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Hemispherical Stacks

The multipolar geopolitics of planetary computation

The multipolarization of geopolitics and the multipolarization of planetary computation are the same thing

The emergence of planetary scale computation – and the accidental megastructure of The Stack - is a foundational infrastructure of global society and yet in recent years has fragmented into increasingly enclosed domains. 

Geopolitical dynamics today revolve around computation: hardware, software, networks, and cultural interpretations of digital forms. Data, and more importantly the right to model it, is now a sovereign substance, something over which and from which sovereignty is claimed.

Cloud platforms take on roles traditionally performed by modern states, crossing national borders and oceans, conversely states are evolving into cloud platforms. The geopolitical tensions that arise in the friction between these shifts frames the prospects of planetary governance.

From Chip Wars to GDPR, this marks a shift toward a more multipolar architecture, hemispheres of influence, and the multipolarization of planetary scale computation into Hemispherical Stacks. These segment and divide the planet into sovereign computational systems extending from energy and mineral sourcing, intercontinental transmission, and cloud platforms to addressing systems, interface cultures and different politics of the “user.” 

Ultimately, the multipolarization of geopolitics and the multipolarization of planetary computation are the same thing.

This is both exciting and dangerous. It implies both Galapagos effects of regional cultural diversity but also  artificially encap sulated information cultures. For geotechnology just as for geopolitics, “digital sovereignty”  is an idea beloved both by democracies and authoritarians.

The ascendance of high end chip manufacturing to the pinnacle of strategic plans — in the US and in the China Strait — is exemplary, and corresponds with the removal of Chinese equipment from Western networks, the removal of Western platforms from Chinese mobile phones, and so on. Economies are defined by interoperability and delinking.  But the situation extends further up the stack. The militarization of financial networks in the form of sanctions, the data driven weaponization of populism, and the reformulation of “citizen” as a “private user with personal data”all testify to deeper shifts.

In some ways these parallel historical shifts in how new technologies alter societal institutions in their image, and yet the near term and long term future of planetary computation as a political technology is uncertain. Antikythera seeks to model these futures pre-emptively, drawing maps of otherwise uncharted waters. 

Antikythera focuses on several emerging areas of Hemispherical Stacks research:

Chip Wars: adversarial computation supply-chains

Sovereign Data: production of data as sovereign claim

Astropolitics: extraplanetary sending and computation

Foundational Models: AI as national security resource

Cloud States: Delinking territory and governance

Stories and Scenarios: near-term futures mapping

Upcoming WORKING GROUP

Futures of Multipolar Computation
Virtual Working Group

hemispherical stacks

Hemispherical Stacks Virtual Working Group

April – OCTOBER 2024

Online

Antikythera will host a virtual working group for advanced researchers and writers working across technology, philosophy, political science, international relations, geopolitics, science fiction, and other fields. Participants will receive a stipend and attend a total of 8 online sessions.

Application Deadline

April 12th

Cohort Confirmed

end of april

Scenarios for Computational Geopolitics

Of all the geopolitical relations most defined by the segmentation of Hemispherical Stacks, the growing tension between and delinking of the United States and China is perhaps the most critical. We believe that the ongoing emergence of planetary computation need not be monolithic nor overly militarized.

As part of the Antikythera book series with MIT Press, Antikythera Director Benjamin Bratton  and renowned science-fiction author, Chen Qiufan, are presently editing a book of near-term Hemispherical Stacks futures scenarios, original short science fiction stories, and critical essays on the state of adversarial planetary computation by both Western and Asian authors. 

Antikythera and Berggruen China Center hosted a workshop at the Stanford Center at Peking University in Beijing in 2022 to initiate the work and commissions.  Studio Researchers collaborated with over a dozen of the top Chinese and East Asian science-fiction authors to create over 60 very short stories and near-futures scenarios.  The texts produced in the workshop were concurrently visualized with AI image making tools.

HEMISPHERICAL STACKS SALON

APRIL 2023

Beijing

Antikythera hosted a Hemispherical Stacks Salon that brought together science fiction writers, philosophers and technologists, researchers and research affiliates to explore the research topics related to four Hemispherical Stacks subthemes. The workshop was co-curated with Berggruen Fellow and science fiction writer Chen Qiufan. It included a day of lectures and thought sessions, and a day of developing short science fiction scenarios using AI tools.

Multipolar Hemispherical Stacks

Looking toward the 22nd century, it becomes clearer that the geopolitics to come and the planetary computational infrastructures with which they operate are, in fact and practice, not two separate things. They are different names we use for deeply interwoven socio-technical processes.. Even a decade ago such a statement probably would have seemed closer to science-fiction than political science. Now even the conservative disciplines of Law and International Relations accept that planetary computation is more than a domain over which normal sovereignty rules; it constitutes a form of sovereignty in itself.”

“Again the production of new territories occurs as much if not more by how states absorb functions of the cloud and indeed become cloud platforms than the inverse. So instead of presuming that new spaces are developed in opposition to the state we see that states are producing new territories and are perhaps the most important innovators. In recent years, the planetary reach of computation is even more granular and even more global, but it also has cohered into irregular and sometimes antagonistic consolidations, federations and geopolitical alliances. We see then the emergence of not one global Stack but a mitosis of the stack genera into a regime of multipolar hemispherical versions; it is an emergent geographic governing technology for which the steerage of the state, even if if unbound by Westphalian borders, is paramount. In time, however, that may not be the case as other forms of authority -centralized or decentralized- assume decisive places.”

“By focusing only on how this apparatus supervises individual users is to miss a fundamental function as a logistical form. It works on the street through a vibrant mobile electronics craft culture infamous for its rapid innovation and it works at the scale of the state’s grand initiatives such as Belt and Road, which would carry that street (and that textured apparatus) all the way West. That extension is a source of concern over China for Stack geopolitics, and one way that concern plays out is through the hemispherical filtering of hardware as a way to filter software. As China blocks Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc. other hemispheres make similar moves. In the United States, major Chinese phone manufacturers such as Xiaomi and Huawei cannot get carriers to sell devices, and hard and soft restrictions on Chinese electronics in sensitive infrastructure are increasing. Server/data localization in Chinese territory (by Apple for example) and search services that comply with state content control (by Google for example) are targets for criticism in the US by nationalists and human rights advocates alike.”

“In the long run, AI may drive more volatility not just by the weaponization of algorithms in an explicitly military context, but also over claims over the data that trains any robust AI system. Just as for Europe, the zero-sum “extraction” conception of data is artificial, but that does not mean that fortification of physical access to the people, places and things necessary to model and construct AI at the scale of hemispherical stacks will not be more strongly securitized. As AI are trained only on the data they are given, and as the data they are given is that which is hemispherically accessible, then a side-effect of AI geopolitics potentially is Galapagos effect whereby AI evolve in relation to geographically circumscribed information ecologies. Here the potential for regional-scale Potemkin ontologies is carried with the momentum of algorithmic arms races.”

HEMISPHERICAL STACKS LECTURE

2017

Benjamin H. Bratton

The term “Hemispherical Stacks” comes from a 2017 lecture by Antikythera director, Benjamin Bratton at Haus Kulturen de Welt in Berlin. Subsequently, it was the theme for the Guangzhu Trienniel and the basis of the book, Vertical Atlas (edited by L. Dellanoce; A. Khalaf; K. Kuitenbrouwer; N. Nyabola; R. Roukens; A. Steiner; M. You).

“Despite the integrity of mutual integration, planetarity cannot be imagined in opposition to plurality, especially as the latter term is now over-associated with the local, the vernacular, and with unique experiences of historical past(s). That is, while we may look back on separate pasts that may also set our relations, we will inhabit conjoined futures. That binding includes a universal history, but not one formulated by the local idioms of Europe, or China, or America, or Russia, nor by a viewpoint collage of reified traditions and perspectives, but by the difficult coordination of a common planetary interior. It is not that planetary-scale computation brought the disappearance of the outside; it helped reveal that there never was an outside to begin with.”

Cloud Megaregionalization

2023

Sara Drake, Noya Kohavi, Sarah Olimpia Scott & Julian Siravo

The emergence and profound implications of planetary computation as a foundation for new geopolitical landscapes.

What is the impact of the stack on regional planning and development? How are the geopolitics of chip manufacturing, land and resource allocation and  the political geographies of border economics related to the broader hemisphericalization of digital infrastructures?

Planetary Counter-Simulation

2023

Daniel Barcay, Sara Drake, Sarah Olimpia Scott & Imran Sekalala

The multilateral deployment of planetary-scale simulations, and the techniques used to distort and degrade the simulations of other actors.

What happens after the Chinese balloon episode? As planetary computation becomes extraplanetary through sensors, satellites and stations beyond the Karman Line, in what ways does the geopolitics of Earth observation systems track the long-term competitive evolution of simulation and counter-simulation?

Futures of Multipolar
Computation

Hemispherical Stacks
Virtual Working Group
May – December 2024

Application Timeline

Application Open

JANUARY 25TH

Application Deadline

April 12th

Cohort Confirmed

end of april

Application REQUIREMENTS

① 1–2 Page CV
② 1–2 Page Description of Research Interest(s)
③ 2 Recent Work Samples
④ Application Form

The Working Group will be held virtually. Participants receive a stipend and will attend a total of 8 online sessions.

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The shift toward multipolar geopolitics and the segmentation of planetary computation into hemispherical stacks not only track one another; they are the same phenomenon. 

As part of the Hemispherical Stacks research area, Antikythera is launching an interdisciplinary virtual working group comprised of 12–20 selected researchers who will meet monthly between May and December 2024 to think through key themes and work on potential near-term future scenarios that involve a number of issues related to planetary computation and geopolitics. 

Participants will include writers and researchers with expertise in technology, international relations, science-fiction, design, geopolitics, law, and any other relevant areas who will be evolving research and scenario development that takes the form of presentations, papers, and other media projects. Each working group participant will be supported with a research stipend. Outcomes may be included in one or more of Antikythera’s publication platforms with MIT Press.

Research Topics

The Futures of Multipolar Computation working group will focus on the following topics:

Sovereign Data

From apps to routers to climate monitoring, state sovereignty is not only claimed over data, increasingly it is derived from the claim: the state is that which reserves the right to produce, aggregate, protect, and model data about particular people, places and things. Is the state that which models the model, or is the model that which gives shape to the state?

Foundational Models

The 2010’s were filled with AI white papers declaring the technologies to be central to geopolitical ambition. It was declared a force for “competitive peace”. Now large foundational models, from GPT-4 to Tongyi Qianwen, are poised to upend and/or solidify these plans. Antikythera’s axiom: AI is less a tool of industrial policy than industrial policy is a tool of AI.

Chip Wars

The geopolitical architecture of the moment hinges on the relays from materials mining to the design of the machines that design the machines to the precarious perch on which less than a dozen companies hold together the self-replication of planetary computation. The next decade is dedicated to the replication of this replication supply chain itself, the race to build better stacks.

Astropolitics

The Chinese spy balloon that caused such alarm in the USA in 2022 was an artifact from the astropolitical future. Planetary computation becomes Extraplanetary computation and back again. The high ground is now beyond the Karman Line, the territory dotted with satellites looking inward and outward. If geopolitics is now driven by the governance of model simulations then the seat of power is the view from anywhere.

Cloud States

The modern State has always been an information producing, modeling, storage, and deployment institution, which is no less true in the age of cloud-and-client architectures. Indeed from Estonia’s e-citizenship to Chinese and American super-jurisdiction to various schemes for digital secession, the future of the State is one that is defined not only by territorial borders but also the more ubiquitous reach of planetary computation.

INSTITUTIONAL FUTURISM

Scenario planning has long been a favored technique of institutional futurism, whereas science-fiction represents a more literary  form, each working with different constraints. The former seeks to reduce ambiguity in decision making, the latter seeks to cultivate ambiguity in understanding possibilities and contingencies. Between the two is a hybrid genre that frames and clarifies unexpected, compelling near-future scenarios for Hemispherical Stacks.

Applications

Experts from diverse professional backgrounds (including international relations researchers, speculative designers, political theorists, science-fiction writers, computation and society scholars, and others) interested in applying to the Hemispherical Stacks Virtual Working Group should submit a 1-2 page description sharing their research interest(s), along with a 1-2 page CV, and 2 recent work samples in the Application Form.

Applications will run until April 12th 2024. Selected applicants will be interviewed and notified of their participation in the working group by late April, with an introductory session in early May. The working group will be held virtually and there will be a total of 8 working group sessions hosted from May to December. Each session will be 90 minutes to 2 hours, starting with scheduled presentations with each working group participant taking a turn over the span of the year. Working Group Participants will receive 2000 USD for their active participation in the 8 sessions and development of related research. For any additional inquiries, contact us

Some of the outcomes of the working group may evolve into interactive, rich media essays for Antikythera’s online journal and/or scenario-driven essays to be included in a book on Hemispherical Stacks for MIT Press co-edited by Antikythera director, Benjamin Bratton, and science-fiction author, Chen Qiufan. The book will be unique in its merger of science fiction and scenarios driven by philosophy of technology, planetary computation and its intersection with geopolitics. Rather than science fiction or scenarios focused on individuals or human-driven experiences, essays will explore how science fiction will embed in geopolitical technologies that inform and are informed by infrastructure, environment, politics, and material substrates at a social, planetary, technological, and philosophical level.

Application Timeline

Application Deadline

April 12th

Cohort Confirmed

end of april

Application REQUIREMENTS

① 1–2 Page CV
② 1–2 Page Description of Research Interest(s)
③ 2 Recent Work Samples
④ Application Form

The Working Group will be held virtually. Participants receive a stipend and will attend a total of 8 online sessions.

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