A dream of an algorithm – Agnieszka Zimolag

Photo by: Agnieszka Zimolag
Photo by: Agnieszka Zimolag

A compelling piece on the Institute of Network Cultures‘ “long forms” website by Agnieszka Zimolag entitled “A dream of an algorithm” explores “our” relation to “technology, or (to my mind) technics as the co-constitutional (and originary [not essential]) relation between what we call, in common sense terms, “the human” and”technology”.

Technology is my reflection. Just as if I never see myself unless I look in the mirror, the same goes for technology. Once I plug, once i turn on the devices, I look at my comforting reflection, I can finally become one with my own image. The perception of the self becomes a continuum, a reassurance of my own existence. Zimolag

It’s a beautiful essay and well worth reading/ looking at in full – the images are lovely and there’s some thoughtful prose reflecting upon this relation. I guess where I’d differ from Zimolag is her implied assertion that the technology, what it does/can do somehow comes after ‘the human’; that technology does something to “us” (humans) that alters us. I can see why, in the face of rapid technological change, we might figure things in this way. Nevertheless, I’m inclined to insist that there never was a “human” somehow separate from “technology”. We have an ‘aporetic origin’ in Derrida & Stiegler’s terms, we continually perform the coming to being of “the human”.

As I’ve observed elsewhere, the theory of technogenesis offered by a range of anthropologists and philosophers is the idea that humans and technology co-evolved together, that you do not get one without the other. Humans are irreducibly distinct because of the reflexive transmission of complex cultures made possible by technics and the ‘exteriorization’ of thought. Both Stiegler and Derrida argue that the mental interior is only recognized as such with the advent of the technical exterior: our conscious self-knowledge is only possible with the ability to exteriorize thought as a trace, commonly as language and gesture. Stiegler explains this aporia of origin as a paradox: ‘The paradox is to have to speak of an exteriorization without a preceding interior: the interior is constituted in exteriorisation’ (Stiegler, Technics and Time 1, p. 141).

Technics can be thought of as a technogenetic ‘double-bind’ between being both constitutive and a supplement of ‘the human’. The interior and exterior, and with them the contemporary understanding of the experience of being human and what we understand to be technology, are mutually co-constituted and continue to be so.

In opposing ‘technology’ and ‘the human’, the apparently immaterial ‘algorithm’ and apparently concrete human, we either oppose technically mediated experience to other forms of experience or we oppose our technical life to other, apparently ‘natural’, forms of exis- tence. Either way, we risk reasserting old, problematic binaries: human/technology and nature/society.

To bring this back to ‘algorithms’ and their devices, following Zimolag – they are not our ‘others’. these technologies discussed and depicted in Zimolag’s beautiful essay are materially of and with us, they are perhaps not so much the ‘reflection’ she asserts (above) but rather a mirror that we ourselves have crafted through which to look upon ourselves, but, precisely in doing so, the “we” is irrevocably altered to include the mirror. The knowledge born from coming to know our own images, in Zimolag’s metaphor, is irreducibly tied to technics.

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