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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


Sharath Srinivasan, Co-Director of CGHR delivered the keynote at <Programming> 2021, an annual international conference on the art, science and engineering of programming. You can view the talk below.

Abstract: "Technology, it is often said, is ‘neither good, nor bad. But nor is it neutral’. Technology does not of itself determine political outcomes in the world. Yet, like anything made or built, that is guided by designs aimed towards ends or purposes, technology has particular intentions and directions embedded within it. Does that mean technology is political? I propose that computer technology is political, and it is political all the way down … to programming languages. In this talk, I seek to explain the role that societal power plays in shaping the possibilities of technology, and how this technology in turn shapes the possibilities of societal power. To argue that technology is political all the way down to programming languages is to pay credence to the fact that the control and use of language, any language including what we might call natural language, has always been at the heart of political power. With examples such as notational systems encoded in cuneiform tablets by the Sumerians to the control of papyrus enabling the reach of the Roman empire and the standardisation of writing for administrative record in the reformist Qin dynasty in China, this talk brings a historical gaze to our understanding of language as a technology of power closely connected to the materiality of language in technical artefact. By historicising the role of language in politics, and the role of politics in language, I seek to help us rethink and resituate programming languages in the politics of our digital age."