Surplus Data: A Special Issue of Critical Inquiry

Volume 48, Number 2 | Winter 2022

From the Introduction, by the special issue editors Orit Halpern,  Patrick Jagoda,  Jeffrey West Kirkwood, and  Leif Weatherby:

It is no longer enough to say that data is big. Data is now in a state of surplus. As we have progressed from the megabyte to the terabyte, the petabyte, and now in 2022 debatably to the zettabyte era — all within the span of a mere two decades we have witnessed a quantitative increase manifesting itself as a qualitative change. In a well known 2008 provocation, the editor-in-chief of Wired, Chris Anderson, announced that the ability to produce and analyze enormous data sets using artificial intelligence (AI) was rendering the bedrock of human knowledge systems — the scientific method itself — obsolete. For the first time in history, correlation began to supersede causation and science advanced “without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.” It supposedly spelled the end of theory. But theory has faked its own death many times….