2018-09-17 15.40.14-1

Almanac publications are practical guides to navigate the future, comprising calendars, maps, forecasts, tables, unit conversions, folklore, and other useful information. Almanacs are in print circulation since at least the 17th Century, with almanac-like artefacts such as maps, tablets, and ledgers dating back millennia in many cultures around the world. They are still published to this day in areas such as farming, nautical navigation, and finance.

Journalist Adrienne Lafrance argues that The Old Farmer's Almanac is an early prototype for the internet. The yearly publication served the same functions as a smartphone, such as consulting weather predictions, and occupied a similar 'cultural space'. Almanacs are products of a cultural imaginary where the cosmos directly informs events on earth. Examples include weather prediction models based on sun-spot activity, the origins of statistics in astronomical science, as well as moon cycles and divination practices such as astrology. Since the first issue of the The Old Farmer's Almanac in 1792, parts of this cosmic imaginary of data and prediction have been amplified and legitimised, they are now called "data analytics" or even "artificial intelligence". Other parts, such as astrology, have been discarded as illegitimate forms of speculation in breach of scientific rationality. revisits the almanac publication to unpack the cosmic imaginary surrounding data and algorithms. The project makes use of contemporary tools used in data science and machine learning to implement divinatory rationalities—algorithmic forms of astrology. It uses astronomical data as the basis for predictions ranging from financial markets to energy infrastructure, gambling, and mundane daily tasks. The project aims to excavate the history of prediction from a new angle, highlighting the mediated nature of algorithmic processes that are usually presented as objective and neutral. frames all predictions as modes of relating events on earth to cosmic forces, interrogating the legitimacy assigned to some forms of speculation over others.

Further Reading:

Benque, D. (2018) ‘Cosmic Spreadsheets’, in Voss, G. (ed), Supra Systems, London, London College of Communication. PDF [2.3Mb]

Talk at the Anticipation 2017 conference screenshot