The Software Arts
An alternative history of software that places the liberal arts at the very center of software's evolution.
In The Software Arts, Warren Sack offers an alternative history of computing that places the arts at the very center of software's evolution. Tracing the origins of software to eighteenth-century French encyclopedists' step-by-step descriptions of how things were made in the workshops of artists and artisans, Sack shows that programming languages are the offspring of an effort to describe the mechanical arts in the language of the liberal arts.
Sack offers a reading of the texts of computing—code, algorithms, and technical papers—that emphasizes continuity between prose and programs. He translates concepts and categories from the liberal and mechanical arts—including logic, rhetoric, grammar, learning, algorithm, language, and simulation—into terms of computer science and then considers their further translation into popular culture, where they circulate as forms of digital life. He considers, among other topics, the “arithmetization” of knowledge that presaged digitization; today's multitude of logics; the history of demonstration, from deduction to newer forms of persuasion; and the post-Chomsky absence of meaning in grammar. With The Software Arts, Sack invites artists and humanists to see how their ideas are at the root of software and invites computer scientists to envision themselves as artists and humanists.
“Warren Sack's creative thinking across the arts and sciences has kept my cyborg on her toes, provoked again and again to test out how to reinvent practices for thinking, designing, working, and playing together for less deadly worlds. Sack's historically attuned book investigates the folded zones linking the mechanical and liberal arts as new languages called programs have been built for emerging worlds. Rhetorics, epistemologies, and procedures are at stake in the digital media that shape and are shaped by the arts of computation. This is an important book about how things come to be in the workshops of the software arts that can never pretend to the separation of interpreting, making, and thinking.”
Donna Haraway, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of California, Santa Cruz
“'Detecting what is a bot and what is not may be a crucial question for the future of democracy.' This political sense of urgency is the surprising conclusion to Warren Sack's close reading of historical texts of computer science.”
Rudolf Frieling, Curator of Media Arts at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
"The Software Arts is an intellectually inspiring read that sees the arts and the humanities at the heart of computing and showcases the deep entanglement of culture and computing. Based on profound historical and philosophical research, Warren Sack's book demands that we look beyond the old story of computation as logic or purely mathematical interpretation to understand how software is shaping our digital life. He looks at us as makers of software instead of just users and thus stresses the importance for new methods and thinking to control the development of our 'computational conditions' instead of them controlling us.”
Sabine Himmelsbach, Director of HeK, House of Electronic Arts Basel
“At last, a book that argues that the very nature of programming is not a mere mechanical process that can be automated with Machine Learning techniques, but before all is an intense creative activity! I recommend it to any educated person of the digital age, since it clearly shows that software design requires a set of skills analogous to the liberal arts that, in their classical meaning, include logic, arithmetic, grammar, rhetoric, and, last but not least, music.”
Jean-Gabriel Ganascia, Professor of Computer Science at Sorbonne University; AI researcher; Chairman of the CNRS Ethical Committee