Do Algorithms Dream of “Data” Without Bodies?

My good friend Chris Till is organising a cool conference - Digital Health/Digital Capitalism. I submitted the following Abstract for consideration by the Conference Organisers:

Do Algorithms Dream of “Data” Without Bodies?

Abstract

L'esprit géometrique is ushering a new wave of method and thought in the way the avalanche of raw big data is to be harnessed to promote innovations and efficiencies in the health care industry. Algorithms are technological devices of inscription, which are themselves the direct product of not only ideological, political, technical and institutional forces but cultural and technological convergences between biosensor technologies and evolving human machine interactions. How do we begin to engage data protection rules when confronted with questions regarding the ethical implications of individuals being reimagined through bodies of data within the formal ontology of big data and algorithms? By focusing on the lexicon of classification, standardization and reification of persons, we can begin to understand the salience and primacy of the organizational logic of algorithms. The failure to recognize the indivisibility of data and its subjects is not a malaise that is to be consigned to the annals of 18th century orthodoxy, which elevated the rationality of particular forms of calculative devices. We see not dissimilar intuitions in data protection rules as policymakers continue to focus on the analytical distinctions between health information of bodies and bodies of health information when their efforts would be rewarded instead by reflecting on the ontologies of algorithms, which elide the justice claims of individuals to a right to the protection of their personal data. In an age of permissionless innovation, we may in our haste to embrace techniques of analysis, underestimate the fact that much of what constitutes knowledge of individuals, persons and things may be shaped by the “ontology of capture” and “grammar of action” of algorithms.