The introduction lays out the central argument of the book: that algorithms are best understood as complex “culture machines” that we engage on the levels of magical thinking, epistemology, social identity, and ideology as well as rationality and computation. Opening with a discussion of Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash and our long-running fascination with the power of language to create the world, the chapter proceeds to describe our current relationship to code in terms of the “cathedral of computation.” This metaphor expresses the intermingling of empiricism and belief that underlies our cultural relationships with algorithms—relationships that are growing more powerful, creative, and intimate every day. In order to understand these systems that tell us where to go, whom to date, and what to think about, we need to develop a method for “algorithmic reading.”
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