the future is now

That’s the handout of the master course “The future is now. Exploring the role of sociotechnical imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology” I’m currently teaching at the Department of Science and Technology Studies (University of Vienna). The course is tightly connected to both my reasearch project “Algorithmic Imaginaries” and the special issue “We are on a mission” for New Media & Society I’m guest-editing together with Christian Katzenbach. It’s great to go through all kinds of imaginary concepts together with my students! Here’s the abstract:

Contents, aims and methods of course

Digital innovations such as artificial intelligence, blockchain technology or internet of things are driven by imaginaries of future societies. Future imaginaries are enacted to promote digital developments or legitimate certain modes of internet governance. Software providers, technology companies and legislators dig into the rich pool of cultural norms, visions and values to support (or question) digital tools, rules and regulations. Future prospects seem to be central for making decisions in the present. The future, however, is not only imagined, but also constructed, made and unmade in different constellations and contexts.

This course will focus on the role of sociotechnical imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology. We will discuss questions such as: How does science-fiction contribute to the shaping of future technologies? How do images and metaphors influence public and policy debates on digital technologies? What do sociotechnical imaginaries tell us about the co-production of digital technology and political order? How are cultural norms, visions and values embedded in software design and infrastructure? How can we study sociotechnical design practices and modes of internet governance? To answer these questions we will draw on theories and concepts from science and technology studies (STS) and critical new media studies. Theoretical discussions will be mixed with empirical work (e.g. analysis of a small selection of newspaper articles, online materials, interviews (1 or 2), experiments etc), which will lead to a small research project that students will present in class. In the seminar papers students will individually write an exposé for a research project, which can, but must not be related to the group work presented in class.

CfP – NM&S special issue

This is the CfP for the special issue in New Media & Society I guest-edit together with Christian Katzenbach: “We are on a mission”. Exploring the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology. All relevant information can be found here:

cfpWe’re already looking forward to your submissions!

junge akademie der öaw

This is great news! I’ve been nominated and elected as a new member of the Young Academy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences!! This is very prestigious and I fell very honoured!

Bildschirmfoto 2018-05-08 um 10.07.56Too bad I won’t be there for the official inauguration, which will take place on the 18th of May 2018 (we’re still in Berlin). But I’m sure I’ll catch up soon since there seem to be many meetings, jour fixes and workshops. More info to follow..


spring in Berlin

We are in Berlin! And the sun has come out! :)
I’ll be based at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society. I’m excited to be working with Christian Katzenbach and all the other great HIIG people. There are a couple of things I’ll be doing here – besides hanging out with the family and doing fancy Berlin stuff 😉

  1. Christian and I are organizing the workshop “We are on a mission”. Exploring the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology. We are happy about the awesome line-up and that Sally Wyatt will deliver a keynote. Given the great number and variety of submissions we’re also thinking about putting together a special issue on the matter. So stay tuned!
  2. I’ll be doing fieldwork! Two out of my three case studies on alternative search engines – the open web index and the peer-to-peer search engine YaCy – are based in Germany. I’ll take the opportunity to do interviews and, most probably, mind-scripting workshops with the developer teams (in cooperation with my ITA colleague Doris Allhutter). In addition, I’ll go to the Open Tech Summit to enjoy some more of the free software spirit. It always feels good to go right “into the field”.IMG_5243
  3. I’ll be talking about my habilitation project “Algorithmic Imaginaries. Visions and values in the shaping of search engines” (FWF) on various occasions. At the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society as part of their brown bag lunch series. At the Freie Universität Berlin, Human-Centered Computing, where Claudia Müller-Birn kindly invited me. Maybe – most probably not – at the Re:Publica where I got a rejection at the last minute (they call it “long list” since there is the option to drop in if someone else drops out; I’d call it waiting list..)
  4. Some other things are still to be explored.. It’s only week two.
  5. But the kids are alright..


internet governance as joint effort

Out now: my article “Internet governance as joint effort: (Re)ordering search engines at the intersection of global and local cultures” has just been published by New Media & Society. Or at least in its online first version! I’m very happy about it!! & welcome every feedback or commentary. Here’s the preprint version, if you don’t have access to the journal (or you just send me an email for the original version). yipiiiiehhhh :)


“we are on a mission”

This is great news! I’ll be based in Berlin at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) in April and May 2018!!! yay!

As part of this research stay Christian Katzenbach and I are organizing a workshop on the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology. It will take place on 27 April 2018 at the HIIG in Berlin. We are really happy that Sally Wyatt (Maastricht University) will hold a keynote!!

WeAreOnAMission_Banner_2See further details of the workshop here. If you’d like to participate in the workshop, please send an english language abstract (300-500 words) until 2 March 2018 (beware of the tight deadline!!!). We encourage you to also submit work-in-progress.

Please contact me if you have further questions! We’re looking forward to your contributions!

Here’s the full CfP:

“We are on a mission”. Exploring the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology

Call for Abstracts
Deadline: 02.03.2018


Friday, 27 April 2018

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

Französische Straße 9,

10117 Berlin, Germany

Keynote: Sally Wyatt (Maastricht University)

“We are on a mission to build a more open, accessible, and fair financial future, one piece of software at a time” promises the software platform Blockchain. “Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, without tired, drunk or distracted driving” envisions the self-driving car company Waymo (a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc.). “The Regulation is an essential step to strengthen citizens’ fundamental rights in the digital age and facilitate business by simplifying rules for companies in the Digital Single Market” claims the European Commission with regard to the General Data Protection Regulation.

These examples show how imaginaries of future societies are enacted to promote digital innovations or legitimate certain modes of internet governance. They illustrate how software providers, tech companies and legislators dig into the rich pool of cultural norms, visions and values to support (or question) digital tools, rules and regulations. Future prospects seem to be central for making decisions in the present.

What role do future imaginaries perform in the making and governing of present digital technology? How are they mobilised to push or oppose digital innovations such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain technology or open source/open data projects? How are prospective imaginaries shaped in policy discourses and governance practices regarding networked technology and global data flows? What significance do European specificities have in global technology imaginations? Can different mechanisms be identified in mainstream discourses and counter-narratives? What happens if future scenarios are contested and digital promises become contradictory?

Themes of the Workshop

These are central questions to be discussed in our workshop. We welcome theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions that help us understand how the future is mobilized to make and govern digital technology in the present.

The workshop is organized around three central themes:

  1. Theories and concepts to analytically grasp future visions and their roles in the making and governance of digital technology
  2. Methods and tools to analyze the nexus between future imaginations and their functions in and impact on policy-making and technology development
  3. Empirical research and case studies on future imaginaries and their roles in the making and governing of present digital technology


We welcome theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions from various disciplines that speak to the themes of the workshop. Please send an english language 300–500 word abstract including title that describes your contribution to the workshop. We encourage you to submit work-in-progress.

Abstracts are submitted via e-mail to before 2 March 2018. We will send out notifications on 13 March 2018.


Astrid Mager

Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA), Austrian Academy of Sciences
Elise Richter Fellow, Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project no. V511-G29

Christian Katzenbach
Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society



IMG_4876This year I had the pleasure to attend the 34C3 – Chaos Communication Congress – in Leipzig. Between Xmas and New Years Eve I gathered with 1500 (!) hackers, nerds and other great people in the Messe Leipzig, which is huge! Thanks to @toyear btw who sold one of his tickets; buying my own was impossible since there were only three particular dates for buying regular tickets and the contingent was sold out immediately.


The event was massive in all aspects. Large, glowing art works, huge assemblies of hacker communities, big speakers and wide audiences. I mainly attended to meet up with Michael Christen from the peer-to-peer search engine YaCy. Hanging out with him and Mario Behling – the two of them currently programming – was great fun! Altogether I got a really good insight in their work practices and the community at large. And: everyone was really friendly. Not fake friendly, I mean really friendly. And there were lots of kids too. To sum up, if you are interested in open tech, free software and hacking hardware that’s the place to go. Yes, the most useful thing I learnt there was lock picking!!


Weizenbaum (Internet) Institut

Hier ist mein Blog Post zum Weizenbaum Institut, der kürzlich am openTA Blog erschienen ist (mit Dank an Ulrich Riehm und René König fürs Gegenlesen!):

Weizenbaum-Institut: Wird sein Name Programm sein?

Was zunächst als „Deutsches Internet Institut“ firmierte, wurde nun offiziell „Weizenbaum-Institut für die vernetzte Gesellschaft“ genannt. Im Mai 2017 konnte sich die Berliner Bewerbung einer Ausschreibung des Bundesministeriums für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) gegenüber starker Konkurrenz durchsetzen. Im September wurde das Weizenbaum Institut der Öffentlichkeit präsentiert und kurz darauf öffnete es seine Pforten. Das Institut besteht aus einem Konsortium, das die Freie Universität Berlin, die Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, die Technische Universität Berlin, die Universität der Künste Berlin, die Universität Potsdam, das Fraunhofer-Institut FOKUS und das Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung umfasst. Bis zu 50 Millionen Euro an öffentlichen Geldern stehen zur Verfügung, um in den nächsten fünf Jahren die ersten Schritte festzulegen (finanziert durch das BMBF). Derzeit sind mehr als 30 DoktorandInnen- und PostdoktorandInnenstellen ausgeschrieben; über 100 Stellen sollen es insgesamt werden. In wie weit der Name des Instituts das Programm bestimmen wird, wird sich in den nächsten Jahren zeigen.

Joseph Weizenbaum

Joseph Weizenbaum (1923-2008) war ein deutsch-amerikanischer Informatiker (die jüdische Familie emigrierte 1936 von Bremen aus in die USA), der als einer der wichtigsten Väter der künstlichen Intelligenz (KI) betrachtet wird. 1966 stellte er das Computer-Programm Eliza vor, das natürliche Sprache erstmals rechnergestützt verarbeiten konnte. Eliza liefert nach wie vor die Grundlage für gegenwärtige Chat Bots, die menschliches Kommunikationsverhalten simulieren. In Form von Social Bots sind sie heute in aller Munde, wenn wir an hitzige Debatten zu Fake News und zum postfaktischen Zeitalter denken.

Weizenbaum war also ein Pionier der zunehmenden Vernetzung der physischen und der digitalen Welt. Dieses Zusammenspiel von Technik und Gesellschaft soll im Zentrum des neu geschaffenen Instituts stehen. In seiner Selbstbeschreibung liest sich das folgendermaßen: „Die Aufgabe des Weizenbaum-Instituts wird es sein, aktuelle gesellschaftliche Veränderungen, die sich im Zusammenhang mit der Digitalisierung abzeichnen, zu untersuchen und künftige politische und wirtschaftliche Handlungsoptionen zu skizzieren.“ Um sich dieser Aufgabe zu stellen, wurden sechs konkrete Forschungsbereiche definiert: Arbeit, Innovation und Wertschöpfung; Vertrag und Verantwortung auf digitalen Märkten; Wissen, Bildung und soziale Ungleichheit; Demokratie, Partizipation und Öffentlichkeit; Governance und Normsetzung; Technikwandel.

Grundlagenforschung und Lösungen

Betont wird dabei der zentrale Charakter der Grundlagenforschung, wobei die „Exploration konkreter Lösungen“ ebenfalls auf dem Programm stehen soll. Als Teil der Digitalen Agenda der Bundesregierung wurde das Institut schon in seiner Ausschreibung als lösungsorientiert beschrieben. So weist Frau Schieferdecker, eine der drei GründungsdirektorInnen, in einem TAZ Interview zwar auf die „zunehmenden Risiken einer digitalen Vernetzung“ hin, meint aber gleichzeitig „viele Bedenken werden aus Unwissenheit oder aufgrund von fehlendem Verständnis überinterpretiert“. Dementsprechend beschreibt Frau Schieferdecker als eine zentrale Aufgabe des Instituts, „das Verständnis für den digitalen Wandel zu stärken“ .

Diese Haltung erinnert an das in der Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung beschriebene „Defizitmodell“, das mangelndes Vertrauen in techno-wissenschaftliche Entwicklungen in einem Defizit an Wissen begründet sieht. Wissenschaft und Technik selbst werden dabei nicht hinterfragt. Zahlreiche Forschungen haben auf Grenzen dieses Modells hingewiesen und gezeigt, dass das Verhältnis von Techno-Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit viel komplexer ist. Demnach sei eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit Wissenschaft und Technik erforderlich, die nicht allein durch Information und Aufklärung, sondern vielmehr durch Dialog und Partizipation erreicht werden kann (z.B. Michael 1992, Wynne 1992). Ganz im Sinne von Weizenbaum, der später als strenger Kritiker von gedankenloser Computergläubigkeit in die Geschichte der Informatik einging. So warnte er bereits 1972 in seinem ZEIT Aufsatz „Albtraum Computer“ vor blindem Vertrauen in Computertechnik und künstliche Intelligenz. Seit Weizenbaum beobachtet hatte, dass Menschen seinem Computer-Programm „Doctor“, das ein Gespräch mit einem Psychologen simulierte, intimste Details anvertrauten und als Ersatz für einen menschlichen Therapeuten betrachteten, forderte er einen kritischen Umgang mit Computern ein. In seinem Buch „Die Macht der Computer und die Ohnmacht der Vernunft“ (1978) rief er demnach dazu auf „Wissenschaft und Technik rational einzusetzen, statt sie zu mystifizieren“.

Kritische Aspekte?

In Zeiten von Machine Learning, Big Data Analysen und algorithmusgestützter Vermessung von Wissen, Arbeit und Körperdaten bleibt zu hoffen, dass sich das neu gegründete Institut auch mit kritischen Fragestellungen auseinandersetzen wird, selbst wenn diese wirtschaftlichen und politischen Interessen zuwiderlaufen sollten. Die öffentliche Finanzierung ist begrüßenswert in diesem Zusammenhang und unterscheidet das Weizenbaum Institut von anderen Institutionen wie dem Leistungszentrum Digitale Vernetzung, dem Einstein Center Digital Future oder dem Alexander von Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft, die ebenfalls in Berlin angesiedelt sind.

Rechtliche, ethische, gesellschaftliche und ökonomische Aspekte der Digitalisierung „unabhängig und interdisziplinär“ erforschen zu wollen ist ein guter Anfang. Ob heikle Themen wie Quasi-Monopolstellungen im Internet, Kommerzialisierung von Wissen und persönlichen Daten, neue Formen von Ausbeutung durch digitale Arbeit oder die Gefährdung von Grundrechten durch US-Amerikanische Technologiekonzerne in diese Forschungsagenda einfließen werden, bleibt abzuwarten. Wichtig erscheint mir jedoch Weizenbaums Worte an dieser Stelle noch einmal in Erinnerung zu rufen: „Wir müssen einsehen, dass die Technologie unser Traum ist und dass wir es sind, die schließlich entscheiden, wie er enden wird.“

Bild: From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

(un)making europe

greek-1289076_1920Tomorrow I’ll be going to the conference by the European Sociological Association in Athens. The conference theme is (Un)Making Europe. Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities. I’ll be giving a talk on the co-production of search technology and a European identity in the session “information technologies & society” organized by Harald Rohracher. It’s related to my article “search engine imaginary” that got published in Social Studies of Science just recently. It’s pretty unusual for me to give a talk about finished work, but I thought I had to submit something since this research corresponds to the overall conference topic so well. 😉

Here’s the conference abstract and the link to the full paper:

(Un)Making Europe in the Context of Search Engine Policy

This article discusses the co-production of search technology and a European identity in the context of the EU data protection reform. The negotiations of the EU data protection legislation ran from 2012 until 2015 and resulted in a unified data protection legislation directly binding for all European member states. I employ a discourse analysis to examine EU policy documents and Austrian media materials related to the reform process. Using the concept ‘sociotechnical imaginary’, I show how a European imaginary of search engines is forming in the EU policy domain, how a European identity is constructed in the envisioned politics of control, and how national specificities contribute to the making and unmaking of a European identity. I discuss the roles that national technopolitical identities play in shaping both search technology and Europe, taking as an example Austria, a small country with a long history in data protection and a tradition of restrained technology politics.


liquid music

liquid-titelbild-94That was fun! Katja Mayer and I attended Liquid Music in Wies (Styria) this year and we took the opportunity to try out something new. Instead of presenting societal implications of biofeedback 2.0, we performed as “good bot & bad bot”. Following the logic of our written essay – yes, there’s a book too! – we personalized both euphorical (good) and critical (bad) socio-political implications of biofeedback out of the pocket; e.g. health apps, wearables etc. While doing this, we visualized our own biofeedback data with an installation by alien productions (Martin Breindl, Norbert Math, Andrea Sodomka) = Autoregulative Spaces. The Quantified Self, the core piece of the whole event.

Here‘s the link to the full program of the festival!

Foto 10.06.17, 11 04 09

Given the fun we had and the great feedback we got, we’re currently thinking about advancing and refining out bot performance.. so stay tuned!