Code & Algorithms: What is wisdom in a calculated world?

by Manuela Naveau

  • Theatro Polis OPAP
Manuela Naveau

In mathematical terms, a code is a mapping of a finite set of characters of an alphabet into a corresponding sequence of signals. This is how Wolfgang Coy, professor of computer science at Humboldt University in Berlin, defined code in 1992. This was exactly one year after the birth of the World Wide Web and after more and more people had turned to the new digital world and at a time when we still understood the world of the Internet as a parallel world that functioned in code as a digital mirror or shadow of our physical world. Algorithms, to be understood as an instruction, recipe, or formula that proposes a solution according to certain rules and procedures, calculate this world and provide a kind of guide to its design. Twenty years later, the famous literary scholar and media theorist Friedrich Kittler is already writing that technology today can translate codes into realities and thus encodes our world. And now, thirty years after the birth of the Internet, we look back and try to understand how our world has changed: Networked machines, whether in our hands, wrists, or pockets, … communicate with each other and compute a world for us. Today, we understand even better that our digital reality is more than just at win, mirror or shadow of the physical one. It has a life of its own that directly affects our physical world and changes it in return. So when codes as a kind of language system intertwine with algorithms as calculating systems, coming together in small extremely powerful machines that are networked across the planet and autonomously compute a world for us, we have to ask: What then is wisdom in a calculated world? In her talk Dr. Manuela Naveau will elaborate on this question by presenting the works and artists in the exhibition that are on display at the Telefonica Foundation in Madrid in the moment and that she curated and worked on in collaboration with other experts recently.


Manuela Naveau, PhD (*Linz/AT) is a university professor, an independent curator and an art-based researcher. For almost 18 years she worked as curator and project manager at Ars Electronica Linz, where she developed the Ars Electronica Export department together with Artistic Director Gerfried Stocker and led it operationally since its inception. Since 2020, Manuela Naveau has been a university professor for Critical Data at the Interface Cultures Department /Institute of Media at the University of Art and Design Linz. Previously, she has held teaching positions at the Paris Lodron University in Salzburg, the Danube University Krems among others and in 2021 she was invited as a guest professor at the Technical University in Vienna (Future.Lab). Her monography “Crowdand Art – Kunst und Partizipation im Internet” was published in 2017 by transcript Verlag, Germany. The book is based on her dissertation, for which she received the Award of Excellence from the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy in 2016.