Accepted Paper:

Speculative diagrams: plotting to reclaim algorithmic prediction  


Betti Marenko (Central Saint Martins, UAL)
David Benque

Paper short abstract:

We open a conversation between design theory and practice to critically interrogate current modes of algorithmic prediction. We focus on diagramming as a way to understand the operational core of machine learning and to propose alternative strategies rooted in speculative methods and imagination.

Paper long abstract:

Our proposal brings together two approaches—design theory and design practice—to critically interrogate current modes of algorithmic prediction. We take the diagrammatic nature of machine learning as an entry/meeting point. This offers a design-driven understanding of computational prediction, and allows us to propose alternative strategies rooted in speculative methods, divinatory practices, and imaginative storytelling.

Machine learning algorithms operate in multi-dimensional mathematical space; they create knowledge through operations, comparisons, and transformations of vectorised data. The shape of this space—and therefore the scope of predictions that can be made from it—is constrained by the training data and by the wide range of statistical operations and linear algebra that machine learning performs. In this current scenario, causality is superseded by a correlation-based type of rationality that predicts (re-)occurrences of phenomena as literal 'patterns' rather than searching for causes and allowing for contingency. This process has profound implications for what counts as knowledge as it forecloses the space of potential—what might happen or might not happen.

By drawing on selected aspects of Deleuze's thought we discuss ways of 'diagramming' alternative narratives of these spaces of potential in order to reclaim algorithmic prediction as a productive mode of speculation; one that is able to predict radically new futures. The aim is to design (both in theory and in practice) a form of diagram-making that is liberating, enabling of the new and, crucially, able to actualize the very potential otherwise captured by contemporary apparatuses of algorithmic prediction.

Panel P062
Design Anthropology: Uniting experience and imagination in the midst of social and material transformation