shannon mattern data bodies

When civic action is reduced to data provision, the citizen can perform her public duties from the privacy of a car or bedroom. If her convictions and preferences can be gleaned through an automated survey of her browser history, network analysis of her social media contacts, and sentiment analysis of her texts and emails, she needn’t even go to the trouble of answering a survey or filling out a ballot. Yet she has no idea how an artificially intelligent agent discerns “what” kind of subject she is, how it calculates her risk of heart attack or recidivism, or how those scores impact her insurance premiums and children’s school assignments.

The methods by which publics and public spheres become visible — to one another and to the sensors that read them — reflect the interests and ideologies of their sponsors. At the same time, these databody projects remind us that public health is a critical precondition for, and should be a regular subject of debate within, the public sphere.

agnes cameron