The Tsunami of Quantification Will Not Be Visible

Around us there are changes, gradual at first but then bursting into visibility and demanding explanation. At our place of work, and in seeking public services, the reader will have noted the use of points and metrics, a more aggressive focus on the bottom line and an increasing use of digital platforms to make decisions. In this, you may be aided by a diffuse feeling of discomfort, a sense that one’s job is somehow being hollowed out. There is a subtle shift away from the realities of work and towards its mere appearance. We now game targets instead of fulfilling core organisational purposes, we communicate in vacuous instrumental business-speak and evaluate our actions with measurements and numbers that defy common sense. Increasingly, in both the private and public sectors, everything is counted, rated, ranked and calculated, and a thick cloying mud of pointless administrative froth intrudes upon our daily lives.

This is the first visible effect of the tsunami of quantification that now approaches. When the wave finally breaks, what has been destroyed will become invisible. Pressing concerns are therefore to show (i) how quantification abstracts (ii) what social processes are driving the coming wave and (iii) how to ready ourselves for its psychological effects. 

Rampant quantification constructs a ‘new normal’ that will conceal what has been lost. Far from machines mimicking human intelligence – it is our own intelligence that becomes artificial. A Human Artificial Intelligence (HAI) internalises institutional norms, and appears busy in ways the metrics dictate. Machine-like and instrumental, it measures and calculates and forgets its humanity. Already prevalent in institutions long-since divorced from their publics and lost in Byzantine worlds of abstraction, such an intelligence feels no compulsion to understand. As the abstractions of quantification replace the human, the damage done by the coming tsunami will quickly become invisible, and resistance will take new and more human forms.

square peg round hole
robot on computer