it from decades of social use and development.
There is a need for technical specificity when it comes to new media that I think is lacking in some of the current discourse. I hope to bring a more technically nuanced reading of computers and networks. Deleuze
is certainly a large influence on my book, particularly the late essay Postscript on Control Societies
in which he starts to address computers. Also Foucault
is a significant influence on me, as he is for many others. Foucault never talked about computers, partly because he didn't live long enough, but his work is still incredibly evocative for thinking about the information age.THIS QUESTION ALREADY LEADS OVER TO THE MORE 'PROTOCOL' CENTERED QUESTIONS: IS META BLOGGING A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO GOOGLE'S INTERFACE TO THE INTERNET?
This is a fascinating question, precisely because most people wouldn't even consider it *important* to imagine alternatives to Google's window on the world. It is a type of alternative, yes. Certainly not a replacement, for that is not the goal, but a bottom-up alternative to the universal processing algorithms offered by Google.
It's interesting to point out that the blogosphere presented perhaps the first real threat to Google's algorithm, since the interconnected link structure of blogs tended to skew the architecture of the web in ways not anticipated by Google. Hence the sport of trying to "game
" Google. But at the end of the day Google is still a modern answer to a postmodern question: it is a massive, centralized hub enlisted to parse and catalog the universe of human endeavor. So it's quite reactionary in that respect.
WHICH IS CURRENTLY THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PROTOCOL AND WHICH WOULD YOU ATTRIBUTE WITH THE HIGHEST POTENTIAL? DO YOU SEE DISTRIBUTED HASH TABLES (DHTS) CENTRAL TO THE FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF THE INTERNET?
The most *significant* protocol--that is a difficult question. Certainly TCP and IP would have to be pretty high on the list, since they do most of the heavy lifting for internet traffic. UDP is also a very interesting protocol and has been adopted by the online gaming community due to its speed. But yes (as you suggest by mentioning DHTs) I would say that peer to peer and specifically the Gnutella search protocol written in 2000 is quite significant, mostly because it carries the philosophy of "distributed" technologies into the technology of network querying and location, a realm that previously had remained ecentralized in the form of the DNS system. If one subscribes to the evolutionary model of networked technology, a model that places distribution *after* decentralization, the Gnutella protocol and its permutations are quite significant indeed.I WAS HOPING THAT YOU HAVE SOME INTERESTING THOUGHTS ON THE NEXT ONE BECAUSE ALTHOUGH WE HAD SOME ARGUMENTS FLYING AROUND WE COULD NOT REALLY FIND A SATISFYING ANSWER: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROTOCOL AND INTERFACE?
Protocol and interface are really quite similar in my mind. Interface is a word that has almost no meaning today, because it has been used in so many contexts to mean very different things. But I have found that the best definition for interface is this: interface is the artificial differentiation between two media. As you may notice, this is quite similar to how I define protocol. Protocols are really nothing but arbitrary demarcations between two sets of data. A protocol, take HTML for example, will encapsulate another glob of data, ASCII text, and thus interface with it. IP interfaces with the data it encapsulates by computing a checksum. But of course the data it encapsulates consists of other protocols, and others, all the way down. So, to structure data around a protocol is to make it an interface.IN WHAT WAYS DO SOCIAL PROTOCOLS AND IT PROTOCOLS BLEND?
I'm not sure I can answer that question because I'm not sure that "social protocols" exist, at least not in the way I like to think about protocol. Protocol is a material technology. It exists in the realm of machines and bodies. Any epiphenomenon in the social realm would better be understood by looking at the organization and control of the material realm instead. Computers have no "social" space for themselves, so I resist trying to discover one.WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE MOST INFLUENTIAL EXAMPLE OF BIOPOWER ON THE INTERNET AND WHY?
On the Internet? It would have to be the related technologies of collaborative filtering. It's stunning what a perfect iteration of Foucault's concept of biopower this is.WHAT EMERGING FORMS ARE OF HIGH IMPORTANCE ON THE PROTOCOLOGICAL RADAR?
Like any technology, protocol has ushered in new freedoms as well as new restrictions. The Internet protocols are good in the sense that they are always developed in an open, public forum. They are much less commercial in nature than proprietary technologies developed by companies like Microsoft.
But one of the things I say about the network protocols is that they are machines for eliminating diversity. They are universal standards, so by definition they must universalize, aggregate, globalize, standardize. There's a principle from the networking documents that sums up this philosophy: "be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others" (RFC 793). So for example, something like HTML "liberally" accepts a wide variety of different formats, computers, bandwidths, languages, etc, and "conservatively" displays them in a universally acceptable formatting scheme. Other protocological technologies do the same thing. So while the openness of protocols might be good, their totalizing tendencies are negative.
YOU ARE THE FOUNDER OF THE RADICAL SOFTWARE GROUP. WHAT ARE THEIR INTENTIONS? RSG
was founded in 2000 to create the work Carnivore
and release it into the public domain. The approach was to remove the shroud of secrecy surrounding the FBI surveillance software
of the same name and to experiment with more creative or artistic uses of network traffic. Since Carnivore, we've been experimenting a lot with video game systems, and have a new long term project in the works (code name: TW3).WHAT ARE THE CULTURAL RAMIFICATIONS OF SOFTWARE?
The biggest cultural ramification I see is that software is an *action* medium. Software does stuff. This is entirely different from literature, film, or other previous media. Kittler
has summarized this point by writing that code is the first type of language that does what it says. I agree with him. Software is a type of machine for converting meaning into action, something that I consider quite significant historically.
Now, please don't assume that such a change is altogether positive. Action is a fantastic tool for political resistance and change, but it is also being leveraged by the powers that be in radical and quite disturbing ways.Eugene Thacker
and I have recently been writing together on the concept of "interactive software" that caused so much excitement in the early days of digital media. Many today say that new media technologies are ushering in a new era of enhanced freedom and that technologies of control are waning. This is supposedly due to the bidirectional quality of interactivity. Eugene and I say
, on the contrary, that double the communication leads to double the control. Since interactive technologies such as the Internet are based on multidirectional rather than unidirectional command and control, we expect to see an exponential increase in the potential for exploitation and control through such techniques as monitoring, surveillance, biometrics, and gene therapy. At least the unidirectional media of the past were ignoring half the loop. At least television didn't really know if the home audience was watching or not. Today's media have closed the loop. They physically require the maintained, constant, continuous interaction of users. This is the political tragedy of interactive software. We are "treading water in the pool of liquid power," as Critical Art Ensemble
once put it.WHAT IS YOUR STANDPOINT IN THE SOFTWARE IS LITERATURE DEBATE?
I agree completely, and write about this in my book
. Literature scholars are simply too technophobic to acknowledge that code is a natural language, and should be studied with as much rigor as French or Latin or Japanese. If comp lit professors learned Perl it would be different, but mostly they just don't understand it. It's a huge black hole.TO WHAT EXTEND DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH HACKER CULTURE? DO YOU KNOW LISP? ~HEHE~
No I don't know LISP, which of course means I'm not a true hacker. But I can code 6502 assembly
!! Seriously, I identify quite strongly with the hacker ethic
, even if i'm not truly an insider in that scene. Hackers have a very original and radical perspective on technology, and i've always used what they do as inspiration. You might call RSG a hacker rip off group. For example, Carnivore is nothing but a new spin on the packet sniffer, a tool that hackers and sys admins have been using for years. But the flip side is that most hackers are quite unschooled when it comes to politics and cultural theory. (Of course I'm referring to traditional hackers, not hacktivists like Critical Art Ensemble
or the Yes Men
) So one of the goals of RSG is to bring a more political and theoretical sensitivity to hacker practice.
This interview was conducted by Stefan Hechenberger in summer 2004.
Alexander R. Galloway (New York, US) is an artist and computer programmer. As the founding member of the Radical Software Group (RSG), he is the creator of Carnivore, a networked surveillance tool based on the notorious FBI software of the same name. Carnivore has been exhibited internationally and won a Golden Nica at Ars Electronica 2002. Alex's first book, PROTOCOL, or, How Control Exists After Decentralization, was published in 2003 by The MIT Press.
Galloway is Assistant Professor of Media Ecology, Department of Culture and Communication at the New York University. His scholarly interests include: digital media, computer networks, software, new media art, video games, semiotics, film and video, critical theory.