Issue 4

Editor’s Note

written by Jacob Sujin Kuppermann

The future is uncertain. With every passing week it feels like the range of possibilities for what it may hold has expanded, a deep sea fish’s jaw distending and opening to reveal a great divergence. We witness in each moment enough predictive evidence to make the case for impending utopia and unavoidable collapse, enough datasets and stories and demonstrations to incontrovertibly prove whatever mutually exclusive outcome you’d like to vindicate. Better, perhaps, to admit that we don’t know what the future holds.

Acknowledging uncertainty does not mean admitting defeat. The uncertain nature of the future is not a flaw to be corrected or calculated away, but its saving grace. We need the future to not be fixed―to remain tenuous and underdetermined, wrapped in clouds. It is only through this cloud of uncertainty that we can have hope―the hope that the problems of the past are not preordained to recreate themselves in the future, the hope that we can beat the odds.

This is the fourth issue of Kernel, reaching readers like you very close to the fourth anniversary of Reboot’s founding in the categorically uncertain days of April 2020. I write to you now as the fourth editor-in-chief of this magazine and the first to get involved long after its founding; it’s a small shift that feels in its own way like a monument, a sign that we have weathered some of the storms and shocks of the early days of this “running a magazine” thing. There is more to be done―there’s always more to be done―but at heart I feel lucky to be here, lucky to have a here to be at, and lucky to be able to share it all with you.

This issue’s theme is LUCK. Here, we ask a slightly more esoteric question than those asked by the first three issues: What are the odds? When we talk about the intertwined concepts of luck, chance, and probability, we can’t help but talk about the ways that their technological manifestations have shaped and been shaped by our world. We live in a probabilistic world―not just because there are laws of probability underlying a scientific understanding of the world around us, but because we, the individuals that make up that world, are increasingly aware of those systems of probability, these chances laid bare in the digital and intellectual infrastructure of our time. We swim in seas of data, of percentage chances and odds corresponding to seemingly every facet of our daily lives―from values as seemingly minor as chances of rain to ones as weighty as mortality rates.

When the social theorist Ian Hacking wrote The Emergence of Probability and The Taming of Chance in the last quarter of the twentieth century, it was still possible to imagine and even remember worlds in which probabilistic thinking had not yet become the dominant mode of thought: a world where chance had not yet been tamed. Those books, which cover a vast swath of time beginning in the Renaissance and landing at the doorstep of the twentieth century, are a sort of pre-history of our modern world. We now see luck as something of an emergent property, a trick that we collectively play on ourselves as we read patterns into the fluctuations of a stochastic world. What does it mean to take luck seriously―to look these fluctuations in their face and make meaning out of them?

We’ve divided this issue into two halves: Tails and Heads. Like most dichotomies, this one is false―but it’s useful enough for our purposes.

[The long] Tails follows how digitally-mediated chance has spilled over into the world at large. This spillover has played a hand in shaping everything from the way we use the internet as a “Serendipity Machine” to how we organize our labor, building the infrastructure to seize upon fortunate moments of connection. These are stories of navigating the growing pains of a soulless but vital system of financial technology, of struggling to integrate grief and our statistical intuitions, of natural disasters in near future forecasts, and speculative visions of bodies taken apart and manufactured once more.

[In your] Heads captures the ways that that chance has wormed into our internal processes. When we stare into stochastic algorithms for long enough, our own thinking starts to reflect them. These stories ask us to become kaleidoscopes, gazing into the fractals of identity. We’re shaped by the successes of startups and our plots to reverse engineer that luck; we’re made all too aware of the fragility of our creative practices in the face of AI. We use algorithms as tools for divination; we manipulate our own language to evade and appease algorithms in turn. We let our lives impossibly intertwine.

In between these two sections is an interlude, thoughtfully composed by Jess Zhou, our poetry editor, on poetry, technology, and Palestine. That, too, is a piece on probability, on statistics of loss and ranges of possibilities. Peace and liberation can also feel like ways of beating the odds.

Making a magazine is an inherently lucky thing. There are so many little points of chance and serendipity that had to align just so for any of this to exist at all, let alone in the form that it has taken to reach you. The same is true for nearly every ambitious, uncertain endeavor―be it a startup, a union, or a work of art. This is all to say that when we ask What are the odds? we are not asking as dispassionate observers but as actors on constantly shifting ground, trying always to grab onto those points of chance and run with them.

Good luck!

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann

Editor-in-Chief, Kernel Magazine, Issue Four

headshot of Jacob Sujin Kuppermann


Jacob Sujin Kuppermann

Jacob is the Editor-in-Chief of Kernel Magazine Issue 4, which is the magazine you are currently reading. They are also a member of the Reboot Editorial Board, a writer and editor at The Long Now Foundation, an environmental scientist, and avid hobbyist baker.