Berggruen Institute Announces Antikythera to Explore the Impact of Planetary-Scale Computation

LOS ANGELES (October 5, 2022) – Today the Berggruen Institute announced that it will incubate Antikythera, an initiative focused on understanding and shaping the impact of computation on philosophy, global society, and planetary systems. Antikythera will engage a wide range of thinkers at the intersections of software, speculative thought, governance, and design to explore computation’s ultimate pitfalls and potentials. Research will range from the significance of machine intelligence and the geopolitics of AI to new economic models and the long-term project of composing a healthy planetary society.

“Against a background of rising geopolitical tensions and an accelerating climate crisis, technology has outpaced our theory. As such, we are less interested in applying philosophy to the topic of computation than generating new ideas from a direct encounter with it.” said Benjamin Bratton, Professor at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the new program. “The purpose of Antikythera is to reorient the question “what is computation for?” and to model what it may become. That is a project that is not only technological but also philosophical, political, and ecological.”

Antikythera will begin this exploration with its Studio program, applications for which are now open. The Studio program will take place over five months in spring 2023 and bring together researchers from across the world to work in multidisciplinary teams. These teams will work on speculative design proposals, and join 75+ Affiliate Researchers for workshops, talks, and design sprints that inform thinking and propositions around Antikythera’s core research topics. Affiliate Researchers will include philosophers, technologists, designers, scientists, and other thinkers and practitioners. Applications for the program are due November 11, 2022.

Program project outcomes will include new combinations of theory, cinema, software, and policy. The five initial research themes animating this work are:

·      Synthetic Intelligence: the longer-term implications of machine intelligence, particularly as seen through the lens of artificial language

·      Hemispherical Stacks: the multipolar geopolitics of planetary computation

·      Recursive Simulations: the emergence of simulation as an epistemological technology, from scientific simulation to VR/AR

·      Synthetic Catallaxy: the ongoing organization of computational economics, pricing, and planning

·      Planetary Sapience: the evolutionary emergence of natural/artificial intelligence, and its role in composing a viable planetary condition

The program is named after the Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s first known computer, used more than 2,000 years ago to predict the movements of constellations and eclipses decades in advance. As an origin point for computation, it combined calculation, orientation and cosmology, dimensions of practice whose synergies may be crucial in setting our planetary future on a better course than it is on today. 

Bratton continues, “The evolution of planetary intelligence has also meant centuries of destruction; its future must be radically different. We must ask, what future would make this past worth it? Taking the question seriously demands a different sort of speculative and practical philosophy and a corresponding sort of computation.”

Bratton is a philosopher of technology and Professor at the University of California, San Diego, and author of many books including The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (MIT Press). His most recent book is The Revenge of the Real: Politics for a Post-Pandemic World (Verso Books), exploring the implications for political philosophy of COVID-19. Associate directors are Ben Cerveny, technologist, speculative designer, and director of the Amsterdam-based Foundation for Public Code, and Stephanie Sherman, strategist, writer, and director of the MA Narrative Environments program at Central St. Martins, London. The Studio is directed by architect and creative director Nicolay Boyadjiev.

In addition to the Studio, program activities will include a series of invitation-only planning salons inviting philosophers, designers, technologists, strategists, and others to discuss how to best interpret and intervene in the future of planetary-scale computation, and the historic philosophical and geopolitical force that it represents. These salons began in London in October 2022 and will continue in locations across the world including in Berlin; Amsterdam; Los Angeles; San Francisco; New York; Mexico City; Seoul; and Venice.

The announcement of Antikythera at the Berggruen Institute follows the recent spinoff of the Transformations of the Human school, successfully incubated at the Institute from 2017-2021.

“Computational technology covering the planet represents one of the largest and most urgent philosophical opportunities of our time,” said Nicolas Berggruen, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Berggruen Institute. “It is with great pleasure that we invite Antikythera to join our work at the Institute. Together, we can develop new ways of thinking to support planetary flourishing in the years to come.”

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