The Findable Cyborg Part 5

The end product is of no importance. It is the creative process  and the fact of sharing this process with everyone else, destroying its mysteriousness, destroying its capitalist value that is vital. Heather Dewey-Hagborg Theoretical Perspectives on Interactivity – Art and Freedom

Post-Conceptual¹ (my term) artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg has executed two related projects that speak to the issues of surveillance I have been discussing.  The first of these, Stranger Visions started when she was in a therapy session staring at a framed print with a crack in its glass and a hair lodged in the crack.  As her day progressed, the idea that genetic data surrounds us developed into the (post) concept of Stranger Visions.

She began collecting material likely to have DNA on them such as hair, cigarette butts and gum.  She then extracted and analyzed the DNA from these samples.  Using a computer program she developed, which codes genetic facial traits and generates a model to represent them.  After tweaking the result she used a 3D full color printer to produce facial sculptures that have a “family resemblance” to the DNA donor.

[I]t is important to remember that this is art, not the development of a new product or company. This work is a provocation, designed to spur a cultural diaogue about genetic surveillance and forensic DNA phenotyping. What does it mean for an artist, an amateur, to do this? What are the implications for privacy issues as well as law enforcement? I think these are the major questions. We hear everyday about “digital natives” who don’t know how not to share their private data with the world, but here we all are, shedding hairs, nails, skin, and leaving saliva behind us all the time, without thinking about it as information. Stranger Visions Press Release

 

The second project of Dewey-Hagborg’s I’d like to discuss is Invisible.

Acing that interview? Don’t let your genes undermine your confidence. Be invisible.
Are you too big to fail? Don’t let DNA spill your secrets. Protect your prestige and be invisible
Spend the night somewhere you shouldn’t have? Erase your indiscretion and be invisible
Dinner with the prospective inlaws going smoothly? Don’t let them judge you based on your DNA, be invisible.
Exercising your freedom of speech? Be invisible and never get tracked.  Invisible

For this project, Dewey-Hagborg has developed two sprays.  The first deletes 99.5% of DNA it comes in contact with, and the other renders the rest unreadable by overwhelming any sample with extraneous DNA.

Dewey-Hagborg sold a limited edition of 100 pairs of sprays for $230.  Certainly there are techniques to clean DNA from objects.  This project is about invisibility embedded in convenience, not developing a product.

As Dewey-Hagborg points out DNA provides a way of identifying, gaining medical information and monitoring people.

You wouldn’t leave your medical records on the subway for just anyone to read. It should be a choice. You should be in control of how you share your information and with whom: be it your email, your phone calls, your SMS messages, and certainly your genes. Invisible is protection against new forms of biological surveillance. Invisible

At least conceptually.

Note:

¹ I use post-conceptual in recognition of Dewey-Hagborg’s critique of Conceptual Art as having sold out and then died. She also critiques the concept of art. She identifies herself however as an artist and her art is conceptual in nature. So post-conceptual is my attempt to recognize her position.

 

 

The Legal Cyborg

The recent unanimous US Supreme Court decision, Riley v California, ruled that police need a  warrant to search the cell phones of those they arrest.  At issue was whether or not searches of the cell phone of an arrested person was a search incident to the arrest.  Such searches are allowable because they can find objects harmful to the safety of the arresting officer, and prevent the destruction of evidence.  The Court found that neither concern applied to information accessible by cell phones and that police should obtain warrants to authorize such searches.

This is of course an important finding, but my purpose here is to look at some of the ideas about communication technology embedded in the decision.  The most obvious example and widely quoted is the following.

mmw_newspaper[1]These cases require us to decide how the search incident to arrest doctrine applies to modern cell phones, which are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.

While undoubtedly an attempt at humor, the “visitor from Mars” mistaking a cell phone for a body part also introduces the concept of the cyborg, the hybrid of human and machine.  Is it too much to speculate that our Supreme Court Justices are Anxious Cyborgs too?

Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person. The term “cell phone” is itself misleading shorthand; … One of the most notable distinguishing features of modern cell phones is their immense storage capacity. Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and tended as a general matter to constitute only a narrow intrusion on privacy.

I read “physical realities” here as shorthand as “non-digitally coded” realities.  The decision goes onto to discuss the file cabinets etc that one would have to cart around to have at immediate disposal the information accessible with a cell phone.

Finally, there is an element of pervasiveness that characterizes cell phones but not physical records. Prior to the digital age, people did not typically carry a cache of sensitive personal information with them as they went about their day. Now it is the person who is not carrying a cellphone, with all that it contains, who is the exception. According to one poll, nearly three-quarters of smart phone users report being within five feet of their phones most of the time, with 12% admitting that they even use their phones in the shower.

I find identifying the pervasiveness and intimacy of cell phone use especially significant.  It may begin to begin to recognize “cyborg” as a legal meaning of “person”.

Alexis Dyschkant writes about the legal importance of establishing the boundary of a person when determining if one has been wrongfully contacted.

 Historically, “one’s person” has been limited to “one’s natural body” and some, but not all, artificial attachments to one’s natural body.  The cyborg, a creature composed of artificial and natural parts, challenges this conception of a “person” because it tests the distinction between the natural body and an artificial part.  Artificial objects, such as prosthetics, are so closely attached to bodies as to be considered a part of one’s person.  However, claiming that personhood extends to things attached to our natural bodies oversimplifies the complicated interrelation between natural objects and artificial objects in the cyborg.  If our person is no longer limited to our natural body, then we must understand personhood in a way that includes the cyborg.  I argue that the composition of a body does not determine the composition of a person.  One’s person consists to the extent of one’s agency.  Cyborgs: Natural Bodies, Unnatural Parts, and the Legal Person

I doubt the Justices intended Riley to redefine the boundaries of a person as the boundaries of one’s agency.  However, their arguments based on pervasiveness and intimacy do, I argue, move in that direction.

In a Buddhist context, I have argued in the past that many people experience their communication devices as a part of the illusion of an inherently existing self.  There  I suggested extending traditional mediations on establishing the boundaries of this illusion to include cell phones for example.

For the cyborg, this meditation could be expanded to include the artifacts of technology that she has aggregated into his experience of self.  For instance, many people might experience the theft or malicious destruction of their cell phone as an assault.  Some may relate to the field of information their communication technology produces as a part of their inherently existing self. The Negated Cyborg

Dyschkant echoes and extends this meditation, creating a vision of personhood eventually eliminating the idea of mediation and consisting entirely of agency.

What the cyborg shows us is that the body can be composed of any kind of part but the person is necessarily the agent which controls, benefits from, and depends upon these parts.  Human tissue, animal tissue, or mechanical “tissue” all allow a person to exercise their agency and interact with the world.  The type of body which a person controls need not be relevant.  Hence, determining when one has made contact with “the person of another” does not necessarily depend on the naturalness or composition of one’s body, but on the relationship between the object contacted and the person’s agency.  We can imagine a technologically advanced future in which people retain control over parts detached entirely from their body or in which one’s person is dispersed across great spaces.

Perhaps at some point the concept of a legal person begins to break down.  Perhaps then the Buddhist idea of non-self, of the negation of an inherently existing self, becomes codified into law.

The Emptiness of Wang Wei

Karen recently gave me 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei.  This small book is a compilation of 19 translations of Wang Wei’s (7th century Chinese poet) poem, Deer Park,  alongside an essay by Eliot Weinberger, and a concluding essay by Octavio Paz.  This helped deepen my appreciation for Wang, and motivated me to attempt to transduce the poem myself.

Transduce seems a better word than translation for what I’m doing. It is an attempt to transform a distant literary energy to a local one. It follows in the footsteps of Ezra Pound’s Cathay poems.  As Paz points out, referring to a TS Eliot remark, Ezra Pound invented Chinese poetry in English.  He did this without in fact knowing any Chinese, but working from, as I am here, literal translations.

Here are the literal and poetic translations from Chinese Poems.

Deer Enclosure

Empty hill not see person
Yet hear person voice sound
Return scene enter deep forest
Duplicate light green moss on

Hills are empty, no man is seen,
Yet the sound of people’s voices is  heard.
Light is cast into the deep forest,
And shines again on green moss.

The literal translation of the title’s second word is fence or enclosure, which Chinese Poems uses. The title is most often rendered in English as Deer Park.  Weinberger says this is probably a reference to the site of Buddha’s enlightenment.   Robert Okaji titles his version of the poem Deer Sanctuary, which I think is the best version if one decides the poem is not primarily a Buddhist one.

However, I think it clearly is.  As I noted in a previous post, Wang closely associated himself with the Vimalakirti Sutra, which discusses Emptiness with the bodhisattva Manjushri .  Wang also studied Buddhism for 10 years with the Chan master Daoguang.

chinese_symbols_for_empty_8521_2_0[1]

Chinese symbol for “empty”

Then we get to the first line.  How are we to understand empty?  It seems an odd word choice on its own.  Do we retain it?  Most trans(lators)(ducers) do keep it or render it as some version of lonely, or uninhabited.  I have to wonder if Wang meant something like either of those why didn’t he just say so?

This suggests to me that Wang’s emptiness might be just what I mean when discussing Buddhist Emptiness.  On the other hand, contemporary use of emptiness for sunyata may just be an artifact of translation choices of early translators of Buddhist texts to English.

Without too much effort I found these passages.

The word kong is among Wang Wei’s favorite descriptive word and frequently occurs in his nature poems.  It is also the standard Chinese translation for one of the key concepts of Mahayana Buddhism -” emptiness” (Skt. sunyata).

The Chan Interpretation of Wang Wei’s Poetry: A Critical Review by Jingqing Yang

And

What is an empty mountain?  Clearly it is not barren as we are informed there  is a “deep forest” there. Kong is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term sunyata.  Primarily the term is a negation – a denial that phenomenon have self existence – that is permanence independent of causes and conditions.

How To Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology edited by Zong-qi Cai  (C10.6 Recent Style Shi Poetry. The Deer Fence Wang Wei) by Charles Egan

So in my transduction, I sought to covey a sense of this Buddhist Emptiness in the first line.  To do so in the economical style of the poem is quite a challenge.  I don’t think I quite succeeded but it’s a start.

The other part of the poem that trans(lators)(ducers) have difficultly with is the last line.  Weinberger’s literal translation provides more nuance than the Chinese Poetry’s bare bones approach.

To return/Again  to shine/to reflect  green/blue/black  moss/lichen above/on (top of)/top

As I see the scene, sunlight re-illuminates the forest floor generally, and the moss specifically, which reflects in a figurative sense the brightly lit forest canopy above.  I have not encountered quite this interpretation of the last line in my reading so far.

I plan to keep at this.  I’m take the following as my first version, the start of a path, a variation on my ongoing practice of Emptiness Yoga.

Deer Park

Contingent mountain, unseen people,
Voices like an echo.
Again sun lights the forest floor,
The green moss, the canopy above.

The Anxious Cyborg

Cyborg action is increasingly instrumental to machinic ends.  Machine to machine (M2M) technology creates discourses and practices that both affect cyborgs and are apart from them.

From a machinic perspective, NSA data surveillance for example, becomes a compelling project.  The data practically cries out for organization and relational analysis.  It’s like European farmers encountering N American prairies for the first time.

ardrey017b[1]The first would-be European settlers encountering this immense, treeless expanse, hesitated.  Then, the early-adopters realized just how rich the soil was.  As word spread, the European farmers flooded in.  Then in 1833  John Deere’s self-scouring steel bladed plow enabled a less back breaking way to bust the deep sod. The pace of settlement cascaded.

Even as Big Data consumes every bit of cyborg communication it can, it needs more.  It needs a pervasively sensorized/coded environment.  Sparse Data (state information from non-IT devices)  is the data from these proliferating sensors. They produce data only when necessary for the specific function of their host machine.

From a machinic perspective, the development of M2M technology introduces a reverse instrumentality.  Technology continues to serve cyborg ends, but cyborgs also become data factories for machines.   Technology has begun to have as its end its own growth and evolution as much as whatever human function it may nominally have.

It is not though the mere existence of the technology that makes this so.  When cyborgs organize their experience using a technological horizon, the human and machinic seem to converge at that ever receding line where cloud and earth appear to meet.  This apparent convergence has begun to become real.  The world becomes the operational environment of technology.

This state of affairs entails anxiety in many cyborgs which they frequently conceptualize as a discomfort with ever-increasing surveillance.  This condition, from a cyborg perspective, is described in The New Inquiry essay The Anxieties of Big Data by Kate Crawford.

Surveillant anxiety is always a conjoined twin: The anxiety of those surveilled is deeply connected to the anxiety of the surveillers. But the anxiety of the surveillers is generally hard to see; it’s hidden in classified documents and delivered in highly coded languages in front of Senate committees. This is part of why Snowden’s revelations are so startling: They make it possible for us to see the often-obscured concerns of the intelligence agencies. And while there is an enormous structural power asymmetry between the surveillers and surveilled, neither are those with the greatest power free from being haunted by a very particular kind of data anxiety: that no matter how much data they have, it is always incomplete, and the sheer volume can overwhelm the critical signals in a fog of possible correlations.

From a machinic perspective, we can easily imagine there is no anxiety, there is no surveillance as such.  The steel bladed plow has broken the sod.  There is only the vast prairie of information cyborgs represent.

Decomposition As Explanation

Jae Rhim Lee’s The Infinity Burial Project, conceived of as an intersection of art, science and culture seeks to “promote and facilitate an individual engagement with the process of decomposition.”

Our Human bodies store many of the toxins we encounter, so that when we die, we are, to varying degrees, little toxic dumps.  As Lee points out, most western funerary practices add toxic chemicals after death, and then put the whole mess in the ground.

Lee is developing toxin-cleaning-mushroom-based technology embedded in a burial suit to both assist in the decomposition of human bodies, and to mycormediate the toxins.  The mushrooms growing from the mycelium in the suit would break down some toxins into benign substances, and accumulate others such as heavy metals, allowing for safer disposal.

The video embedded here and the discussion on her website do not explain her decision to use edible mushrooms for the project.  It does seem an apt choice though, illustrating the potential for either nourishment or lethal toxicity that mushrooms represent.

All of this led (lead?) me to an extended mediation on mushrooms and this dual potential.  In the Atomic Geography household we have several favorite mushroom dishes, many mushroom field guides and several mushroom cook books.  So I thought of Alice B. Tolkas’ recipe for mushroom flan that she prefaces with this:

We were seduced at once by the little town, the hotel and the forest. We not only ordered lunch but engaged rooms to spend the night. While waiting for lunch to be cooked, we walked in the forest when Gertrude Stein, who had a good nose for mushrooms, found quantities of them. The cook would be able to tell us if they were edible. Once more a woman was presiding in the kitchen. She smiled when she saw what Gertrude Stein brought for her inspection and pointed to a large basket of them on the kitchen table, but said she would use those that Gertrude Stein had found for what she was preparing for our lunch.” Alice B. Tolkas Cookbook

Which lead me to think of Gertrude Stein and her writing.

Continuous present is one thing and beginning again and again is another thing.  These are both things.  And then there is using everything.  Composition as Explanation Gertrude Stein

So there we have, I think a succinct gloss of the Infinity Burial Project: the continuous present, beginning again and again and using everything.

For my part, I can’t help but think of what mushrooms recipes I would want served at my memorial service.  It might take a few years for the first few crops of mushrooms to clear my toxins, but at some point these edible mushrooms would be edible.  Maybe ABT’s mushroom flan made with morels.  Maybe Mushroom Fritters with Tomato Sauce from The Mushroom Feast by Jane Grigson.  Or a simple mushroom omelette.

Lee promises new developments in her project in 2014.  Watch this space.

 

The Forgotten Cyborg

I read with interest about the May 14 decision by the European Court of Justice to apply a Spanish “right to be forgotten” law to Google.  A number of European countries have such laws.

The test case privacy ruling by the European Union‘s court of justice against Google Spain was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper in Catalonia.

Costeja González argued that the matter, in which his house had been auctioned to recover his social security debts, had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google.  EU court backs ‘right to be forgotten’: Google must amend results on request  The Guardian 5-13-14

The ruling creates a process for individuals to request search engines to delete posts.  The SE would then consider the request weighing the individual’s concerns with the public’s right to know.  An individual unhappy with the SE’s decision could appeal to the ECJ.

In the last installment of my review of Code/Space, I discussed Kitchin and Dodge’s ethics of forgetting as a way to address the Everyware nature of code.  Their concern includes the internet, but also all coded objects, processes and structures.  As I quoted them in my review they state:

One path…is to construct an ethics of forgetting in relation to pervasive computing….[T]echnologies that “store and manage a lifetime’s worth of everything” should always be complimented by forgetting…So rather than focus on the prescriptive [ethics], we envision necessary processes of forgetting…that should be built into code, ensuring a sufficient degree of imperfection, loss and error. 253 Code/Space (Kitchen and Dodge)

The ECJ decision highlights the issue they present and the prescriptive approach they identify as inadequate to the task.  Various sources have identified all the challenges and dangers this ruling presents.

It’s possible, of course, that although the European regulation defines the right to be forgotten very broadly, it will be applied more narrowly. Europeans have a long tradition of declaring abstract privacy rights in theory that they fail to enforce in practice. And the regulation may be further refined over the next year or so, as the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers hammer out the details. But in announcing the regulation, Reding said she wanted it to be ambiguous so that it could accommodate new technologies in the future. “This regulation needs to stand for 30 years—it needs to be very clear but imprecise enough that changes in the markets or public opinion can be maneuvered in the regulation,” she declared ominously.[16] Once the regulation is promulgated, moreover, it will instantly become law throughout the European Union, and if the E.U. withdraws from the safe harbor agreement that is currently in place, the European framework could be imposed on U.S. companies doing business in Europe as well.[17] It’s hard to imagine that the Internet that results will be as free and open as it is now.  The Right to Be Forgotten  Jeffrey Rosen (Stanford Law Review)

K&D’s approach is hard to imagine in operation.  Dueling discourses such as security/privacy, creativity/control, efficiency/accommodation illustrate the implications of all this.  The problem with remembering has always been letting go.  The problem with forgetting is never knowing what is forgotten.  We think that there must be a way to manage this kind of thing, all we need is a system. I will follow the progress of this rulings effects with interest.

The Findable Cyborg Part 4

CALL-AfghanBiometrics[1]The US military has an ongoing project in Afghanistan to collect comprehensive biometric data for the entire population. Derik Gregory’s post Biometric War, outlines the program and links to a number of resources helpful in understanding it. One of these is Public Intelligence’s  Identity Dominance: The U.S. Military’s Biometric War in Afghanistan

Despite this lack of formal doctrine, the U.S. military is currently using more than 7,000 devices to collect biometric data from the Afghan population. .. [T]he biometric identifiers being collected in Afghanistan consist primarily of fingerprints, iris scans and facial photographs.  Other biological characteristics, which are referred to as modalities, that can be used to identify a person include certain types of voice patterns, palm prints, DNA, as well as behavioral characteristics such as gait and even keystroke patterns on a keyboard…. The stated goal of the Afghan effort is no less than the collection of biometric data for every living person in Afghanistan. .. [T]he collection of biometric data is not simply about “identifying terrorists and criminals,” but that “it can be used to enable progress in society and has countless applications for the provision of services to the citizens of Afghanistan.”

The lack of formal doctrine is, I think, important.  The Army has operated the program since 2010.  A doctrine would both define the program’s objectives and methods, and exclude other possible uses.

The Army does say that the program is useful “with identifying terrorists and criminals”.  Who can argue with that?   This data is increasingly used for criminal prosecutions. However, the Army has not discussed the accuracy of the scans, and forensic evidence they are compared to.  So its hard to evaluate  the soundness of the convictions in Afghanistan this program has been instrumental in obtaining. Many of these were obtained on the sole evidence of biometrics. The Army has not specified the number of convictions obtained, nor the what are the “countless other applications it foresees”. The lack of formal doctrine creates a freedom to pursue uses without justification.  In a paper Dr. Gregory cites Colleen B. Bell discusses this.

That is, this emergent technology is poised to capture peoples’ biometrics without their consent or knowledge…It also offers the chance to scan whole populations deemed problematic or risky. It is one way forward in the trend towards automating warfare. The course underway suggests that spaces of the global South deemed to be terrorist havens, actual or perhaps even potential zones of conflict are key targets for the development and implementation of new regimes of securitization. This pattern of activity is consistent with experiments in preliberal government that animated colonial rule…

Colonial modes of governance were also experiments in public order, … render[ing] colonized peoples and spaces as laboratories for the limits and possibilities for disciplinary rule (1999:108–111).

Though the hierarchy of relations between the North and South is not one of direct colonial control, in attempting to secure the identity of crisis populations — and by extension the future — there is a rejuvenation of earlier forms of colonial governance evident in the patterns of illiberal governance over subject populations in which local control is circumscribed by coalition mandates, sovereignty is contingent, and practices that are legally taboo in metropolitan settings are permissible in borderlands settings. Grey’s Anatomy Goes South:  Global Racism and Suspect Identities in the Colonial Present  Colleen B. Bell

Drones as an instrument of warfare have received much attention, becoming a cultural trope.  Pervasive biometric gathering and analysis has not.  Yet biometrics are essential if remote forms of warfare, like drones, are to succeed in their cultural/mythic mission to create a discourse of surgical war, that appears always bloodless for the surgeon and beneficial to the etherized patient.

The gathering of meta data, also receives much attention in the West.  Even as many object to it, it’s scale creates a remote, abstract quality.  The individual scale of the practices that create the data make their benefits much more concrete

Right now, the technology of gathering biometric data is very much “in your face”.  Perhaps the technology being developed now in Afghanistan make that untrue in the future.   Perhaps in the near future, not only our financial and communicative movements, but our public bodily movements will make us always findable.