SHORT review


Computers search don’t sort - Mario Carpo

The Second Digital Turn is a beautiful exposition of historical ideas. ancient debates, technological developments in art and curious personal anecdotes brought to light at the service of contemporary issues by a scholar of great reputation: Mario Carpo. Whereas the Digital Turn explained and mapped the initial developments and experiments that lead to architects becoming acquainted with computer-aided design, the Second Digital Turn is a short book (164 p.) that discusses the future of architecture and design in a world marked by paradigm-shifting technologies.

Amazon by Andreas Gursky - Still life by Young and Ayata - Grotto by Michael Hansemeyer

In the brief span of less than one generation, digital technologies have moved from word processing to image processing to 3-D processing, from verbal to visual to spatial operations - Mario Carpo

A great deal about this book is about data-compression and its now irrelevance. Humans always needed data compression technologies for the viability of communication, from the alphabet in language to the logarithmic tables used in mathematics, to the perspectival understanding of a three-dimensional body in painting, yet computers are now able to crunch in numbers and process data in ways that change our relation to the world and the arts. We might have uncovered an intelligence somehow superior to our own. Seconding Yuval Noah Harari, the famous author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, Mario Carpo posits that we are entering an era in which human-related capabilities have been largely surpassed by the power of electronic computation. No-one can tell with accuracy the practical implications or the ontological ramifications for the world of design against technological developments like the contemporary networked digital market, open-source design, virtual reality, 3D-scanning, mass-customized production or big-data.

For instance, the author brings an example in case on how the google-driven email service gmail does not provide in its interface the possibility to store emails within folders. This is due to the fact that computers do not need to sort, humans do, computers can search through any number of disarrayed items in a matter of milliseconds; so the only thing one needs to remember is the content of the email and the computer will search and find the desired email. But what implications will this have on our daily lives? Well, within this thought we arrive at a similar junction when presented with the structural viability of a project; thanks to a process called Finite Element Analysis, computers can now calculate millions of forms and offer viable structural solutions, it is not the designer’s task anymore to offer any insight on structural viability, this is relegated to computation now. So perhaps a new era is ahead of us where we relegate to computation large swaths of our previous domains, be it menial tasks like the way we find our personal emails or massive issues such as the world market, the means of production, the price-point of objects or the scientific method.

We must come to the inevitable conclusion that the science of search may soon replace the method of experimental science in its entirety - Mario Carpo

Science is always a retrieval, never a prediction - Mario Carpo

In terms of design and architecture, the author does not strive to provide detailed answers but does hint at practices which offer a kind of a new complex aesthetic using the power of computation, most notably: Achim Menges, Michael Hansmeyer, Gilles Retsin, Alisa Andrasek and Daniel Widrig among others; however, despite being a book about the very present and speculations about the future, the Second digital turn has interminable historical recounts of relevant examples, from the history of perspective, to the data-compressing capabilities of descriptive geometry and parallel geometry, to Galileo and Alberti’s contributions on sculpture and perspective to the history of the calculus-based splines battle that Pierre Bezier and Paul de Casteljau ensued in mid twentieth century.

The Second Digital Turn is a well-researched and intelligent piece on the historical precedents for the most contemporary of discussions.

Excessive resolution is the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible excess of data: a reminder of a technical logic we may master and unleash, but that we can neither replicate, emulate, nor even simply comprehend with our mind - Mario Carpo

Lorenzo lotto - Anthony van Dyck - philippe de Champaigne

At the end of the Middle Ages the conflation of a new technology for capturing and compressing images, and of a new technology for reproducing them, changed the history of the West. Today the conflation of new technologies for capturing and reproducing reality directly in three dimensions, without the mediation of images, is likely to have similar epoch-making consequences - Mario Carpo



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WEBSITE: the second digital turn

AUTHOR: mario carpo