The Anxious Cyborg – 2

As the  human/machine relationship continues to develop, information processing increasingly defines how work is done.  In turn, it enters into human considerations of what it means to exist, to intend and to act.

The flow of information mediated by computed coding enables a built environment that creates ever-increasing opportunities for more information to enable more machine work and functioning.  As I previously wrote:

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….  The world becomes the operational environment of technology.  The Anxious Cyborg

This of course is simply my particular iteration of a complex of ideas others have discussed for a long time now.  Yet, even accounting for the self reinforcing character of much of my blog reading, I feel I have been encountering an unusual number of variations and improvements on this theme.

A recent  post by R. Scott Bakker gives a flavor of the broadly integrative approach that characterizes his blog. He has a particular interest in exploring the vivid deceptiveness of human self-awareness.

Meanwhile, it seems almost certain that the future is only going to become progressively more post-intentional, more difficult to adequately cognize via our murky, apriori intuitions regarding normativity. Even as we speak, society is beginning a second great wave of rationalization, an extraction of organizational efficiencies via the pattern recognition power of Big Data: the New Social Physics. The irrelevance of content—the game of giving and asking for reasons—stands at the root of this movement, whose successes have been dramatic enough to trigger a kind of Moneyball revolution within the corporate world. Where all our previous organizational endeavours have arisen as products of consultation and experimentation, we’re now being organized by our ever-increasing transparency to ever-complicating algorithms. As Alex Pentland (whose MIT lab stands at the forefront of this movement) points out, “most of our beliefs and habits are learned by observing the attitudes, actions, and outcomes of peers, rather than by logic or argument” (Social Physics, 61). The efficiency of our interrelations primarily turns on our unconscious ability to ape our peers, on automatic social learning, not reasoning. Thus first person estimations of character, intelligence, and intent are abandoned in favour of statistical models of institutional behaviour.  Arguing No One: Wolfendale and the Penury of ‘Pragmatic Functionalism’ R. Scott Bakker

Taking a more political turn, Robin James describes the mutual arising of behavior and data in the context of capitalism.

Big data capital wants to get in synch with you just as much as post-identity MRWaSP wants you to synch up with it. [2] Cheney-Lippold calls this process of mutual adaptation “modulation” (168).   A type of “perpetual training” (169) of both us and the algorithms that monitor us and send us information, modulation compels us to temper ourselves by the scales set out by algorithmic capitalism, but it also re-tunes these algorithms to fall more efficiently in phase with the segments of the population it needs to control.

The algorithms you synch up with determine the kinds of opportunities and resources that will be directed your way, and the number of extra hoops you will need to jump through (or not) to be able to access them. Modulation “predicts our lives as users by tethering the potential for alternative futures to our previous actions as users” (Cheney-Lippold 169). Your past patterns of behavior determine the opportunities offered you, and the resources you’re given to realize those opportunities.  Robin James Visible Social Identies vs Algorithmic Identities

Shifting the focus from a systemic and political view, Alistair Croll discusses the individual ethical dimensions of these issues.

Big data is about reducing the cost of analyzing our world. The resulting abundance is triggering entirely new ways of using that data. Visualizations, interfaces, and ubiquitous data collection are increasingly important, because they feed the machine — and the machine is hungry….

Perhaps the biggest threat that a data-driven world presents is an ethical one. Our social safety net is woven on uncertainty. We have welfare, insurance, and other institutions precisely because we can’t tell what’s going to happen — so we amortize that risk across shared resources. The better we are at predicting the future, the less we’ll be willing to share our fates with others. And the more those predictions look like facts, the more justice looks like thoughtcrime.  Alistair Croll New ethics for a new world 

Of course, many cyborgs look forward to all of this with optimism and a sense of opportunity.

When you can use AI as a conduit, as an orchestrating mechanism to the world of information and services, you find yourself in a place where services don’t need to be discovered by an app store or search engine. It’s a new space where users will no longer be required to navigate each individual application or service to find and do what they want. Rather they move effortlessly from one need to the next with thousands of services competing and cooperating to accomplish their desires and tasks simply by expressing their desires. Just by asking….

At this contextual “just arranged a date” moment lies an opportunity to intelligently prompt if the user would like to see what is going on on friday night in the area, get tickets, book dinner reservations, send an Uber to pick them up or send flowers to the table. Incremental revenue nirvana.  Dag Kittlaus A Cambrian Explosion in AI Is Coming

But then it’s always been swell to have money.

The Ghost in the Machine

The Ghost/Machine duality is the duality of Mind/Body.  It is part of a series of nesting/interlocking dualities such as Culture/Nature, Phenonomen/Noumenon, Normal/Disabled, Sacred/Profane, Inner/Outer, Object/Process, Rational/Irrational. Free Will/Determinism, Emergent/Embodied, Harmony/Catastrophe.  Following Haraway, it is worth noting that there are not any essential properties that unify the first elements together, or the second elements together.

How one codes these dualities is itself an attempt to impose the ground for all further categorizations.

These dualities represent an attempt to reconcile the problem of Whole and Parts.  How can things be Wholes and Parts at the same time?  Indeed, the surest route to undermining any philosophical project is to point out  the particular ways it does not resolve this issue.

The Ghost was never there, but the experience of awareness, so vivid, so raw, makes awareness seem like an out-of-body experience.  But this is a useful illusion at best, possibly just an epi-phenonomen of a certain stage of neural development.

This does not mean however, that the ghost in the machine is dead.  In the Cyborg we have another apparent duality Animal/Machine or Human/Machine.  We interact with Machines within the duality of Agent/Tool.  The machines are merely, in this line of thought, extensions of our own vivid agency.

But not only are we merged with machines in our daily lives, in our effects on the planet, we could just as well see ourselves as living within machine-ness, our actions, the reproductive organs of the machines, our logic, the (for now) operating systems, our ideologies, the software.

High-tech culture challenges these dualisms in intriguing ways. It is not clear who makes and who is made in the relation between human and machine. It is not clear what is mind and what body in machines that resolve into coding practices. In so far as we know ourselves in both formal discourse (for example, biology) and in daily practice (for example, the homework economy in the integrated circuit), we find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras. Biological organisms have become biotic systems, communications devices like others. There is no fundamental, ontological separation in our formal knowledge of machine and organism, of technical and organic.

The machine is not an it to be animated, worshipped, and dominated. The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries; we are they.  Donna Haraway – Cyborg Manifesto

It is time to recognize there are no boundaries between the human and the machine.  Ecology focussing on Humanity’s effect on the planet will ignore our merging with Machines, will be another act of domination.

At first, calling this time the Anthropocene, can almost give us an experience of the uncanny looking in the mirror.  But left alone, it too posits a Ghost in the Machine.  It is time to recognize this is the Cyborgocene, at least until that too becomes a source of comfort.