Genealogy of the Transaction
Digital Media and Imaginations of the Futurum Exactum
Transactions are a fundamental cultural technique of digital media and computer simulations. They provide means for reliable and replicable transmission and storage of data. Originally conceptualized in the context of databases to facilitate simultaneous yet conflict-free processing of data the notion of transaction has become pervasive in computing whenever mutable data-state has to be negotiated. Recently large scale computers exclusively used for computer simulations like the BluQueen in Jülich were the first to receive processors containing transactional-memory instruction-set-extensions (TM). Here TM is expected to enable and assist further scaling of massively parallel processing by easing programmability of concurrency.
The research project has a two-handed approach. On the one hand it asks about the problem of storage in computer simulations and investigates the question of a parallel history of supercomputing and databases between 1970 and 1983. These years mark the introduction of the concept of relational database by Codd and the formalization of transactions by Härder und Reuter as well as the advent of modern parallel supercomputing as introduced by Cray.
On the other hand and on a more theoretical level the project investigates notions of temporality inherent to transactions and asks if the latter can be understood as a form of simulation themselves. Transactions mediate between the actual and the potential and are simulations of possible futures that can occur during a transaction. Transactionality, thus, inherently involves simulating what could be and at the same time imagines the possibility of a system that can transpose any contingency into consistency. Even the unexpected is to be answered with an expected state. Hence the question approached in this project is, if transactions can be understood as a basal form of simulation, relating the now with the coming, including the possibility of the catastrophe and the desire to render it codeable and observable.
Christoph Engemann studied psychology at the University of Bremen and became a Ph.D fellow of the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences in 2003. From 2003 to 2006 he was a Non-Residential-Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. In 2009 joined the Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie (IKKM) at the Bauhaus University Weimar as researcher and lecturer.
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