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Communications of the ACM


The Infrapolitics of Algorithmic Resistance

red wagon filled with cellphones

Credit: Simon Weckert

There is growing concern about the power algorithms play in contemporary societies, which has led to debates about how to deal with these artifacts of power.5 Regulation, governance, transparency, and ethical AI have become buzzwords in the agenda about possible restraints on the algorithmic power. Less attention has been paid, however, to everyday forms of resistance enacted by lay citizens. These forms of resistance are often seen as banal, rudimentary, and void of political strategy to face the overwhelming and ubiquitous nature of this power, but they are the way citizens often choose as a form of friction to algorithms.

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The Power of Algorithms and the Infrapolitics of Everyday Resistance

It should be clear, from the start, that the power of algorithms is complex. It derives from their capacity to affect, in different ways, individual behaviors, shaping broader collective outcomes, in often opaque ways.1 Algorithms are somehow in the background of arenas of interaction, shaping the contexts of action in tacit ways. An important dimension of the power of algorithms is of particular interest here: It is clear that defining individuals accurately and situating them within clusters is central to the way the power of algorithms is enacted. This need to know/define individuals represents a specific type of computational mediation pervading humans' endless processes of becoming. Algorithms tend to foster forms of identification that paradoxically crystallize and reinforce who (they assume) we are.


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