The Smartness Mandate
336 pp., 6 x 9 in, 50 b&w illus.
- Published: January 10, 2023
Over the last half century, "smartness"—the drive for ubiquitous computing—has become a mandate: a new mode of managing and governing politics, economics, and the environment.
Smart phones. Smart cars. Smart homes. Smart cities. The imperative to make our world ever smarter in the face of increasingly complex challenges raises several questions: What is this "smartness mandate"? How has it emerged, and what does it say about our evolving way of understanding—and managing—reality? How have we come to see the planet and its denizens first and foremost as data-collecting instruments?
In The Smartness Mandate, Orit Halpern and Robert Mitchell radically suggest that "smartness" is not primarily a technology, but rather an epistemology. Through this lens, they offer a critical exploration of the practices, technologies, and subjects that such an understanding relies upon—above all, artificial intelligence and machine learning. The authors approach these not simply as techniques for solving problems of calculations, but rather as modes of managing life (human and other) in terms of neo-Darwinian evolution, distributed intelligences, and "resilience," all of which have serious implications for society, politics, and the environment.
The smartness mandate constitutes a new form of planetary governance, and Halpern and Mitchell aim to map the logic of this seemingly inexorable and now naturalized demand to compute, illuminate the genealogy of how we arrived here, and point to alternative imaginaries of the possibilities and potentials of smart technologies and infrastructures.
“With precise focus and provocative paradoxes, The Smartness Mandate is written on behalf of the futures of planetary intelligence and how they might emerge from the present myopia.”
Benjamin Bratton, University of California, San Diego
“In a critical synthesis as constructive as it is sharp, Halpern and Mitchell deftly historicize and surgically demystify the data-driven 'smartness' that governs today's biopolitics, from options trading to 'resilient' cities. This book couldn't be more timely.”
Reinhold Martin, Columbia University; author of Knowledge Worlds: Media, Materiality, and the Making of the Modern University
“If you think digital technologies are 'smart,' think again. This book delves into the material underworlds and logics of smartness, bringing its agencies, operations, and outcomes into relief. Richly evocative and political, the book delivers a vital planetary warning.”
Lisa Parks, Distinguished Professor of Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara