Mark Shepard – There Are No Facts, Attentive Algorithms, Extractive Data Practices, and the Quantification of Everyday Life


The MIT Press, ISBN 978-0262047470, English, 284 pages, 2022, USA

The famous Shannon-Weaver model revealed noise as a crucial disturbance in a communication channel. The role of noise now seems to have been replaced by bias in machine-based, distributed or generated communication. The predominance of narrative, or rather emotion over fact, is explored in detail and with scholarly care in this book. The ‘epistemic conundrum’ created by global marketing and propaganda strategies through the ‘algorithm’ creates what Shepard defines as ‘statistical imaginaries’. Divided into two parts (practices and contexts) and nine agile chapters, the book addresses the issues surrounding the trust we place in maps; the data stored in the cloud that builds our reputational economy; the invasion of domestic space by virtual assistants; the AmazonGo model for defining a neighbourhood based on shopping data, which can be expanded to a larger part of a city (New York’s Hudson Yards) or fail miserably (Sidewalk Toronto); psychometric microtargeting to mobilise the US and UK electorates; and democratic biopolitics during Covid 19. ‘Attentive algorithms’ compensate for the need to deal with unprecedented levels of uncertainty, with uncertainty technically based on the transience and ubiquity of the digital. Titled after Nietzsche’s famous statement and richly illustrated, this is a manual for intellectual self-defence.