Centre for the Public Awareness of Code

What’s your favourite movie? Most folks already have an answer to this question (because they’ve been asked before). Mine’s The Castle.

Cast of 'The Castle'

What’s your favourite band/album? Again, a pretty standard “dinner party” line of questioning. As a muso (at least in the loose sense of the word) I find this a much tougher one to answer, partially because I have so many favourites, and partially because I’m trying t

What’s your favourite scientist or scientific theory/fact? This one is harder, but thanks to great work by many gifted science communicators people increasingly have an answer to those questions.

What’s your favourite bit of (software) code? What’s your favourite algorithm? I reckon that most people will struggle to have an answer for this one. In fact, most folks probably won’t understand the question. Yet code (and the algorithms they manifest) does impact the world today. Mark Zuckerberg is still travelling around with a suit and a haircut apologising for the way his code changed the course of history. It also true that a naive “code doesn’t kill people; people kill people” techno-dualism doesn’t really stack up in practice. The modern world is a complex, socio-technical assemblage (a glorious hot mess!) and everything affects everything else.

This isn’t about setting up a dichotomy between those who “get” code and those who don’t, and it certainly isn’t about adding a moral dimension to code literacy (so that if you don’t code, you’re a bad person). There are some amazing code communicators out there—check out Dan Shiffman on the Coding Train. And there’s stuff like Critical Code Studies (CCS), although that’s more about understanding code-as-text deeply rather than raising awareness of what code is currently doing in the world.

What we need is a Centre for the Public Awareness of Code, with a bunch of folks doing for code/software/algorithms what Carl Sagan did for space science with Cosmos. I’ve got some ideas about how we could do it (musical livecoding is one of them) but I’m sure there are other ways as well.

I know that there are a lot of people (and organisations) who are working hard at this problem right now, all over the world. Which angles are they attacking the problem from? Who’s doing it best? What can we all learn from each other? Let’s discuss on twitter :)

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