In his closing remarks to “Vision 65: World Congress on New Challenges to Human Communication,” R. Buckminster Fuller challenged listeners with the ultimate design brief: “All politics are obsolete as fundamental problem-solvers. Politics are only adequate for secondary housekeeping. Mankind must take the universal initiative in effecting the design revolution.”1 Fifty years later, Benjamin H. Bratton introduces a similar challenge; only this time, the call is fully aware of the instrumental role of politics. To this end, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty “proposes a specific model for the design of political geography tuned to this era of planetary-scale computation” (3). Bratton defines “The Stack” as “a portrait of the system we have but perhaps do not recognize, and an antecedent of a future territory” (5), and he uses this as a conceptual device for understanding contemporary geopolitics. Framed as a design brief and a book about design theory, The Stack is organized in three sections. “The Models” outlines the conceptual framework and historical relevance, “The Layers” details the composition of each strata, and “The Projects” speculates on the future of The Stack.
The Stack consists of six layers (Figure 1). The Earth layer provides the material substrate for The Stack. In addition to highlighting the “deeply physical” (12) characteristics of supercomputing, the Earth foregrounds “the geopolitics of mineral and resource flows of extraction, consumption, and discarding” (70). The Cloud layer consists of the infrastructure that constitutes The Stack. This includes the “server farms, massive databases, energy sources, optical cables, wireless transmission media, and distributed applications” (70) germane to supercomputing. The City layer describes the urban fabric of The Stack. More specifically, the City is “the environment of discontinuous megacities and meganetworks that situate human settlement and mobility in the combination of physical and virtual envelopes” (70). The Address layer involves the imperative for naming actors within The Stack. Once named, “computation then becomes a potential property of addressed objects, places, and events, and a medium through which any of these can directly interact with any other” (70). The Interface layer includes the devices used for communication in The Stack. Put simply, the Interface “provide[s] imagistic and linguistic mediation” (71). The User layer comprises the actors involved in initiating communication in The Stack. Capable of describing both humans and nonhumans, the User is “not where the rest of the layers are mastered by some sovereign consciousness; it is merely where their effects are coherently personified” (252). The Stack is activated through what Bratton calls columns, which describe a feedback loop that begins and ends with the User.