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Capital as Computation & Cognition: From Babbage’s Factory to Google’s Algorithmic Governance

Seminar syllabus [draft, in progress]

New Centre for Research and Practice, 3-24 March 2015.

Enroll –›

Instructor: Matteo Pasquinelli –›


Since the times of Smith, Ricardo and Marx, if not for even longer, capital has functioned as a form of computation constituted by and as a complex mathematical system. As Simondon noticed, the industrial machine was already an informational relay, that was separating the source of energy (nature) from the source of information (the human). After WWII the numeric essence of capital has been coupled with the informational dimension of cybernetics and computing machines, while also subsuming emergent forms of augmented intelligence. Capitalism, as a form of accounting and as an exterior mnemonic technique, is in itself a form of transhuman intelligence. Cognitive capitalism, Specifically, on the basis of its infonumeric procedures, from layman’s accounting to sophisticated algotrading, as well as from immaterial labour to scientific research, is an institution of computation.

The aim of the seminar is twofold: on the one hand, it will provide an introduction to some critical keywords (such as abstract labour, general intellect, cybernetic loop, calculation problem, immaterial labour, cognitive capitalism, augmented intelligence, computational limit, etc.) and to more recent debates around the technological form (on Accelerationism and algorithmic governance, for instance). On the other hand, the seminar wants to provide a compact and accurate bibliography about the canonical approaches to the relation between capital, technology, knowledge and labour. A specific attention will be given to the precise historical contexts in which fundamental ideas were originated and crucial books published. All the bibliographies are therefore compiled in chronological order to make genealogies and the circulation of ideas more comprehensible (and to clarify also epic misunderstandings, weak intepretations and harsh criticism).

The seminar in structured in four parts that correspond roughly to four different historical periods and to their relative types of machinic assemblage. The seminar aims to illuminate each historical moment according to a specific composition of the three variables: capital, computation and cognition. The first technological assemblage to be covered is Marx’s industrial machine, that inaugurated the bifurcation between energy and information. The second one is the cybernetic machine, distinguished by the feedback loop system and by the first experiments at the scale of national economy. Third, the Turing machine more in general will be taken as the basic diagram of cognitive capitalism and the network society and as the terrain of a further bifurcation, that is of the split between data and metadata. Fourth, algorithms for data mining will be discussed as models of the last stage of capitalism and its algorithmic governance, marking the passage from metadata to a global machinic intelligence.

Each seminar presents two or three historical and fundamental texts that are selected from a general bibliography. Documents that will be discussed during the seminar are underlined in bold and marked with an arrow (it is mandatory to read only the texts marked with an arrow: titles in bold are highly recommended). At the end of the seminar, students will be asked to pick up one text or more and to reconstruct how the diagram of the composition of capital/computation/cognition emerges in a specific author or historical moment, or to propose new trajectories of analysis.


As a general introduction to the seminar is recommended the reading of:

➡ Pasquinelli, Matteo (2014) “Italian Operaismo and the Information Machine“, Theory, Culture

and Society, first published 2 February 2014.

➡ Pasquinelli, Matteo (2014) “Augmented Intelligence”, in: Critical Keywords for the Digital

Humanities, Lüneburg: Leuphana university, 2014.



‘Human Herbs’ – a song by Cold Hands & Quarter Moon:

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

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Glenn Rikowski @ ResearchGate:

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