Bernard Stiegler on the on the notion of information and its limits

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

I have only just seen this via the De Montfort Media and Communications Research Centre Twitter feed. The above video is Bernard Stiegler’s ‘key note’ (can’t have been a big conference?) at the University of Kent Centre for Critical Though conference on the politics of Simondon’s Modes of Existence of Technical Objects

In engaging with Simondon’s theory (or in his terms ‘notion’) of information, Stiegler reiterates some of the key elements of his Technics and Time in relation to exosomatisation and tertiary retention being the principal tendency of an originary technics that, in turn, has the character of a pharmakon, that, in more recent work, Stiegler articulates in relation to the contemporary epoch (the anthoropocene) as the (thermodynamic style) tension between entropy and negentropy. Stiegler’s argument is, I think, that Simondon misses this pharmacological character of information. In arguing this out, Stiegler riffs on some of the more recent elements of his project (the trilogy of ‘As’) – the anthropocene, attention and automation – which characterise the contemporary tendency towards proletarianisation, a loss of knowledge and capacities to remake the world.

It is interesting to see this weaving together of various elements of his project over the last twenty(+) years both: in relation to his engagement with Simondon’s work (a current minor trend in ‘big’ theory), and: in relation to what seems to me to be a moral philosophical character to Stiegler’s project, in terms of his diagnosis of the anthropocene and a call for a ‘neganthropocene’.

AI as organ -on|-ology

Kitt the 'intelligent' car from the TV show Knight Rider

Let’s begin with a postulate: there is either no “AI” – artificial intelligence – or every intelligence is, in fact, in some way artificial (following a recent talk by Bernard Stiegler). In doing so we commence from an observation that intelligence is not peculiar to one body, it is shared. A corollary is that there is no (‘human’) intelligence without artifice, insofar as we need to exteriorise thought (or what Stiegler refers to as ‘exosomatisation’) for that intelligence to function – as language, in writing and through tools – and that this is inherently collective. Further, we might argue that there is no AI. Taking that suggestion forward, we can say that there are, rather, forms of artificial (or functional) stupidity, following Alvesson & Spicer (2012: p. 1199), insofar as it inculcates forms of lack of capacity: “characterised by an unwillingness or inability to mobilize three aspects of cognitive capacity: reflexivity, justification, and substantive reasoning”. Following Alvesson & Spicer [& Stiegler] we might argue that such forms of stupidity are necessary passage points through our sense-making in/of the world, thus are not morally ‘wrong’ or ‘negative’. Instead, the forms of functional stupidity derive from technology/techniques are a form of pharmakon – both enabling and disabling in various registers of life.

Given such a postulate, we might categorise “AI” in particular ways. We might identify ‘AI’ not as ‘other’ to the ‘human’ but rather a part of our extended (exosomatic) capacities of reasoning and sense. This would be to think of AI ‘organologically’ (again following Stiegler) – as part of our widening, collective, ‘organs’ of action in the world. We might also identify ‘AI’ as an organising rationale in and of itself – a kind of ‘organon’ (following Aristotle). In this sense “AI” (the discipline, institutions and the outcome of their work [‘an AI’]) is/are an organisational framework for certain kinds of action, through particular forms of reasoning.

It would be tempting (in geographyland and across particular bits of the social sciences) to frame all of this stemming from, or in terms of, an individual figure: ‘the subject’. In such an account, technology (AI) is a supplement that ‘the human subject’ precedes. ‘The subject’, in such an account, is the entity to which things get done by AI, but also the entity ultimately capable of action. Likewise, such an account might figure ‘the subject’ and it’s ‘other’ (AI) in terms of moral agency/patiency. However, for this postulate such a framing would be unhelpful (I would also add that thinking in terms of ‘affect’, especially through neuro-talk would be just as unhelpful). If we think about AI organologically then we are prompted to think about the relation between what is figured as ‘the human’ and ‘AI’ (and the various other things that might be of concern in such a story) as ‘parasitic’ (in Derrida’s sense) – its a reciprocal (and, in Stiegler’s terms, ‘pharmacological’) relation with no a priori preceding entity. ‘Intelligence’ (and ‘stupidity’ too, of course) in such a formulation proceeds from various capacities for action/inaction.

If we don’t/shouldn’t think about Artificial Intelligence through the lens of the (‘sovereign’) individual ‘subject’ then we might look for other frames of reference. I think there are three recent articles/blogposts that may be instructive.

First, here’s David Runciman in the LRB:

Corporations are another form of artificial thinking machine, in that they are designed to be capable of taking decisions for themselves. Information goes in and decisions come out that cannot be reduced to the input of individual human beings. The corporation speaks and acts for itself. Many of the fears that people now have about the coming age of intelligent robots are the same ones they have had about corporations for hundreds of years.

Second, here’s Jonnie Penn riffing on Runciman in The Economist:

To reckon with this legacy of violence, the politics of corporate and computational agency must contend with profound questions arising from scholarship on race, gender, sexuality and colonialism, among other areas of identity.
A central promise of AI is that it enables large-scale automated categorisation. Machine learning, for instance, can be used to tell a cancerous mole from a benign one. This “promise” becomes a menace when directed at the complexities of everyday life. Careless labels can oppress and do harm when they assert false authority. 

Finally, here’s (the outstanding) Lucy Suchman discussing the ways in which figuring complex systems of ‘AI’-based categorisations as somehow exceeding our understanding does particular forms of political work that need questioning and resisting:

The invocation of Project Maven in this context is symptomatic of a wider problem, in other words. Raising alarm over the advent of machine superintelligence serves the self-serving purpose of reasserting AI’s promise, while redirecting the debate away from closer examination of more immediate and mundane problems in automation and algorithmic decision systems. The spectacle of the superintelligentsia at war with each other distracts us from the increasing entrenchment of digital infrastructures built out of unaccountable practices of classification, categorization, and profiling. The greatest danger (albeit one differentially distributed across populations) is that of injurious prejudice, intensified by ongoing processes of automation. Not worrying about superintelligence, in other words, doesn’t mean that there’s nothing about which we need to worry.
As critiques of the reliance on data analytics in military operations are joined by revelations of data bias in domestic systems, it is clear that present dangers call for immediate intervention in the governance of current technologies, rather than further debate over speculative futures. The admission by AI developers that so-called machine learning algorithms evade human understanding is taken to suggest the advent of forms of intelligence superior to the human. But an alternative explanation is that these are elaborations of pattern analysis based not on significance in the human sense, but on computationally-detectable correlations that, however meaningless, eventually produce results that are again legible to humans. From training data to the assessment of results, it is humans who inform the input and evaluate the output of the black box’s operations. And it is humans who must take the responsibility for the cultural assumptions, and political and economic interests, on which those operations are based and for the life-and-death consequences that already follow.

All of these quotes more-or-less exhibit my version of what an ‘organological’ take on AI might look like. Likewise, they illustrate the ways in which we might bring to bear a form of analysis that seeks to understand ‘intelligence’ as having ‘supidity’as a necessary component (it’s a pharmkon, see?), which in turn can be functional (following Alvesson & Spicer). In this sense, the framing of ‘the corporation’ from Runciman and Penn is instructive – AI qua corporation (as a thing, as a collective endeavour [a ‘discipline’]) has ‘parasitical’ organising principles through which play out the pharmacological tendencies of intelligence-stupidity.

I suspect this would also resonate strongly with Feminist Technology Studies approaches (following Judy Wajcman in particular) to thinking about contemporary technologies. An organological approach situates the knowledges that go towards and result from such an understanding of intelligence-stupidity. Likewise, to resist figuring ‘intelligence’ foremost in terms of the sovereign and universal ‘subject’ also resists the elision of difference. An organological approach as put forward here can (perhaps should[?]) also be intersectional.

That’s as far as I’ve got in my thinking-aloud, I welcome any responses/suggestions and may return to this again.

If you’d like to read more on how this sort of argument might play out in terms of ‘agency’ I blogged a little while ago.

ADD. If this sounds a little like the ‘extended mind‘ (of Clark & Chalmers) or various forms of ‘extended self’ theory then it sort of is. What’s different is the starting assumptions: here, we’re not assuming a given (a priori) ‘mind’ or ‘self’. In Stiegler’s formulation the ‘internal’ isn’t realised til the external is apprehended: mental interior is only recognised as such with the advent of the technical exterior. This is the aporia of origin of ‘the human’ that Stiegler and Derrida diagnose, and that gives rise to the theory of ‘originary technics’. 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 [more here]. I choose to render this in a more-or-less epistemological, rather than ontological manner – I am not so much interested in the categorisation of ‘what there is’, rather in ‘how we know’.

Bernard Stiegler’s Age of Disruption – out soon

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

Out next year with Polity, this is one of the earlier of Stiegler’s ‘Anthropocene’ books (in terms of publication in French, see also The Neganthropocene) explicating quite a bit of the themes that come out in the interviews I’ve had a go at translating in the past three years (see: “The time saved through automation must be given to the people”; “How to survive disruption”; “Stop the Uberisation of society!“; and “Only by planning a genuine future can we fight Daesh“). Of further interest, to some, is that it also contains a dialogue with Nancy (another Derrida alumnus). This book is translated by the excellent Daniel Ross.

Details on the Polity website. Here’s the blurb:

Half a century ago Horkheimer and Adorno argued, with great prescience, that our increasingly rationalised and Westernised world was witnessing the emergence of a new kind of barbarism, thanks in part to the stultifying effects of the culture industries. What they could not foresee was that, with the digital revolution and the pervasive automation associated with it, the developments they had discerned would be greatly accentuated and strengthened, giving rise to the loss of reason and to the loss of the reason for living. Individuals are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of digital information and the speed of digital flows, and profiling and social media satisfy needs before they have even been expressed, all in the service of the data economy. This digital reticulation has led to the disintegration of social relations, replaced by a kind of technological Wild West, in which individuals and groups find themselves increasingly powerless, driven by their lack of agency to the point of madness.
How can we find a way out of this situation? In this book, Bernard Stiegler argues that we must first acknowledge our era as one of fundamental disruption and detachment. We are living in an absence of epokh? in the philosophical sense, by which Stiegler means that we have lost our noetic method, our path of thinking and being. Weaving in powerful accounts from his own life story, including struggles with depression and time spent in prison, Stiegler calls for a new epokh? based on public power. We must forge new circuits of meaning outside of the established algorithmic routes. For only then will forms of thinking and life be able to arise that restore meaning and aspiration to the individual.
Concluding with a substantial dialogue between Stiegler and Jean-Luc Nancy in which they reflect on techniques of selfhood, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars in social and cultural theory, media and cultural studies, philosophy and the humanities generally.

Inter-Nation – European Art Research Network conference, 19 Oct 2018

A fence in Mexico City delineating a poor area from a wealthy area

This event looks interesting:

Inter-Nation

European Art Research Network | 2018 Conference

Key-Note speakers include:

Dawn Weleski, Conflict Kitchen, Pittsburgh
Bernard Stiegler, Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation, Paris
Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation

Other participants include: Louise Adkins, Alistair Alexander / Tactical Tech, Lonnie Van Brummelen, David Capener, Katarzyna Depta-Garapich, Ram Krishna Ranjam, Rafal Morusiewicz, Stephanie Misa, Vukasin Nedeljkovic / Asylum Archive, Fiona Woods, Connell Vaughan & Mick O’Hara, Tommie Soro.

Contributory economies are those exchange networks and peer 2 peer (P2P) communities that seek to challenge the dominant value system inherent to the nation-state. This two-day conference addresses these economies through artistic research.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, alternative economies have been increasingly explored through digital platforms, and artistic and activist practices that transgress traditional links between nation and economy.

Digital networks have the potential to challenge traditional concepts of sovereignty and geo-politics. Central to these networks and platforms is a broad understanding of ‘technology’ beyond technical devices to include praxis-oriented processes and applied knowledges, inherent to artistic forms of research. Due to the aesthetic function of the nation, artistic researchers are critically placed to engage with the multiple registers at play within this conference. The guiding concept of the conference ‘Inter-Nation’ comes from the work of anthropologist Marcel Mauss (‘A Different Approach to Nationhood’, 1920), proposed an original understanding of both concepts that opposes traditional definitions of State and Nationalism. More recently, Michel Bauwens argues for inquiry into the idea of the commons in this context. While, Bernard Stiegler has revisited this definition of the ‘Inter-Nation’ as a broader concept in support of contributory economies emerging in digital culture.

Developed at a crucial time on the island of Ireland, when Brexit is set to redefine relations. The conference engages key thematics emerging out of this situation, such as: digital aesthetics and exchange, network cultures and peer communities, the geo-politics of centre and margin.

The conference will be hosted across three locations within the city centre; Wood Quay Venue for main key-note and PhD researcher presentations; Studio 6 at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios for an evening performance event, and Smithfield Market where a screeing event is hosted at Lighthouse Cinema. 

CFP> Moral Machines? The ethics and politics of the digital world, Helsinki, March 2019

Man with a colander on his head attached to electrodes

This looks like an interesting event, though I’m not entirely sure what Stielger would/will say about “the machine’s capability of non-embodied and non-conscious cognition” ?. Via Twitter.

Moral Machines? The ethics and politics of the digital world

6–8 March 2019, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki

With confirmed keynotes from N. Katherine Hayles (Duke University, USA) and Bernard Stiegler (IRI: Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation at the Centre Pompidou de Paris)

As our visible and invisible social reality is getting increasingly digital, the question of the ethical, moral and political consequences of digitalization is ever more pressing. Such issue is too complex to be met only with instinctive digiphilia or digiphobia. No technology is just a tool, all technologies mark their users and environments. Digital technologies, however, mark them much more intimately than any previous ones have done since they promise to think in our place – so that they do not only enhance the homo sapiens’ most distinctive feature but also relieve them from it. We entrust computers with more and more functions, and their help is indeed invaluable especially in science and technology. Some fear or dream that in the end, they become so invaluable that a huge Artificial Intelligence or Singularity will take control of the whole affair that humans deal with so messily.

The symposium “Moral Machines? The Ethics and Politics of the Digital World” welcomes contributions addressing the various aspects of the contemporary digital world. We are especially interested in the idea that despite everything they can do, the machines do not really think, at least not like us. So, what is thinking in the digital world? How does the digital machine “think”? Our both confirmed keynote speakers, N. Katherine Hayles and Bernard Stiegler, have approached these fundamental questions in their work, and one of our aims within this symposium is to bring their approaches together for a lively discussion. Hayles has shown that, for a long time, computers were built with the assumption that they imitate human thought – while in fact, the machine’s capability of non-embodied and non-conscious cognition sets it apart from everything we call thinking. For his part, Bernard Stiegler has shown how technics in general and digital technologies in particular are specific forms of memory that is externalized and made public – and that, at the same time, becomes very different from and alien to individual human consciousness.

We are seeking submissions from scholars studying different aspects of these issues. Prominent work is done in many fields ranging from philosophy and literary studies to political science and sociology, not forgetting the wide umbrella of digital humanities. We hope that the symposium can bring together researchers from the hitherto disconnected fields and thus address the ethics and politics of the digital world in a new and inspiring setting. In addition to the keynotes, our confirmed participants already include Erich Hörl, Fréderic Neyrat and François Sebbah, for instance.

We encourage approaching our possible list of topics (see below) from numerous angles, from philosophical and theoretical to more practical ones. For example, the topics could be approached from the viewpoint of how they have been addressed within the realm of fiction, journalism, law or politics, and how these discourses possibly frame or reflect our understanding of the digital world.

The possible list of topics, here assembled under three main headings, includes but is not limited to:

  • Thinking in the digital world
    • What kind of materiality conditions the digital cognition?
    • How does nonhuman and nonconscious digital world differ from the embodied human thought?
    • How do the digital technologies function as technologies of memory and thought? What kind of consequences might their usage in this capacity have in the long run?
  • The morality and ethics of machines
    • Is a moral machine possible?
    • Have thinking machines made invalid the old argument according to which a technology is only as truthful and moral as its human user? Or can truthfulness and morals be programmed (as the constructors of self-driving cars apparently try to do)?
    • How is war affected by new technologies?
  • The ways of controlling and manipulating the digital world
    • Can and should the digital world be politically controlled, as digital technologies are efficient means of both emancipation and manipulation?
    • How can we control our digital traces and data gathered of us?
    • On what assumptions are the national and global systems (e.g., financial system, global commerce, national systems of administration, health and defense) designed and do we trust them?
    • What does it mean that public space is increasingly administered by technical equipment made by very few private companies whose copyrights are secret?

“Moral Machines? The Ethics and Politics of the Digital World” is a symposium organized by two research fellows, Susanna Lindberg and Hanna-Riikka Roine at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki. The symposium is free of charge, and there will also be a public evening programme with artists engaging the digital world. Our aim is to bring together researchers from all fields addressing the many issues and problems of the digitalization of our social reality, and possibly contribute towards the creation of a research network. It is also possible that some of the papers will be invited to be further developed for publication either in a special journal issue or an edited book.

The papers to be presented will be selected based on abstracts which should not exceed 300 words (plus references). Add a bio note (max. 150 words) that includes your affiliation and email address. Name your file [firstname lastname] and submit it as a pdf. If you which to propose a panel of 3–4 papers, include a description of the panel (max. 300 words), papers (max. 200 words each), and bio notes (max. 150 words each).

Please submit your proposal to moralmachines2019[at]gmail.com by 31 August 2018. Decisions on the proposals will be made by 31 October 2018.

For further information about the symposium, feel free to contact the organizers Susanna Lindberg (susanna.e.lindberg[at]gmail.com) and Hanna-Riikka Roine (hanna.roine[at]helsinki.fi).

‘An Encounter Between Don Ihde and Bernard Stiegler: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads Again’ Nijmegen 11-12 Jan. 2018

Glitched image of a mural of Prometheus giving humans' fire in Freiberg

Via Yuk Hui. Fascinating line-up of speakers:

International Expert Workshop: ‘An Encounter Between Don Ihde and Bernard Stiegler: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads Again’

Nijmegen, 11-12 January 2018Organized by Pieter Lemmens (Radboud University) and Yoni Van Den Eede (Free University of Brussels)

Quo vadis philosophy of technology? The defining moment in contemporary philosophy of technology has undoubtedly been the “empirical turn” of the 1990s and 2000s. Contra older, so-called essentialist approaches that saw technology as an all-encompassing phenomenon or force, the turn inaugurated more “micro-level” analyses of technologies studied in their specific use contexts. However, the empirical turn is now increasingly being called into question, with scholars asking whether the turn has not been pushed too far – certainly given recent technological developments that seem to give technology an all-encompassing or all-penetrating countenance (again): pervasive automation through algorithms and (ro)bots, nanoprobes, biotechnology, neurotechnology, etc. Also, the ecological urgency characterizing our “anthropocenic condition” appears to call for more broad-ranging perspectives than the mere analysis of concrete use contexts. At the same time, nevertheless, the “empirical attitude” keeps demonstrating its usefulness for the philosophical study of technologies on a day-to-day basis… Where do we go from here?

This two-day workshop will be dedicated to these questions by way of an encounter between two leading “streams” in philosophical thinking on technology today. Quite literally we organize an dialogue between two key figures, Don Ihde and Bernard Stiegler, and their respective frameworks: postphenomenology-mediation theory and techno-phenomenology-general organology. Together with these two thinkers and a select group of scholars, we will reflect upon the near-future form that philosophical thinking on technology should take in a world struggling with multiple global crises – the planetary ecological crisis being the gravest one.

Speakers: Prof. dr. Don Ihde (Stony Brook University), Prof. dr. Bernard Stiegler (University of Compiègne), Prof. dr. Mark Coeckelberg (University of Vienna), Dr. Yoni van den Eede (Free University of Brussels), Dr. Yuk Hui (Leuphana University), Dr. Pieter Lemmens (Radboud University), Dr. Helena de Preester (Ghent University), Prof. dr. Robert C. Scharff (University of New Hampshire), Dr. Dominic Smith (University of Dundee), Prof. dr. Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente), Dr. Galit Wellner (Tel Aviv University)

Venue: Villa Oud Heyendael, Rene? Descartesdreef 21, 6525 GL Nijmegen (Campus RU)
Time: 11 and 12 January 2018, 10.00h – 17.30h

More information: http://www.ru.nl/ftr/actueel/agenda/@1134542/expert-seminar-philosophy-technology-at-the/

Made possible by the the Faculty of Science, the Institute for Science in Society, the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, the International Office of Radboud University and the Centre for Ethics and Humanism, Free University of Brussels (VUB)

“Reconstructing the economy by rediscovering the value of knowledge” an interview with Bernard Stiegler [translation]

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

In this short interview published inLibérationin March 2017, Bernard Stiegler reprises his argument for a contributory income, as is being trialled in the Plaine-Commune experiment. This is more or less the same argument and ideas presented in previous interviews I’ve translated, such as the Humanité interview, in which Stiegler attempts to provide the answer (albeit rather sweeping) to an incredibly gloomy prognosis of unemployment through full automation and peniary for the majority and with it the ever increasing loss of knowledge. Stiegler’ solution is the economic recognition of the value of work that currently is not captured economically. The device to achieve this is the contributory income, which unlike the Universal Basic Income seems to have a vague set of conditions attached.

The main idea here is Stiegler’s interesting distinction between what you get paid for and what you *do* – your employment [emploi] and your work [travail] – which gets to the heart of a whole host of debates (some that are quite long-running) around what we do that is or is not ‘work’ and how/whether or not it gets economically valued. It also builds on longstanding discussion about knowledge and care as a therapeutic relation [with each other, society, technology and so on] by Stiegler [see, for example, the Disbelief and Discredit series]. I think this may be useful for some of the critical attention to the gig economy and the ways in which people are responding to the current bout of automation anxiety/ ‘rise of the robots’ hand-wringing.

What is interesting to me about this interview is how little it moves on from Stiegler’s past articulations of this argument. There’s some sweeping generalisations about the extent and impact of automation based on questionable and contested sources (which I think does a disservice to Stiegler’s intellectual project). It is curious that the contributory income is still talked about in such vague terms. It is supposedly an active experiment in Plaine-Commune, so surely there’s a little more detail that could be elaborated? It would be interesting to see some more detailed discussion about this [sorry if I’ve missed it somewhere!].

The principle basis of the contributory income seems to be a fairly institutional (and as far as I can tell – peculiarly French) state programme for supporting workers in the creative industries. 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.]

So, here’s a fairly quick translation of the interview. As usual clarifications or queries about terms are in [square brackets]. I welcome comments or corrections!

Bernard Stiegler: “Reconstructing the economy by rediscovering the value of knowledge”

The philosopher Bernard Stiegler determines a difference between employment, which today is largely proletarianised, and work, which transforms the world through knowledge, and thus cultivates wealth.

Philosopher, Director of the Institute of Research and Innovation (IRI) of the Georges-Pompidou centre and founder of the Ars Industrialis association, Bernard Stiegler has for several years concerned himself with the effects of automation and robotisation. He has notably published The Automatic Society 1: The Future of Work (Fayard 2015) and In Disruption: How not to go mad?(Les liens qui libèrent, 2016). Today he is deeply engaged with a project which beings together nine towns in the Plaine-Commune territory, in Seine-Saint-Denis, to develop and experiment with a “contributive income” which would fund activities that go unrecognised but are useful to the community.

Amazon intends to gain a foothold in the groceries sector with cashier-less convenience stores, like in Seattle. Is automation destined to destroy jobs?

For 47% of jobs in the US, the response from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is potentially “yes”. The remaining 53% cannot be automated because they are professional roles. They are not proletarianised: they are valued for their knowledge, which gives a capacity for initiative. What makes a profession is what is not reducible to computation, or rather reducible to the processing of data by algorithms. Not all jobs can therefore be automated. But this does not mean they are entirely removed from the processes of automation: everyone will be integrated into automatisms.

For you “employment” and “work” are not the same thing…

For two hundred and fifty years the model of industrial employment has been proletarianised employment, which has continued to grow. At first it was only manual workers, today it has largely exceeded the tertiary sector and affects nearly every task. More and more functions of supervision and even analysis have been proletarianised, for example by ‘big data’, doctors have been proletarianised – which means they are performing less and less of their profession. Proletarianised employment is sublimated by closed and immovable system. Work, on the contrary, transforms the world. So there is employment that does not produce work in this sense, rather the reverse: there is work outside of employment.

The big question for tomorrow is that of the link between automatisms, work outside of employment, and the new types of employment that enable the valroisation of work. The aim of contributive income is precisely to enable the reorganisation of the wealth produced by work in all its forms and cultivate, using the time freed up by automation, the forms of knowledge that the economy will increasingly demand in the anthropocene, this era in which the human has become a major geological factor. It is a case of surpassing the limits through an economy founded on the deproletarianisation of employment.

Optimistic discussions would like automation to free individuals, by eliminating arduous, alienating jobs. But today, it is mostly perceived as a threat…

It is a threat as long as we do not put in place the macroeconomic evolution required by deproletarianisation. The macroeconomy in which we have lived since the conservative revolution is a surreptitious, hypocritical and contradictory transformation of the Keynesian macroeconomics established in 1933. Contradictory because employment remains the central function of redistribution, whereas its reduction, and that of wages, drives the system as a whole towards insolvency.

Employment can no longer be the model for the redistribution of value. And this can no longer be limited to the relationship between use value and exchange value. Use value has become a value of usury, that is to say a disposable value that “trashes” the world – goods become waste, as do people, societies and cultures. The old American Way of Life no longer works: which is why Trump was elected… However if employment is destroyed it is necessary to redistribute not only purchasing power but also purchasing knowledge by reorganising all alternative employment and work.

In what way?

We must rebuild the economy by restoring value to knowledge. Proletarianised employment will disappear with full automation. We must create new kinds of employment, what we call irregular employment [emplois intermittents]. They will constitute intermittent periods in which instances of work that are not instances of employment are economically valued. The work itself will be remunerated by a contributory income allocated under conditions of intermittent employment, as is already the case in the creative industries.

In Intermittents et précaires [something like ~ Intermittent and precarious workers] Antonella Corsani and Maurizio Lazzarato that irregular workers in the creative industries [intermittents du spectacle] work mostly when they are not employed: employment is foremost a moment of implementing the knowledge that they cultivate outside of employment. We must encourage the winning back of knowledge, in every area [of work]. This implies on the one hand to evolve the relationship between individuals and education systems as well as professional associations lifelong learning and so on.

And, on the other hand, to precisely distinguish between information and knowledge. Automated systems have transformed knowledge into information. But this is only dead knowledge. To overcome the anthropocene we must resuscitate knowledge by inteligently practising information – through alternative periods of work and employment. Only in this way can we re-stabilise the economy, where the problems induced by climate change, for example, are only just beginning, and where vital constraint [contrainte vitale] is going to be exercised more and more as a criterion of value. It is a long term objective… But today, what should we do? Nobody can pull a rabbit out of their hat to solve the problem. We must therefore experiment. This is what we are doing with the Plaine-Commune project in Seine-Saint-Denis, which in particular aims to gradually introduce a contributory income according to the model of irregular work [l’intermittence]. With the support of the Fondation de France, we are working with residents in partnership with the Établissement public territorial [something like a unitary authority area?], Orange, Dassault Systèmes and the Maison des sciences de l’homme Paris-Nord [a local Higher Education Institution]–and through them the universities Paris 8 and Paris 13– in dialogue with small and medium enterprises, associations, cooperatives and mutual associations [les acteurs de l’économie sociale et solidaire], artists, cultural institutions. It’s a ten-year project.

Dallas Smythe and ‘the consciousness industry’, or why ‘attention’ isn’t ‘labour’

Facial tracking system, showing gaze direction, emotion scores and demographic profiling

‘I’ll consume my consumers, [with] no sense of humour’ — Grace Jones, Corporate Cannibal

I keep failing to write up a talk I did over 18 months ago in Bristol for the Politics and Economics of Attention seminar convened by Jessica Pykett. My main argument is that the ways that a thing called ‘the attention economy’ gets figured by a lot of folks, including Christian Marazzi, and Bernard Stiegler to an extent, is that ‘attention’ is ‘work’ and therefore it can be factored through the marxian labour theory of value. Indeed, Jonathan Beller flips this and suggests that, rather, work is a form of attention and therefore it should be the ‘attention  theory of value’.

There’s another version of this story, which is also based in marxian theory. This is perhaps best articulated (in my limited reading) by Dallas Smythe regarding advertising and the broadcast media but can also be accessed from a rather different angle via David Harvey’s work on wine. In this version of the economisation of attention, attention is not ‘work’, instead attention is a commodity. The advertiser rents an  audience from the broadcaster, which is more-or-less demographically specific due to profiling. Smythe refers to this as a kind of ‘consciousness industry’ (presumably in a similar vein to the ‘culture industry’). This is more precisely the case with online advertising where, through all sorts of techniques, the profiling can appear to be a lot more specific. As Smythe has it in a 1977 paper for the Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory:

What do advertisers buy with their advertising expenditures? … they are not paying for advertising for nothing… I suggest that hat they buy are the services of audiences with predictable specifications who will pay attention in predictable numbers … at particular times to a particular means of communication… As collectives these audiences are commodities. … Such markets establish prices in the familiar mode of monopoly capitalism.

A sub-industry sector of the consciousness industry checks to determine [that the audience pays attention]. … The behaviour of the members of the audience product under the impact of the advertising … content is the object of market research by a large number of independent market research agencies as well as by… the advertising corporation and in media enterprises.

The most important resource employed in producing the audience commodity are [sic.] the individuals and families in the nations which permit advertising.

So, while it may be useful for some to consider that the ways in which we are addressed as an audience and the kinds of ways we ‘pay attention’ can be figured as ‘labour’ that has a value and therefore exploits apparent leisure time as, instead, a continuation of work by other means, this does not perhaps tell the whole story. The advertising businesses are, certainly, using all sorts of ways to profile us and in some senses individualise a potential target for an advert but this is in order to serve up aggregates of profiles to advertisers as a commodity from which they extract rent. I should note Smythe does not see it that way but instead analyses the whole system of monopoly capitalism in which advertising is operating and in which there is, what he expertly articulates as:

…the contradictions produced within the audience commodity [which] should be understood more clearly … as between audience members serving a producers’ goods in the marketing of mass produced consumer goods and their work in producing and reproducing labour power.

Maybe I should write this up… it’s quite an interesting argument and as I said in my talk some time ago I think it highlights the issues with contradiction in the ‘attention commodity’ between it’s apparent uniqueness and a reproducibility as a ‘type’. There are a few avenues of critique open as a result. One, is to think the categorisation techniques as a pharmakon, perhaps to interrogate the processes of calculation/categorisation as rethink-able, another might be to look at ‘derivative’ nature of the categorisations, and how this produces a form of financialisation ( for e.g. following Louise Amoore) and another still might be to explore alternative valuations – whereby people take an active role in ‘selling’ themselves into this commodity market (for e.g. following Sarah Gold).

Growing criticism of Stiegler

I’ve begun to see some interesting criticism of Bernard Stiegler’s more recent activities, both in terms of books and thePlaine Commune project, which I confess resonate with some misgivings I have had for a little while [e.g. Chatonsky, Moatti, SilberzahnVial]. No doubt there are responses to these criticisms and so I’m not going to attempt to reiterate them wholesale or vouch for them – not least because I haven’t read the more recent work. Let me be clear in this – I think critical reflection on an argument or project is not only healthy but a necessary part of the humanities and science. I am neither seeking to ‘write off’ Stiegler’s work nor dogmatically defend it.

Nevertheless, I think there are two particular, related, points that occur in a number of different criticisms online that it seems to me may hold some water. These are:

(1) Increasingly in recent work, which is being produced at a breakneck speed, there is a quickness with concepts that has drawn criticism. Howells and Moore (2013) in their introduction to the first anglophone secondary text on Stiegler’s work say: “In contrast to the patient, diligent deep-readings we have come to expect since Derrida, the image that emerges of Stiegler is perhaps a thinker who zooms in and out of texts, skimming them to fit what he is looking to find” (p. 9). Howells and Moore, in the end, see this as a strength. Nevertheless, there is a growing ‘jargon’ that loosens and perhaps undermines the analytical purchase within arguments Stiegler attempts to make. This is particularly evident in the kinds of names for the over-arching project that have begun to emerge, for example: “organology“, “neganthropology” and “pharmacosophy“. Furthermore, it has been argued that, especially in relation to the use of the ideas of “disruption” and “entropy”, Stiegler makes all-too-quick analogies and equivalences between different meanings or applications of a given term that waters down or perhaps even undermines its use. So, for example, in terms of the increasing use of philosophical concepts, for which he stands accused of creating ever-more impenetrable jargon, we might look to his recent conjugation of the ideas of automation, anthropocene and entropy/negentropy. In an extensive and rather forthright blogpost by Alexandre Moatti, an example is taken from The Automatic Society 1 (I’ve provided the full quote, whereas Moatti just takes a snippet):

“All noetic bifurcation, that is to say all quasi-causal bifurcation, derives from a cosmic potlatch that indeed destroys very large quantities of differences and orders, but  it does so by projecting a very great difference on another plane, constituting another ‘order of magnitude’ against the disorder of a kosmos in becoming, a kosmos that, without this projection of a yet-to-come from the unknown, would be reduced to a universe without singularity. A neganthropological singularity (which does not submit to any ‘anthropology’) is a negentropic bifurcation in entropic becoming, of which it becomes the quasi-cause, and therein a point of origin – through this improbable singularity that establishes it and from which, intermittently and incrementally, it propagates a process of individuation” [p. 246].

I cannot honestly say that I can confidently interpret or translate the meaning of this passage, perhaps someone will comment below with their version. However, I am confident that the translator (from French), Dan Ross, will have done a thorough job at trying to capture the sense of the passage as best he can. Nevertheless, and even with a knowledge of the various sources the terminology implies (made more or less explicit in the preceding parts of the book) the prose is perhaps problematic. Here’s my take, for what it’s worth:

What I think is being suggested in the quote above is that all life we call ‘human’ is supported by language, writing and other prostheses (‘noetic life’) and that when these social systems shift and are split (bifurcation) they destroy productive forms of  difference – different forms of understanding, different ways of knowing and different ways of living perhaps (‘differences and orders’). In so doing, this projects a bigger hiving off of the potential for life (‘difference on another plane’ and ‘disorder of a kosmos‘) to change in various ways and possibly prevents particular kinds of future (‘yet-to-come’ ~ quite similar to Derrida’s distinction between l’avenir and futur) and an impoverished form of being/life (‘a universe without singularity’). We can only really recognise these points of rupture after the fact, because the ruptures themselves are also the seeds of the moment of realisation. To positively and sustainably act (‘negentropic bifurcation in entropic becoming’) both for a positive projection of possible futures (‘improbable singularity’) and in response to these various kinds of ‘undoing’ of potential we attempt to create new possibilities (‘a process of individuation’).

Another related, perhaps more serious, criticism is that Stiegler quickly moves between and analogises things that might be considered to push the bounds of credulity. For example, the strategies of Daech/IS, management consultants and ‘GAFA’ (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) are considered analogous by Stiegler when discussing ‘disruption’ as “a phenomenon of the acceleration of innovation, which is the basis of the strategy [of disruption] developed in Silicon Valley” [Here’s a strong response to that argument, in French]. Of course the idea of ‘disruptive practices’ as a force that can be diagnosed as ‘destroying social equilibrium; in different domains is seductive. Nevertheless, isn’t part of that seduction in an over-generalisation of ‘disruption’ that elides the mixing of people, objects and strategies that are simply too different? Isn’t there a danger that ‘disruption’ becomes yet another ‘neoliberalism’ – a catchall diagnosis of all things bad against which we should (ineffectually) rail? It sometimes seems to me that there is a peculiar, slightly snobby, anti-americanism that undergirds some of this, which if so does Stiegler’s work a disservice.

Taking this further, the analogies and the systemisation of the ‘jargon’-like concepts creates what Alexandre Moatti, in the Zilsel blogpost, calls two families of antonyms:

  • (automation) entropy, anthropisation, the Anthropocene era or the ‘Entropocene’, anthropocenologists
  • (deautomation) negentropy, neganthropy, neganthropisation and the ‘Neganthropocene’ era

There is a bit of a pattern here – to create systems of binaries. In the Disbelief and Discredit series it was Otium and Negotium. In Taking Care it was psycho- vs. noo-: politics, power, techniques and technologies. Perhaps this is what it means to put the pharmakon into practice for Stiegler? I worry that this habit of rendering systems of ideas that can be wielded authoritatively has the potential for a fairly negative implementation by ‘Stieglerian’ scholars – binary systems can be used as dogma. I think we’ve seen in enough of that in the social sciences to be wary here.

I recognise that sometimes ‘difficult’ language is needed to get at difficult ideas. There’s been previous controversy around these sorts of themes in anglophone scholarship in the past, not least in relation to the work of Judith Butler, and it’s possible to read about that elsewhere. I neither want to ‘throw stones’ nor ‘sit on a fence’ here, I admire aspects of Stiegler’s writing and thinking because it does, it seems to me anyway, get at some interesting and thorny issues. Nevertheless, the blizzard of concepts, the increasingly long and hard to follow sentences and I think the quickness of fairly sweeping arguments, especially when they write-off big chunks of other peoples’ work (which is the case in the chapter that passage is from in relation to Levi-Strauss), feels to me like a series of ungenerous moves. There may be all sorts of reasons for this but it feels like a shame to me…

(2) Following from (1), there is a sense in which the increasing use of philosophical jargon, analogies and the fairly rigid system of concepts that is used to interlink many of these themes creates what Moatti calls a kind of closed Stieglerian environment of thought, which is mutually reinforcing but perhaps then limits participation, through the jargon and activities of its thinking: “there is a Stieglerian environment: that of its association Ars Industrialis [and the Institute de Recherche et Innovation at the Centre Pompidou], of the summer academies it organizes in the country residence of Epineuil-le-Fleuriel… but also of certain contemporary authors whom he cites  and who gravitate around him (very often the same group)” [Moatti]. There is a danger that both in the systematisation of the concepts, as discussed above, and in the sort of informal cabal-like behaviour of the associations, groups and schools that there is a closed group.

There have also been concerns expressed about the nature of the support of the programmes and the work being undertaken by Ars Industrialis and IRI and how this feeds into the work itself. In particular, it has been noted that the corporate sponsorship (including Orange and Dassault Systems) of the Plaine Commune experiment [discussed in this interview] in producing a ‘contributory territory’, in the vein of Stiegler’s notion of the ‘economy of contribution‘, and the channeling of funds into some rather plum roles, such as the creation of a relatively well-paid and cooshy “Participatory Research Chair” (see: Faire de Plaine Commune en Seine-St-Denis) based at MSH Paris-Nord, in the territory, yes, but arguably not of it perhaps.

A corollary to this is the observation articulated by others, and something for which I think other philosophers have also been guilty, to draw upon a narrow and fairly specific set of studies to support sweeping generalisations. For Stiegler this has been the case in relation attention, with the use of one particular paper by N. Katherine Hayles, selectively drawing upon a particular scientific study; for ‘the anthropocene’, for which he significantly relies on Bonneuil and Fressoz (2016); and for automation, with the use of a particular quote by Bill Gates [1] and a widely cited but also contested speculative study by Frey and Osborne (2013) from the Oxford Martin School. This habit, in particular, I fear rather undermines the cogency of Stiegler’s arguments.

Where does this leave someone interested in these ideas? Or, more specifically, given this is a post on a personal blog through which I have significantly drawn upon Stiegler’s work: where does it leave my own interest? I don’t think I would go as far as some to declare that the recent work by Bernard Stiegler should be disregarded, or, in the extreme case, that Stiegler should no longer be considered worthy of the title ‘philosopher’ [See: Stéphane Vial’s Bernard Stiegler : la fin d’un philosophe]. Nevertheless, I think that, sadly, there probably is cause to be reticent in engaging with Stiegler’s work on ‘the anthropocene’ and ‘automation’ for all of the reasons discussed above. I still think there are plenty of interesting arguments and ideas expressed by Bernard Stiegler, I just think, personally, I will need to take much greater care in working through the provenance of these ideas from now on.

Notes

1. see the Business Insider article ‘Bill Gates: People Don’t Realize How Many Jobs Will Soon Be Replaced By Software Bots‘, quoting from the 2014 conversation with Bill Gates at the American Enterprise Institute: From poverty to prosperity: A conversation with Bill Gates [approx 46-minutes in]. Quote: ‘Capitalism, in general, will over time create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of the skill set. “¦ Twenty years from now labour demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower and i don’t think people have that in their mental model’.

Another new book from Bernard Stiegler – Neganthropocene

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

Open Humanities has a(nother!) new book from Bernard Stiegler, blurb pasted below. This is an edited version of Stiegler’s public lectures in various places over the last three or so years, hence Dan Ross’ byline. Dan has done some fantastic work of corralling the fast-moving blizzard of Stiegler’s concepts and sometimes flitting engagements with a wide range of other thinkers and I am sure that this book surfaces this work.

It would be interesting to see some critical engagement with this, it seems that Stiegler simply isn’t as trendy as Latour and Sloterdijk or the ‘bromethean‘ object-oriented chaps for those ‘doing’ the ‘anthropocene’ for some reason. I’m not advocating his position especially, I have various misgivings if I’m honest (and maybe one day I’ll write them down) but it is funny that there’s a sort of anglophone intellectually snobbery about some people’s work…

Neganthropocene

by Bernard Stiegler
Edited and translated by Daniel Ross

Forthcoming

As we drift past tipping points that put future biota at risk, while a post-truth regime institutes the denial of ‘climate change’ (as fake news), and as Silicon Valley assistants snatch decision and memory, and as gene-editing and a financially-engineered bifurcation advances over the rising hum of extinction events and the innumerable toxins and conceptual opiates that Anthropocene Talk fascinated itself with–in short, as ‘the Anthropocene’ discloses itself as a dead-end trap–Bernard Stiegler here produces the first counter-strike and moves beyond the entropic vortex and the mnemonically stripped Last Man socius feeding the vortex.

In the essays and lectures here titled Neganthropocene, Stiegler opens an entirely new front moving beyond the dead-end “banality” of the Anthropocene. Stiegler stakes out a battleplan to proceed beyond, indeed shrugging off, the fulfillment of nihilism that the era of climate chaos ushers in. Understood as the reinscription of philosophical, economic, anthropological and political concepts within a renewed thought of entropy and negentropy, Stiegler’s ‘Neganthropocene’ pursues encounters with Alfred North Whitehead, Jacques Derrida, Gilbert Simondon, Peter Sloterdijk, Karl Marx, Benjamin Bratton, and others in its address of a wide array of contemporary technics: cinema, automation, neurotechnology, platform capitalism, digital governance and terrorism. This is a work that will need be digested by all critical laborers who have invoked the Anthropocene in bemused, snarky, or pedagogic terms, only to find themselves having gone for the click-bait of the term itself–since even those who do not risk definition in and by the greater entropy.

Author Bio

Bernard Stiegler is a French philosopher who is director of the Institut de recherche et d’innovation, and a doctor of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. He has been a program director at the Collège international de philosophie, senior lecturer at Université de Compiègne, deputy director general of the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, director of IRCAM, and director of the Cultural Development Department at the Centre Pompidou. He is also president of Ars Industrialis, an association he founded in 2006, as well as a distinguished professor of the Advanced Studies Institute of Nanjing, and visiting professor of the Academy of the Arts of Hangzhou, as well as a member of the French government’s Conseil national du numérique. Stiegler has published more than thirty books, all of which situate the question of technology as the repressed centre of philosophy, and in particular insofar as it constitutes an artificial, exteriorised memory that undergoes numerous transformations in the course of human existence.

Daniel Ross has translated eight books by Bernard Stiegler, including the forthcoming In the Disruption: How Not to Go Mad?(Polity Press). With David Barison, he is the co-director of the award-winning documentary about Martin Heidegger, The Ister, which premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival and was the recipient of the Prix du Groupement National des Cinémas de Recherche (GNCR) and the Prix de l’AQCC at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, Montreal (2004). He is the author of Violent Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and numerous articles and chapters on the work of Bernard Stiegler.