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The material consequences of “chipification”: The case of software-embedded cars

Big Data &Society, Volume 9, Issue 1, January-June 2022.
Today’s modern car is an assemblage of mechanical and digital components, of metal panels that comprise its structure and silicon chips that run its functions. Communication and information studies scholars have interrogated the problematic aspects of the programs that run those functions, revealing serious issues surrounding privacy and security, worker surveillance, and racial, gendered, and class-based bias. This article contributes to that work by taking a step back and asking about the issues inherent not in the software running on these chips, but on the microchips themselves. Using the lens of “chipification”—the process by which a device is rendered capable of reading and processing data through the embedding of microchips—this article explores how the integration of microchips also involves processes that are often borne from, replicate, or create troubling power dynamics of their own. It takes light-duty passenger vehicles as a case study into how chipification is radically reshaping such processes as resource allocation, labor flows, and cultural practices around car manufacture, use, repair, and modification. By naming the process of chipification, this article allows researchers to identify and analyze the ways that integrating data processing capabilities into everyday devices is not a frictionless practice, but rather one that implicates a variety of power dynamics within these massive industries.

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