︎ Forensics and Finance: Metadata Resolution and the Performativity of Finance

March 11, 2022

In this talk, I will take a specific event in financial market history (the Flash Crash on May 6, 2010) as an example to ask what an investigative, forensic approach can deliver to elucidate an algorithmic black box, and where it fails. To address some of the implications of this “abyss of technowledge,” I will, on the one hand, outline the history of (derivative) finance as a paradigmatic data-driven field since the 1960s (“the derivative condition”), and, on the other, address its wider applications and consequences on data-driven technocapitalism. In An Anatomy of an AI System, Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler argue that “every single form of biodata, including forensic, biometrics, sociometric and psychometric is right now being captured and logged.” Referring to this as a “violent hierarchy” they conclude that ”in an era of extractivism, the real value of that data is controlled and exploited by the very few at the top of the pyramid. […] The interpretation of images constitutes an exercise of asymmetrical power” (2019). Already in 2009, the artist and theorist Hito Steyerl, in In Defence of the Poor Image, refers to technological asymmetry by stating that “the contemporary hierarchy of images [...] is not only based on sharpness, but also and primarily resolution.” Consequently, I argue, conventional frameworks of critique, which express dissent from a systemic outside, increasingly come to nothing and lose agency. The issue with technocapitalism today goes deeper than the qualities of what is visible, and thus its power of persuasion. This includes the image because it is not about how much we see, but what we see in the first place. The “value defined by velocity, intensity, and spread” (Steyerl, 2009) has reached a level of hypercompetition in which the race to advantage (i.e., the race to monopoly) unfolds far below what the term image still transports, even if it is technically produced: material in the scope of human perception. What if we therefore made a seemingly paradoxical move and examine resolution as the engine of non-transparency proper, a technowledge deployed to obscure the field of view as such. If the black box is an apparatus that captures deeply outside and beyond rich or poor resolution, we might have to acknowledge that many of our critical frameworks fail today. Here, the pressing question arises whether resolution and its semiotic field can be recaptured and activated counterperformatively against architectures of systemic asymmetry and non-transparency. What I would like to propose in this respect is a necessarily twofold approach which aims to transform the agency of resistance from outside critique to insurrection from the inside out: “poietics of resolution” in alliance with “renegade activism.”

(Gerald Nestler)