22 years ago, I started studying law and philosophy at third level, while concurrently running mainframe applications across a VAX/VMS in the windowless computer rooms of what was then UCG, or University College, Galway, in Ireland. Since then, I’ve made my career in technology while maintaining a persistent interest in law, politics, and the state. Ten years or so ago, I completed a post grad in International Human Rights Law. Over the past several years, I have been slowly gestating a theory on technology and state, and the impact of technology on state legitimacy and perhaps even the rule of law. I considered a doctoral programme, but decided instead to commit to doing as much research as I can on the subject, while publishing my thinking on a website. This blog was established for that purpose.
Some of the questions I’m interested in are:
- As globalisation and liberal democratic structures spread around the world, interconnecting economies and sucking up state sovereignty into a virtual superstructure, how is the legitimacy of the state changing? If it is being eroded, are people becoming more or less free?
- As family, community and religious structures break down, and social interconnectedness changes dramatically, how does that change the way people organise themselves?
- As technology (particularly Big Data) makes us better able to measure, monitor and analyse social and political trends, what are the models that we should use to describe our society, and our political structures? Can we achieve Popper’s hypothesis: can we predict revolutions?
There are beginnings in the work of Fukuyama and Huntingdon; there are sources in psychology, history, sociology, law and politics. There is data from international organisations such as the UN and the OECD; but there is much, much more from Twitter, social networks, and the internet. We can measure personal sentiment, attachment and identity by simply turning our electronic eyes to the massive wall of data that is now becoming available on the Internet. And there, perhaps, lies a new science.
Finally, I should point out that the views expressed on this blog are entirely personal, and entirely unconnected with my employer, IBM.
Three years on, I’m back on the PhD route. I’ve decided to conduct a Masters by research in the School of Government in University College Cork beginning later in the year, with a view towards a PhD. The Masters will most likely deal with data protection regimes. I should probably think of a new site design!
The research has taken an interesting turn. In order to achieve the aims of political philosophy research in the context of a consumable qualitative research project, I have chosen the following subject for my thesis: ‘The Politics of Automation: Big Data Machines and the Prosecution of State Bureaucracy. An assessment of automated law enforcement in Ireland, and the barriers to extended automation.’ In essence, the proposition is that speed cameras and traffic monitoring, in combination with the automation of the judicial process, represent an example of an authoritarian technics, in the language of Lewis Mumford, an abdication of control to the machine, and a loss of fundamental freedom. This is not just the Weberian rational-legal bureaucracy as the machine, but an actual machine, often autonomous, and driven by big data. The work continues…