Tagcyborgs

Affect and Artificial Intelligence and The Fetish Revisited

Elizabeth A Wilson’s Affect and Artificial Intelligence traces the history and development of the field of artificial intelligence (AI) in the West, from the 1950’s to the 1990’s and early 2000’s to argue that the key thing missing from all attempts to develop machine minds is a recognition of the role that affect plays in social and individual development. She directly engages many of the creators of the field of AI within their own lived historical context and uses Bruno Latour, Freudian Psychoanalysis, Alan Turning’s AI and computational theory, gender studies,cybernetics, Silvan Tomkins’ affect theory, and tools from STS to make her point. Using historical examples of embodied robots and programs, as well as some key instances in which social interactions caused rifts in the field,Wilson argues that crucial among all missing affects is shame, which functions from the social to the individual, and vice versa.

[Cover to Elizabeth A Wilson’s Affect and Artificial Intelligence]

J.Lorand Matory’s The Fetish Revisited looks at a particular section of the history of European-Atlantic and Afro-Atlantic conceptual engagement, namely the place where Afro-Atlantic religious and spiritual practices were taken up and repackaged by white German men. Matory demonstrates that Marx and Freud took the notion of the Fetish and repurposed its meaning and intent, further arguing that this is a product of the both of the positionality of both of these men in their historical and social contexts. Both Marx and Freud, Matory says, Jewish men of potentially-indeterminate ethnicity who could have been read as “mulatto,” and whose work was designed to place them in the good graces of the white supremacist, or at least dominantly hierarchical power structure in which they lived.

Matory combines historiography,anthropology, ethnography, oral history, critical engagement Marxist and Freudian theory and, religious studies, and personal memoir to show that the Fetish is mutually a constituting category, one rendered out of the intersection of individuals, groups, places, needs, and objects. Further, he argues, by trying to use the fetish to mark out a category of “primitive savagery,” both Freud and Marx actually succeeded in making fetishes of their own theoretical frameworks, both in the original sense, and their own pejorative senses.
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Selfhood, Coloniality, African-Atlantic Religion, and Interrelational Cutlure

In Ras Michael Brown’s African-Atlantic Cultures and the South Carolina Lowcountry Brown wants to talk about the history of the cultural and spiritual practices of African descendants in the American south. To do this, he traces discusses the transport of central, western, and west-central African captives to South Carolina in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,finally, lightly touching on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Brown explores how these African peoples brought, maintained, and transmitted their understandings of spiritual relationships between the physical land of the living and the spiritual land of the dead, and from there how the notions of the African simbi spirits translated through a particular region of South Carolina.

In Kelly Oliver’s The Colonization of Psychic Space­, she constructs and argues for a new theory of subjectivity and individuation—one predicated on a radical forgiveness born of interrelationality and reconciliation between self and culture. Oliver argues that we have neglected to fully explore exactly how sublimation functions in the creation of the self,saying that oppression leads to a unique form of alienation which never fully allows the oppressed to learn to sublimate—to translate their bodily impulses into articulated modes of communication—and so they cannot become a full individual, only ever struggling against their place in society, never fully reconciling with it.

These works are very different, so obviously, to achieve their goals, Brown and Oliver lean on distinct tools,methodologies, and sources. Brown focuses on the techniques of religious studies as he examines a religious history: historiography, anthropology, sociology, and linguistic and narrative analysis. He explores the written records and first person accounts of enslaved peoples and their captors, as well as the contextualizing historical documents of Black liberation theorists who were contemporary to the time frame he discusses. Oliver’s project is one of social psychology, and she explores it through the lenses of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis,social construction theory, Hegelian dialectic, and the works of Franz Fanon. She is looking to build psycho-social analysis that takes both the social and the individual into account, fundamentally asking the question “How do we belong to the social as singular?”
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Cyborg Theology and An Anthropology of Robots and AI

Scott Midson’s Cyborg Theology and Kathleen Richardson’s An Anthropology of Robots and AI both trace histories of technology and human-machine interactions, and both make use of fictional narratives as well as other theoretical techniques. The goal of Midson’s book is to put forward a new understanding of what it means to be human, an understanding to supplant the myth of a perfect “Edenic” state and the various disciplines’ dichotomous oppositions of “human” and “other.” This new understanding, Midson says, exists at the intersection of technological, theological, and ecological contexts,and he argues that an understanding of the conceptual category of the cyborg can allow us to understand this assemblage in a new way.

That is, all of the categories of “human,” “animal,” “technological,” “natural,” and more are far more porous than people tend to admit and their boundaries should be challenged; this understanding of the cyborg gives us the tools to do so. Richardson, on the other hand, seeks to argue that what it means to be human has been devalued by the drive to render human capacities and likenesses into machines, and that this drive arises from the male-dominated and otherwise socialized spaces in which these systems are created. The more we elide the distinction between the human and the machine, the more we will harm human beings and human relationships.

Midson’s training is in theology and religious studies, and so it’s no real surprise that he primarily uses theological exegesis (and specifically an exegesis of Genesis creation stories), but he also deploys the tools of cyborg anthropology (specifically Donna Haraway’s 1991 work on cyborgs), sociology, anthropology, and comparative religious studies. He engages in interdisciplinary narrative analysis and comparison,exploring the themes from several pieces of speculative fiction media and the writings of multiple theorists from several disciplines.

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The Internet of Plants: How Cyborg Plants Can Monitor Our World

Latest from me at Wired:

In the not too distant future, we could see cyborg plants that tell us when they need more water, what chemicals they’ve been exposed to, and what parasites are eating their roots. These part-organic, part-electronic creations may even tell us how much pollution is in the air. And yes, they’ll plug into the network.

That’s right: We’re on our way to the Internet of Plants.

That’s the message from Andrea Vitaletti, the head of a blue-sky research group working on this very thing at a lab in Italy. The project is called PLEASED, short for “PLants Employed As SEnsing Devices.” Though the project is still in the early stages, Vitaletti believes plants could serve as ideal sensors, monitoring so many aspects of our environment. Plants are cheap and resilient, he argues, and they could potentially monitor many different things simultaneously.

“Plants have millions of years of evolution. They are robust. They want to survive,” Vitaletti says.

Full Story: Wired: The Internet of Vegetables: How Cyborg Plants Can Monitor Our World

Guns for Armes: The Amazing True Story of the World’s First Real Life Superhero

600px-jay_j_armes

I wrote about J.J. Armes for Grinding:

Every night dozens of people around the world don masks and costumes and venture into the streets to fight crime.

Phoenix Jones and Master Legend are perhaps the most famous, but there are hundreds of costumed would-be crime fighters and their activities range from attempting to apprehend criminals to watching over the homeless while they sleep to make sure their positions aren’t stolen.

These caped crusaders aren’t mutants, aliens or cyborgs — they’re just concerned citizens. They have no superhuman powers. But with advances in technology — such as exoskeletons and bionic limbs — you might think it’s only a matter of time until we see the first grinder superhero.

Actually, we’ve had him for quite some time.

The first real-life superhero may have been J. J. Armes, a private detective who active in El Paso since 1958. His super power? A gun implanted in one of his prosthetic hook that he could fire with his biceps — without using his other hook.

Armes lives in a mansion, surrounded by lions and tigers. He always wears three piece suits, and travels by limo driven by his body guard cum chauffeur. It’s no wonder Ideal Toy Company manufactured a line of action figures based on his likeness, and comic book mogul Stan Lee wants to make a movie based on his life.

Full Story: Grinding: Guns for Armes: The Amazing True Story of the World’s First Real Life Superhero

Videodrome is the best movie ever made about Facebook

Videodrome VHS packaging

Cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson on the 30th anniversary of Videodrome:

Over the course of the film, Max comes to know a “media prophet” named Professor Brian O’Blivion—an obvious homage to Marshall McLuhan. O’Blivion builds a “Cathode Ray Mission,” named after the television set component which shoots electrons and creates images. The Cathode Ray Mission gives the destitute a chance to watch television in order to “patch them back into the world’s mixing board,” akin to McLuhan’s notion of media creating a “global village,” premised on the idea that media and technology, together, form the social fabric. O’Blivion goes on to monologue,

“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen appears as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality; and reality is less than television.”

This is Videodrome’s philosophy. It’s the opposite of The Matrix’s (1999) misreading of Baudrillard’s theories of simulation, and it goes completely against the common understanding of the Web as “virtual,” of the so-called “offline” as “real.” O’blivion would agree when I claim that “it is wrong to say ‘IRL’ to mean offline: Facebook is real life.”

This logic—that the Web is some other place we visit, a “cyber” space, something “virtual” and hence unreal—is what I call “digital dualism” and I think it’s dead wrong. Instead, we need a far more synthetic understanding of technology and society, media and bodies, physicality and information as perpetually enmeshed and co-determining. If The Matrix is the film of digital dualism, Videodrome is its synthetic and augmented opponent.

Full Story: Omni Reboot: Network of Blood

Although I agree with Nathan’s rejection of digital dualism, I do find that the internet, or rather particular parts of the internet create a “place-like” experience — much the way reading a book or watching a movie does. Except other people are there. Place metaphors have been common since the beginning, besides cyberspace we have chat “rooms” web “sites.” Of course these spaces are real, and enmeshed with the physical, but they are also ethereal — they are unplaces. That’s part of their appeal. You can enter them from anywhere, your phone at a bus station, a cybercafe in Bangkok or your new apartment in a new city. And when you enter, you are someplace more than the place that you are physically.

(FWIW, both Neuromancer and Matrix include some concept of entanglement between meatspace and cyberspace: when you die in them, you die for real.)

See also:

Nathan on Mindful Cyborgs

David Cronenberg dossier

TV Ate Itself

Mindful Cyborgs Episode 6: Emotional Amputation Through Quantification

chris-keynote

This week on Mindful Cyborgs, instead of bring on a guest, Chris Dancy and I discussed news stories such as Wired’s story on meditation in Silicon Valley and The Verge’s Union 2.0 story.

The highlight of the show may have been our discussion of the way that quantified self and augmented reality could unite to emotionally handicap us — much the same way GPS can damage our sense of direction. This after Chris explained that he gave a speech during which he was displaying vital stats like skin temperature and heart rate to the audience (something we actually talked about in our first episode):

Chris: One day they came up to me and said, “You know, at the end of your keynote I could tell you’re a little emotional and what really moved me was seeing how your body was reacting because I could hear it in your voice, but seeing it really made me think twice about how much that meant to you at that moment.” And it just stuck with me that literally there could have been tears and that’s not what she remembered. She remembered seeing the numbers. I mean, are we to the point where people need to see it to believe it?

Klint: I don’t know. Yes, that’s a really interesting reaction, or not reaction but I guess it’s an interesting thing for her to remember to impart. If that is the way we’re going to start seeing each other as streams of data instead of as the actual emotional cues that our bodies send off in a non-machine readable way. That’s some pretty profound implications for how we view each other and how we interact with each other.

You can download the episode on Soundcloud, from iTunes or download the MP3 directly.

Show notes and full transcript inside.

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Interview with Quantified Self Labs Director Ernesto Ramirez on the New Mindful Cyborgs

Ernesto Ramirez

This week on Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I interview Ernesto Ramirez, the program director, editor and community organizer of Quantified Self Labs and the webmaster of quantfiedself.com. We talked about the beginnings of the quantified self movement, its chances for catching on with the broader public and the privacy implications of sharing health data on the cloud.

As always you can listen to it or download it on both iTunes and Soundcloud, or you can just download the MP3 directly.

Full show notes and transcript inside.

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Cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson Interviewed On Mindful Cyborgs

Nathan Jurgenson This week cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson joined Chris Dancy and me on Mindful Cyborgs. Nathan is the co-founder of the site Cyborgology, co-founder of the Theorizing the Web conference, a contributing editor at The New Inquiry and a sociology graduate student at the University of Maryland.

You can download or listen to it on Soundcloud or on iTunes, or just download it directly.

Here are a couple highlights from the transcript:

If you’ve taken a lot of photos, if you’re a photographer and you spend a lot of time with the camera in your hand or up your eye. You develop the thing that is called the “camera eye,” that is even when the camera is not at your eye you start to see the world through the logic of the camera mechanism. You see the world as a potential photo with a framing, lighting, the depth of field and so forth. And that’s called the camera eye and I think social media, especially Facebook, has given us the sort of documentary vision or the Facebook eye where you see the world as a potential Facebook post or tweet or Instagram photo.

That is you see the present as always this potential future past, this sort of nostalgic view of the present. I don’t think it takes us out of the moment. Some people say that, that you’re not experiencing life in the moment because you’re worried about posting it on Facebook. I think that’s just a different experience of the moment. But it’s worth debating whether that’s a better experience or worse experience.

What Eric Schmidt was getting at when he was talking about how using a smartphone is emasculating and you need to have this Google Glass that is somehow more masculine or something like that. It was really, I thought, offensive. And I think the correct reading of that was that the smartphone, now, everybody has a smartphone. How can you look like you’re a rich, powerful man if you have this thing that everybody has?

Well, there’s Google Glass now and again reinforces how what a cellphone used to do. When people see you wearing the Google Glass will say oh, well, you’re an important rich, powerful man. It’s really I think sad in sort of an offensive way to market that product. They’ve done a terrible job marketing Google Glass I think.

More show notes, plus the complete transcript, inside.

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Big Dada, IRL Fetish And More On Mindful Cyborgs Episode 2

Mindful Cyborg

Mindful Cyborgs: Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration.

Hosts: Chris Dancy and Klint Finley.

Listen or download on Soundcloud and iTunes.

Follow: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest.

Transcript, show notes and more inside.

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