t byfield on Tue, 13 May 2014 21:19:40 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> tensions within the bay area elites

On May 13, 2014, at 9:45 AM, Brian Holmes <bhcontinentaldrift@gmail.com> wrote, but not in this order:

> Why the military robots? Why not remember Manuel De Landa's little book, War In the Age of Intelligent Machines, which caused such a stir in its day? De Landa predicted that computers would gain autonomous intelligence and operational capacity through the kind of competition for processing speed and power that has historically occurred under both cold and hot war conditions. Of course, when we look at Google's present capacities for recording, analyzing and synthesizing global language usage, it seems that they may find another road to the Singularity. But like a good multidivisional corporation with billions of research dollars to burn, they are adding a little military insurance to their oh-so-civil program of ontological domination.

I remember that book very well -- I edited it. Remember, though, that the rhetorical figure it opens with is a 'robot historian' writing a triumphal account in which man appears as little more than a bit player in the unfolding logic of the machinic phylum. I had misgivings about that at the time, because it seemed like the book could serve as a sort of anticipatory propaganda (or maybe 'premature,' as in 'premature antifascist'). It turns out I needn't have worried, because folks like the good people at WiReD came along and were happy to milk the 'out of control' cow for everything it was worth. But this is all based on a basic human-vs-machine mythology; I think the more likely results will (indeed *do*) involve conflicting models of relations between humans *and* machines. That's a useful way to think about Google and all the rest, without lapsing into business-journalism nonsense -- a constant threat when trying to understand new forms of corporate activity and power. 

> Anyway, the point is always well taken: knowledge is power, epistemology is fundamental to both technical development and cultural elaboration in a complex society. Foucault left us that understanding, at the very least. But what Florian's post suggests, when you look at Google's acquisitions and obsessions all together in one basket, is even beyond computational epistemology. The Singularity is an ontological proposal. It maintains that the steady increase in computer-processing capacity will ultimately (and even soon) result in the emergence of a new form of Being. Like a good multidivisional corporation with an overgrown research arm, Google is preparing to realize and, I guess, profit from this ontological transformation.

I think it's more useful to think of it as a historical model. It may indeed be ontological, but you lose 95% of your possible audience right there. 'History' is close enough for gummint work, as they say. 


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