Past event > Technology’s Limits: Automation, Invention, Labour, and the Exhausted Environment

This looks like it was a fascinating event…

Workshop hosted by the Digital Life Research Program 

An abstract artwork of a light background with brown and red rectangles of various sizes.

Artwork by Stephen Scrivener Opens in a new window

Event Details

Date: Friday March 10, 2017
Time: 10am – 4.30pm
Venue: EB.G.21, Parramatta South campus

Among its many political preoccupations, 2016 was marked by an obsessive concern with the new powers of the machine to erase human labour and employment. Science fiction dystopias – among them, the French Trepalium and the Brazilian 3% – saddled older anxieties about a world without work to a more novel recognition of resource depletion and scarcity. Academic publishing houses, conference organisers, funding agencies and the press have responded with a deluge of content covering algorithms, automation and the Anthropocene. Meanwhile, a less conspicuous narrative about the decline of innovation has resurfaced with claims that the rate of fundamental new technology inventions is slowing and jeopardising long term global productivity returns. What happens when technology hits its limits? Velocity and volume excite machinic economies, but do little to confront some of the core problems and challenges facing planetary labour and life today.

This workshop brings together leading Australian scholars of technology and society with contemporary German and French reflections on the prevailing discourses of technology’s limits. Since the 1990s, Bernard Stiegler has been a leading philosopher and critic of technology, and in his recent book Automatic Society he directly tackles problems of automation and algorithms for the distribution of financial and social resources to populations increasingly bereft of economic capital and political agency. Building upon Frankfurt School critical theory and Kittlerian media theory, contemporary German critique intersects with similar questions by combining investigations of epistemology, history and the technical. The Australian take on these European developments is simultaneously appreciative and critical, though often oriented toward more regional conditions that arise in part due to different economic, cultural and political relations with Asia.

The morning session of the workshop will introduce current theoretical European work on technology. Daniel Ross will develop a critical introduction to Bernard Stiegler, whose recent work in Automatic Society and In the Disruption continues to mount a wide-ranging and provocative critique of technology. Armin Beverungen will then offer an overview of his research on algorithmic management and high-frequency trading, with Ned Rossiter introducing logistical media as technologies of automation and labour control. In the afternoon, Gay Hawkins will outline her theoretical interest in nonhuman and technical objects and their irreducible role in making humans and ecologies. A key empirical example will be the history of plastic and the emergence of its technical agency and capacity to reconfigure life. Nicholas Carah will follow with a discussion of his latest work on algorithms, brand management and media engineering. The workshop will close with an audience-driven panel session and discussion. These interventions will be held in conjunction with a close reading of the key texts below.

Register

Attendance numbers will be limited so please register in advance. No registration fee required.

RSVP by 7 March on Eventbrite Opens in a new window

Speakers

  • Armin Beverungen
    Junior Director at the Digital Cultures Research Lab (DCRL) at Leuphana Universität Lüneburg & Visiting Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University
  • Nicholas Carah
    Author of Brand Machines, Sensory Media and Calculative Culture (2016)
  • Gay Hawkins
    Author of Plastic Water: The Social and Material Life of Bottled Water (2015)
  • Liam Magee
    Author of Interwoven Cities (2016)
  • Nicole Pepperell
    Author of Dissembling Capital (forthcoming, 2017)
  • Daniel Ross
    Translator of Bernard Stiegler’s Automatic Society (2016) and numerous other works
  • Ned Rossiter
    Author of Software, Infrastructure, Labor: A Media Theory of Logistical Nightmares (2016).

Co-chairs: Liam Magee and Ned Rossiter, co-convenors of the Institute for Culture and Society’s Digital Life research program.

Recommended Readings

Frank Pasquale (2017), Duped by the Automated Public Sphere Opens in a new window
Lee Rainer and Janna Anderson [Pew Research Center] (2017), Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age Opens in a new window
Bernard Stiegler (2012), Die Aufklärung in the Age of Philosophical Engineering (opens in a new window)
Bernard Stiegler (2015), Escaping the Anthropocene Opens in a new window
Bernard Stiegler (2015), On Automatic Society Opens in a new window
Sonia Sodha [The Guardian] (2017), Is Finland’s basic universal income a solution to automation, fewer jobs and lower wages? Opens in a new window

Related Readings

Bruce Braun (2014), A New Urban Dispositif? Governing Life in an Age of Climate Change Opens in a new window
Nick Dyer-Witheford (2013), Contemporary Schools of Thought and the Problem of Labour Algorithms (opens in a new window)
Victor Galaz (2015), A Manifesto for Algorithms in the Environment Opens in a new window
Victor Galaz et al. (2017), The Biosphere Code Opens in a new window
Orit Halpern (2015), Cloudy Architectures Opens in a new window
Erich Hörl (2014), Prostheses of Desire: On Bernard Stiegler’s New Critique of Projection Opens in a new window
Yuk Hui (2015), Algorithmic Catastrophe: The Revenge of Contingency (opens in a new window)
International Labour Organisation (2016), ASEAN in Transformation Opens in a new window
Lilly Irani (2015), The Cultural Work of Microwork Opens in a new window
MIT Technology Review (2012), The Future of Work Opens in a new window
Cathy O’Neill (2016), How Algorithms Rule Our Working Lives Opens in a new window
Elaine Ou (2017), Working for an Algorithm Might Be an Improvement (opens in a new window)
The Guardian (2016), Robot Factories Could Threaten Jobs of Millions of Garment Workers Opens in a new window
Tommaso Venturini, Pablo Jensen, Bruno Latour (2015), Fill in the Gap. A New Alliance for Social and Natural Sciences Opens in a new window

Agenda

  • 10:00 –10:10: Liam Magee, Ned Rossiter: Welcome and Introduction
  • 10:10–11:10: Daniel Ross
  • 11:10–11:30: Q&A
  • 11:30–11:45: Coffee
  • 11:45–1:00: Armin Beverungen, Ned Rossiter
  • 1:00–2:00: Lunch
  • 2:00–3:15: Gay Hawkins, Nicholas Carah
  • 3:15–4:15: Panel discussion responding to automation: Dan / Gay / Nicholas / Armin / Nicole – Liam & Ned to chair
  • 4:15–4:30: Closing thoughts, future actions

Amateur philosophy – boundary 2 theme issue on Stiegler

Only just seen this. Issue 1 of volume 44 (2017) of boundary 2 is entitled Amateur Philosophy and concerns the work of Bernard Stiegler.

Within the issue are published the three lectures Stiegler gave in California in 2011 (one of which was published in Lana Turner). alongside this are pieces by a stellar cast of contemporary theorists, including: Claire Colebrook, Mark Hansen, Daniel Ross and Gerald Moore. Both of the two translators who have translated the majority of Stiegler’s work into English have pieces: Stephen Barker and Daniel Ross.

This seems like a fairly important contribution to anglophone engagements with Stiegler’s work…

Here’s the full table of contents.

You need a subscription to access the papers, let me know if you have any trouble…

Event> Abbinnett & Fuller: The philosophy of Bernard Stiegler – capitalism, technology & politics of spirit

Birmingham’s Contemporary Philosophy of Technology group have an event with Ross Abbinnett and Steve Fuller in conversation. Abbinnett is asserting himself as one of the few anglophone interpreters* of Stiegler’s work, with a monograph due out fairly soon and a punchy article in Theory, Culture & Society interpreting Stiegler’s project in terms of a politics of spirit (in the vein of Ars Industrialis).

I suspect it’ll be a rather muscular affair, so if that’s your thing here’s the info:

* I use ‘interpreter’ purposefully, I don’t think Dr Abbinnett translates Stiegler’s works.

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.

New book: Digital Humanities and Digital Media: Conversations on Politics, Culture, Aesthetics and Literacy

Saw this via Twitter:

Looks interesting, includes chapters from Johanna Drucker, Katherine Hayles and  Bernard Stiegler…

Blurb:

Digital Humanities and Digital Media: Conversations on Politics, Culture, Aesthetics and Literacy

edited by Roberto Simanowski

digital-humanities-and-digital-media_cover_200x300.jpg

There is no doubt that we live in exciting times: Ours is the age of many ‘silent revolutions’ triggered by startups and research labs of big IT companies; revolutions that quietly and profoundly alter the world we live in. Another ten or five years, and self-tracking will be as normal and inevitable as having a Facebook account or a mobile phone. Our bodies, hooked to wearable devices sitting directly at or beneath the skin, will constantly transmit data to the big aggregation in the cloud. Permanent recording and automatic sharing will provide unabridged memory, both shareable and analyzable. The digitization of everything will allow for comprehensive quantification; predictive analytics and algorithmic regulation will prove themselves effective and indispensable ways to govern modern mass society. Given such prospects, it is neither too early to speculate on the possible futures of digital media nor too soon to remember how we expected it to develop ten, or twenty years ago.

The observations shared in this book take the form of conversations about digital media and culture centered around four distinct thematic fields: politics and government, algorithm and censorship, art and aesthetics, as well as media literacy and education. Among the keywords discussed are: data mining, algorithmic regulation, sharing culture, filter bubble, distant reading, power browsing, deep attention, transparent reader, interactive art, participatory culture. The interviewees (mostly from the US, but also from France, Brazil, and Denmark) were given a set of common questions as well specific inquiries tailored to their individual areas of interest and expertise. As a result, the book both identifies different takes on the same issues and enables a diversity of perspectives when it comes to the interviewees’ particular concerns.

Among the questions offered to everybody were: What is your favored neologism of digital media culture? If you could go back in history of new media and digital culture in order to prevent something from happening or somebody from doing something, what or who would it be? If you were a minister of education, what would you do about media literacy? What is the economic and political force of personalization and transparency in digital media and what is its personal and cultural cost? Other recurrent questions address the relationship between cyberspace and government, the Googlization, quantification and customization of everything, and the culture of sharing and transparency. The section on art and aesthetics evaluates the former hopes for hypertext and hyperfiction, the political facet of digital art, the transition from the “passive” to “active” and from “social” to “transparent reading”; the section on media literacy discusses the loss of deep reading, the prospect of “distant reading” and “algorithmic criticism” as well as the response of the university to the upheaval of new media and the expectations or misgivings towards the rise of the Digital Humanities.

Contents

Roberto Simanowski Introduction

Johanna Drucker At the intersection of computational methods and the traditional humanities

John Cayley Of Capta, vectoralists, reading and the Googlization of universities

Erick Felinto Mediascape, antropotechnics, culture of presence, and the flight from God

David Golumbia Computerization always promotes centralization even as it promotes decentralization

Ulrik Ekman Network Societies 2.0: The extension of computing into the social and human environment

Mihai Nadin Enslaved by digital technology

Nick Montfort Self-monitoring and corporate interests

Rodney Jones The age of print literacy and ‘deep critical attention’ is filled with war, genocide and environmental devastation

Diane Favro, Kathleen Komar, Todd Presner, Willeke Wendrich Surfing the web, algorithmic criticism and Digital Humanities

N. Katherine Hayles Opening the depths, not sliding on surfaces

Jay David Bolter From writing space to designing mirrors

Bernard Stiegler Digital knowledge, obsessive computing, short-termism and need for a negentropic Web

Bernard Stiegler: “The time saved through automation must be granted to the people” [translation]

The interview with Bernard Stiegler translated below comes from the l’Humanité.fr website. This follows nicely from the other interview about ‘how to survive disruption’ I recently translated. It’s interesting for a number of reasons, but I think principally because he offers a little more detail on how one might go about creating an ‘economy of contribution’ by discussing the experiments with Plaine Commune and what he means by “contributory income” and how that differs from a ‘universal basic income”. For those interested in Stiegler’s work, beyond the philosophical texts, this is quite an enlightening read (I think).

As usual, clarifications and original French are in square brackets. In this case, all of the footnotes are by me. I hope some others find this of interest… I did.

Bernard Stiegler: “The time saved through automation must be granted to the people”

In the face of the upheavals created by digital data, the philosopher [Bernard Stiegler], developing his research in concert with the think tank Ars Industrialis and the Institute of Research and Innovation [of the Pompidou Centre], invites us to comprehensively [de fond en comble] rethink work. He advocates the establishment of an economy of contribution based on a new type of value production and social justice.

We are entering the era of big data. Does the quantitative explosion of digital data signal a new industrial revolution?

Bernard Stiegler Yes and it is already upon us. A study for the board of Roland Berger [a global strategy consultancy] suggests that three million jobs will be destroyed in the next ten years. But, other studies predict that 47% of jobs in the US, 50% in Belgium and France, will be automated in the course of the next twenty years. We are entering the third historical wave of automation. In the 19th century machine tools enabled capitalism to achieve enormous gains in productivity, while distributing the resulting profits only amongst the bourgeoisie. The second wave was created through Taylorism and the assembly line, which in part benefited the working classes because the workers consumed the goods they played a part in producing, creating mass markets. The third wave is not solely constituted by robots but also by the data we all generate, notably with our smart phones. All of these data that we deliver to platforms, such as Google, banks or shopping websites, are processed in every country and in an immediate manner by algorithms. Their exploitation allows, for example, a company like Amazon to predict what it may sell and to encourage us to buy in an extremely efficient manner, all with the minimum staff. Further, automation is allowing the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, to design very simple robots, capable of placing and retrieving stock incredibly quickly, without human interaction, controlled by software.

Does this means that in the near term a company like Amazon will be able to do without employees to pick, pack and send out packages?

Bernard Stiegler Warehouse workers will be replaced by robots. The “robolution” [1] is becoming increasingly possible for a large number of companies. The humanoids that are reaching market now are much less expensive and more advanced than the large automata already in use. Even SMEs can invest in them.

In the medium term then, such automation concerns everyone?

Bernard Stiegler Driverless lorries are already on the roads of Nevada and soon will be in Germany. Artificial intelligence will be able to replace lawyers who put their legal studies on file. All analytical jobs will be effected. Even medics. A high performance robot is able to conduct prostate surgery… In his Foundations of a Critique of Political Economy [the Grundrisse], Karl Marx formulated the hypothesis: what if everything  is automated? If nothing changes, in particular regions, 80 to 90 percent of the under 25s will soon have no other perspective. The markets will collapse, because there will be no more purchasing power, and with them will go the social security system that relies on workers’ contributions. A new society is being formed and it is not very compatible with that of today. We urgently need to rethink everything, to develop trade based on a new type of value production and social justice. I strongly believe in experimentation, which is why we have launched a project related to Plaine Commune [2] in the urban community of Seine-Saint-Denis. Beginning with a 10-year pilot programme, the aim is to create a district of learning [territoire apprenant] whose inhabitants are not only consumers of but also providers [prescripteurs] of digital services.

We imagine that this area was not chosen at random. Plaine Commune is both rich in diversity, it’s network of associations but also home to a disadvantaged population, facing mass unemployment… 

Bernard Stiegler When I started talking about this project with Patrick Braouezec, president of Plaine Commune, 38% of young people under 25 were unemployed in Seine-Saint-Denis. That figure is now 50% and if we follow the projections, the rate could reach between 80 and 90% in ten years. This endemic problem of unemployment will affect all developed countries unless they invent something new: that’s what we want to do in Plaine Commune. The idea is to develop an economy of contribution in a completely different model to Uber. The time gained through automation must be made available to people, otherwise the economy will collapse. The Indian economist Amartya Sen has shown, through a study comparing the residents of Bangladesh and Harlem [New York], that life expectancy is better and we live in a better society when the sharing of expertise strengthens social ties. He discusses a Human Development Index. Plaine Commune is a bit like Bangladesh: the people there are exercising a remarkable energy. [Various] actors, businesses and residents are aware of the urgent need to invent something radically new, which is to use the mechanisms of contribution to develop a commons in a project that promotes the development, exchange, and transmission of practical knowledge [savoir-faire], life skills [savoir-vivre] and theoretical knowledge [savoir théoretiques] among the younger generations, associations, businesses, public services of the area, and doctoral students from around the world. Researchers will have the mission to facilitate and work alongside these changes.

So this project proposes to put people at the centre of an increasingly automated society [une société de plus en plus robotisée]?

Bernard Stiegler Standardisation, the elimination of diversity, and the destruction of knowledge produce high-dose entropy, characterised by the state of “disorder” of a system. Here was must engage in a little theory. In the nineteenth century, physicists established that, in the theory of a universe in expansion since a big bang, energy irreversibly dissipates. The law of becoming is entropy [La loi du devenir est l’entropie]. Erwin Schrödinger, a great theorist of quantum mechanics (which is the theoretical basis of nanotechnology), however, showed that life is characterised by its ability to produce negative entropy, which is also called negentropy. This delays disorder, that is to say death, which is a decomposition of living matter. Social organisations have a similar function. Automation, which is a hyper-standardisation, produces entropy. Google’s algorithms, which can translate the languages of the world through English, which acts a pivot language, causes an immense linguistic entropy. The impoverishment of vocabulary and dysorthography regresses individual and collective intelligence through a submission to the law of averages. Conversely, life produces, through exceptions, mutations that are impossible to anticipate but which are the very conditions of evolution. Poets and writers have shaped languages through their exceptional use of language. Algorithms erase all exceptions: they only work by calculating probabilities based upon averages. Crude automation produces a generalised (mental as well as environmental) disorder, which ruins the economy. In the economy of tomorrow, automation can instead be placed at the service of the production of negative entropy. It must allow for the valorisation of exceptions by developing the collective empowerment of everyone to make the commons [la valorisation des exceptions en développant la capacitation collective de chacun pour en faire du commun].

The upheaval that you describe considerably changes the concept of work. Are we facing the erasure of the organisation of employment around the notion of salaried work?

Bernard Stiegler In employment [l’emploi] today, the worker [travailleur] is deprived of their expertise [savoir-faire]. They must follow a process and rely upon software – until one day, the task has become automated and the employee [l’employé] is dismissed. Work [Le travail], by contrast, is an activity during which the worker enriches the task by exercising their knowledge [savoir] through its differentiation [en le différenciant], and continually bringing something new to society. This kind of work produces negentropy, that is to say, also, value, and it cannot be automated because it consists, on the contrary, in de-automating [désautomatiser] routines. Ongoing automation must redistribute some of the productivity gains in order to fund some time for everyone to build capacities [un temps de capacitation de tout un chacun] within an economy of contribution that enables everyone to enhance their knowledge. This is why we advocate the adoption of a contributory income, which is not the same as a universal income.

Precisely, the idea has even more trouble finding its way because it overlaps very different definitions … 

Bernard Stiegler Such an income, also called “basic” [income], is a safety net. A contributory income is at the intersection of the models of temporary work in the performing arts [intermittents du spectacle] and the practices of [creating] free software. It covers various levels of compensation that depend upon the periods of employment and the level of salary. The work of tomorrow will be discontinuous [intermittent]. Periods of employment will alternate with periods of acquiring, developing and sharing knowledge. The right to the contributory income will be “rechargeable”, based upon the number of hours of employment. In case of problems, the system will be accompanied by a minimum living wage [revenu minimum d’existence] – as a social protection system accompanying the scheme. The trial we have led with Plaine Commune includes testing a contributory income to benefit those who are younger, for whom the amounts could increase with age and where the contribution allowance [allocation contributif] outside of the employed period would represent a percentage akin to the model of paying unemployment benefit to those working in the performing arts [les intermittents]. The beneficiaries would be invited to “invest in themselves” [«s’encapaciter»], that is to say, to increase their knowledge through studies as well as professional experience. They would be invited to share their knowledge [savoirs] with their neighbouring community [communauté territoriale]. All of this calls for a new collective intelligence, capable of mobilising formal and advanced theoretical knowledge, which is why, with doctoral students, the aim is to develop a contributory research involving the young and local residents. The aim is to develop an economy of contribution founded on the production of negentropy. [3]

So, periods of paid employment remain in your system – what is the difference between contributory work [travail contributif] and precarious part-time job [petit job précaire]?

Bernard Stiegler The switchboard operator job at TF1 paid in the vein of someone working in the performing arts [comme intermittents du spectacle] is only made precarious [précarisée] at the expense of Assedic [4]. Contributory work must be defined by precise criteria. However, such a question cannot be answered a priori, except through the formal principal I have already stated, which is the production of negentropy, that is to say: practical know-how [savoir-faire], life skills [savoir-vivre] and formal knowledge [savoirs formels]. The PhD theses of our doctoral students are intended to inform these issues in close collaboration with the work carried out in Villetaneuse by Benjamin Corriat’s team on the economy of the commons. We will build on the experience of the architect Patrick Bouchain, who has shown how to put urban renewal projects in the service of a political economy of collaboration – where the residents, who are directly involved in the renovation, may be paid in shares of the development [l’habitat]. There are possibilities for developing the economy of contribution through associations, cooperatives, the social economy and solidarity, public services, as well as through industry, where new production methods will create new professions, which will be intermittent.

Have you any idea of how to fund this radical transformation to systems of production?

Bernard Stiegler A share of the gains in productivity must be redistributed. Taxes raised on trillions of euros passing through purely speculative markets might actually be invested in profitable, just and sustainable projects, without forgetting the fight against tax evasion. Vocational training credits [Les crédits de la formation professionnelle] – 38 billion Euros per year – should be involved in funding the economy of contribution, as should many of the exemptions from social charges or tax that could be diverted for this purpose. They represent 80 billion Euros. There really is enough there for this to be funded.

Notes [by me]

1. “Robolution” is a literal translation of the neologism used by Stiegler, i.e. a portmanteau of robot & revolution.

2. The project with Plaine Commune is specified in outline [in French] on the France Strategie 2017-2027 website, and is supported by the Fondation de France.

3.As in previous written work and interviews, Stiegler uses the idea of the “intermittents” or “intermittents du spectacle” to signify the idea of work that is subsidised through some form of state administered allowance, such as unemployment benefit. In France people working in the performing arts are entitled to claim for social security benefits designed for people without regular employment [as per the definition provided by Larousse online.]

4. Assédic or ASSEDIC is the partial acronym of “Association pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce” (Association for Employment in Industry and Trade).

How to survive “disruption” – interview with Bernard Stiegler (translation)

In a recent interview with the French-language Swiss newspaper (or at least the web version) Le Temps, Bernard Stiegler addresses some of the key issues underlying his most recent book (not yet in translation) concerning disruption. Addressing in one sweep the ideological uses of the term by those involved in technological entrepreneurialism (especially in the US) and the wider sense in which (as he has previously argued) Stiegler sees a form of widespread dispossession of knowledge, of life skills and indeed of livelihood across Europe through the rapid political, social and technological changes to work and everyday life — Stiegler continues to argue for his favoured political response: an economy of contribution.

Of interest here, perhaps, is the brief discussion of his (and, I think, Ars Industrialis) collaboration in the creation of a Chair of Innovation [one of a number of proposed ‘research chairs’] to be based in Plaine Commune an urban unitary authority, or greater Paris borough (established through the creation of Metropolitan Greater Paris [Métropole du Grand Paris] as one of the nine Établissements publics territoriaux or boroughs/unitary authorities) on the Northern fringe of Paris that is designated as le Territoire de la Culture et de la création, or ‘the borough for creativity and culture. As I understand it Stiegler proposes Plaine Commune as ‘territoire contributif‘ – a sort of region of contribution [a territory or zone delineated as an area in which the economy of contribution might take precedence, along the same lines as ‘free trade zones‘ perhaps, but with a very different ethics/politics]. The principle role of the ‘chair’ is to oversee the pilot of a kind of basic or citizens’ income (broadly akin to a universal basic income) that Stiegler suggest will be implemented through a formal agreement of ‘contribution’ – whereby the income is granted on the premise that the young people given it will use it to subside their own personal development, in turn making them greater contributors to society.

As always, I have done my best to clarify and offer original French terms where I think it helps but done so in square brackets. I welcome comments and suggestions about this translation – please understand it to be a ‘rough’ version, I am nowhere near fluent enough for this to be considered particularly authoritative!

[See the original in French here].

How to survive “disruption”

The vacuity of the “data economy” or the revitalisation of our societies in a contributory mode? For Bernard Stiegler it’s time to choose …

Bernard Stiegler does not define disruption within the five hundred pages that begin with “Inshallah” and end with “we must dream”. The term, borrowed from nuclear physics, and in particular, experiments in closed rooms suggestively called “tokamaks” denotes a “sudden onset of instability”. In the jargon of our digital age the word now means the ability of an innovation to destabilize entire sectors of the economy and society. It is also worth noting that in the (not unrelated) terminology of the American Medical Association, a “disruptive physician” is a practitioner whose deplorable behavior undermines the health of those around him. So, we’re all clear then.

Bernard Stiegler does not define disruption because that is not his objective. His new book is placed in the disruption: the subject is us, who are totally enveloped within it – all of us, with our “processes of individuation” devastated by the conversion of our interior being into data that is delivered for automatic calculation. All of us, with our “protentions” (that is to say “the desire and expectation of the future”) short-circuited by algorithms. All of us, who face the “hegemonic becoming of disinhibition” [désinhibition devenue hégémonique] exemplified by the repulsive figure of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. We are all looking for tools to perform a split, the stakes of which are everything: on one side the void, on the other, if all goes well, the “reconstruction of a true society” [reconstitution d’une véritable société]. This is the conclusion of the French philosopher, theorist and practitioner of innovation, pioneer of digital and socio-technical thinking – and also, in previous lives, owner of a jazz club and former prison inmate, as he as highlighted himself – a combination of analysis with lived experience, which is, in this way, faithful to the foundations of phenomenology.

“How to not go mad?” Asks the subtitle of his book, and how did we arrive at such a question becoming inescapable? Via a long and winding path for society, answers Stiegler, that passes through “the inversion of the Enlightenment project” and leads to the “ultra-liberal capitalism” of the present, born from conservative revolutions that work towards the “pure and simple liquidation of public power”. Also, via a long technological path that has remained unthought since Plato, because philosophy essentially refuses to think technics. To represent the point where digital disruption converges with the climate crisis, Stiegler offers the testimony of a fifteen year old boy called Florian: “We no longer dream of having a family, of having children, a profession, ideals, because we are convinced that we are the last generation”. What is to be done? Surrender to madness? Allow suicidal thoughts to creep into the crevices of our minds like ivy? Let’s see…

Le Temps: Is the situation you describe the product of technology itself, or rather of the socio-political context?

Bernard Stiegler: When computing technologies can go four million times faster than us there are associated structural effects. However, we can use these tools in alternative ways to servicing the data economy. In any case, the web was not, initially, designed for capturing data: it was a space for publication, whose success was related to the opportunity to participate in public life through publication. In the Renaissance, printing opened out a public space that we call the Republic of Letters. The web potentially opens a new space that one can call the Digital Republic. The is what happened at first but quickly, and especially in the ten years since the introduction of social networks, the internet has become a system for capturing behaviour, for the development of what the Belgian lawyer Antoinette Rouvroy calls algorithmic governmentality, by which she means the control of individuals by algorithms.

– Is it still possible to split away from this?

– It is not only possible it is absolutely essential. The computational system as it functions today produces a standardisation, a homogenisation of existential spaces, which leads to a destruction of society. Increasingly, people are seen as the mediated reports of algorithms, and these are substituted for social systems. This results in a loss of a sense of existence that causes frustration, violence and madness, which is to say: despair and desensitisation [denoétisation]: the destruction of cognitive capacities. At an economic level, with the development of automation we see the destruction of more than half of the jobs in Europe and the United States. If we do not want to also thereby destroy half of the purchasing power, and thus consumption and economic activity, we must redistribute income outside of salaried employment, which exists less and less.

– We understand you have a plan…

– It shall be necessary to redistribute the gains made through automation through what we can call a contributory income, remunerating people who augment their capacities to act, in the sense understood by the Indian economist Amartya Sen. At the moment I am developing a project in the Seine-Saint-Denis district, which has more than 430,000 inhabitants, working with their unitary authority [l’établissement public territorial] Plaine Commune. Within the authority, we are creating a Chair of Contributive Research, in partnership with universities and businesses and with the support of three ministers. Primarily, this relates to the question of distributing a contributory income amongst several hundred young people drawn at random, whom we will support through a formal agreement [with them] based upon their acquisition of knowledge. The latter need not be purely academic, we are also speaking here of life skills [savior-vivre] and practical know-how [savoir-faire] in areas that could be [for example] sport or cooking.

In a famous study, Amartya Sen wondered why adult male mortality was higher in the New York neighbourhood of Harlem than in Bangladesh. In answering the problem he put forward an explanation based on [the idea of] collective knowledge that, he said, gave the Bangladeshis an ability to withstand incomparably greater adversity. In the Western world, people are thoroughly proletarianised: they no longer have [such] knowledge [savoirs], they only have the skills to operate a supermarket checkout, accounting software or financial data tools. They are therefore no longer capable of innovating [produire du changement], they only perpetuate the standardised nature of the system. A contributory income, on the contrary, remunerates people who acquire and enhance their capacities to enrich the social. We are also in favour of an unconditional income: both of these devices [dispostifs] are complimentary.

– So, in this way, there can be a future “in the disruption”…

– It is never too late for effective action [pour bien faire]. It is absolutely essential to develop an economy of contribution, using the algorithms that are already exploiting the data economy, that does not reject disruption, because that serves no purpose, because the reality of disruption is something nobody can prevent. This demands a new form of public power and a new European politics that develops an alternative model for these technologies. We must urgently reconstruct an ecology of dreams [une écologie du rêve], of thought [pensée], and social relations, and it must be created through experimentation, rather than solely through theorisation. Today we are in processes of denial, people do not want to hear talk of the extreme gravity of the situation. Yet as soon as there are real prospects [of change], they will [finally] be able to discuss it.

Bernard Stiegler, «Dans la disruption. Comment ne pas devenir fou?» (Editions Les Liens qui libèrent, 480 p.)

Reblog> Yuk Hui @digital_objects at Birkbeck on ‘For a Realism of Relations: The Case of Digital Objects’

via Scott Rodgers

Yuk Hui – For a Realism of Relations: The Case of Digital ObjectsThe Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology at Birkbeck is pleased to welcome Yuk Hui on 17 June, 2016 (3pm to 4pm in the Birkbeck Cinema)

In this talk, Yuk Hui will discuss his recent book On the Existence of Digital Objects, which is an investigation of digital objects in light of the proliferation of computational ontologies, and situates this phenomenon within both the history of philosophy and computation. This central thesis of the book is to develop a theory of relations in order to understand objects and to politicize the existence of digital objects, by drawing from Simondon, Heidegger and Husserl.

The talk will be followed by a response from Vasari Research Centre director Joel McKim and a Q&A with the audience.

Yuk Hui is currently research associate at the Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media of Leuphana University Lüneburg; previous to that, he was postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Research and Innovation of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He is editor (with Andreas Broeckmann) of 30 Years after Les Immatériaux: Art, Science and Theory (2015), and author of On the Existence of Digital Objects (prefaced by Bernard Stiegler, University of Minnesota Press, 2016).

Registration: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/yuk-hui-for-a-realism-of-relations-the-case-of-digital-objects-tickets-25647236575