warehouse warehouse

On Disappearances

Felix Maschewski & Anna-Verena Nosthoff,  translated by Pierre Schwarzer

„The internet will disappear. This was announced by former Google-CEO Eric Schmidt at the World Economic Forum in 2015. Needless to say ,he did not seek to proclaim its death, but rather – on the contrary – stress the omnipresence of the net to come. With so many IP-Adresses and smart sensors awaiting, with rooms that dynamic and interactive that the universal connectivity would go unnoticed, according to Schmidt. „It will be part of your presence all the time.“

While Schmidt’s vision mainly focused on smart environments and the internet of things, mars-visionary Elon Musk articulated an even more radical form of digital disappearance: his start-up Neuralink recently started researching the connection of mind, medium and machine via direct cortex-interfaces. 1. Only by short-circuiting it with technology could the deficient human keep up with the development of artificial intelligence; otherwise, claims Musk, we would become pets of robots 2


Fußnoten

  1. That Mark Zuckerberg has had similar plans for a while should not be a surprise. Facebook at the moment tests whether and to which extent users could be fed their facebook-feeds directly via cranial interfaces

  2. for more details read the following, in German: Felix Maschewski/ Anna-Verena Nosthoff: Das Netz ist nie neutral, NZZ Feuilleton vom 27.06.2017: https://www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/kuenstliche-intelligenz-digitale-technik-ist-nie-neutral-ld.1302959. Neuralink’s Goal is at first the battle against Parkinson’s disease or depression – however, as emphasized by Musk, healthy humans should “naturally” be allowed invasive access to the internet within 8 to 10 years.

  3. Tiqqun, Kybernetik und Revolte, Berlin 2007, S. 13. https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/tiqqun-the-cybernetic-hypothesis

  4. Historically this logic of the program stems less from La Mettries Man a Machine than from Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, modern game theory (John von Neumann) and behaviourist models of behaviour (Gregory Bateson etc.). Said concepts had already subscribed to communicative interconnectivity (the social generalization of models of information, recursivity and especially feedback loops) in the 1940s.

  5. https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/tiqqun-the-cybernetic-hypothesis.

  6. Eric Schmidt/ Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age, p.24

  7. See Steffen Mau, Das metrische Wir. Über die Quantifizierung des Sozialen, Berlin 2017.

  8. See Felix Maschewski/ Anna-Verena Nosthoff: Wo ist das egalitäre Internet geblieben?, NZZ Feuilleton vom 08.05.2017: https://www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/machtsphaere-silicon-valley-wo-ist-das-egalitaere-internet-geblieben-ld.1290918 as well as: Order From Noise. On Cambridge Analytica, Cybernetic Governance and the Technopolitical Imaginary, Public Seminar, 20.03.2017: http://www.publicseminar.org/2017/03/order-from-noise

  9. https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/tiqqun-the-cybernetic-hypothesis

  10. Martin Burckhardt, Digitale Renaissance, Manifest für eine neue Welt, Berlin 2014, S. 125.

  11. Robert Pfaller, Zweite Welten und andere Lebenselixiere, Frankfurt a.M. 2012.

  12. Wendy Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory, Cambridge 2014 (quoted in Christoph Kucklick, Die Granulare Gesellschaft, Wie das Digitale unsere Gesellschaft auflöst, Berlin 2016, S. 167.)

  13. Alexander Galloway, Black Box, Black Bloc, Lecture at the New School in New York City, 12. April 2010; http://cultureandcommunication.org/galloway/pdf/Galloway,%20Black%20Box%20Black%20Bloc,%20New%20School.pdf

  14. Frank Pasquale, Black Box Society, Cambridge 2016.

  15. a thorough overview is offered by Wolfie Christl‘s Study Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life: http://crackedlabs.org/en/corporate-surveillance/ see also the forthcoming book of Shoshana Zuboffs in German: Herren oder Knechte.

  16. Ulrich Bröckling, Totale Mobilmachung. Menschenführung im Qualitäts- und Selbstmanagement, In: Gouvernementalität der Gegenwart. Studien zur Ökonomisierung des Sozialen, hg.v. Ulrich Bröckling et al. Frankfurt a.M. 2000, S. 152.

  17. Joseph Vogl, Medien-Werden: Galileis Fernrohr, in: Archiv für Mediengeschichte 1, Weimar 2001, S. 120.

  18. Michel Foucault, Subjekt und Macht, Frankfurt a.M. 2005, S. 285.

  19. Eric Schmidt in an interview to CNBC when he was still CEO of Google

  20. Christopher Hood, Transparency in Historical Perspective, In: Christopher Hood und David Heald (Hg.), Transparency: The Key to better Governance? Oxford 2006. S. 3.

  21. Dieter Mersch, Ordo ab Chao – Order from Noise, Berlin 2013, S. 49.

  22. Tiqqun, Kybernetik und Revolte, Berlin 2007, S. 114

  23. same, p. 115.

  24. Lovink, Geert. Social Media Abyss, Critical Internet Cultures and the Force of Negation, Cambridge and Malden: Polity, 2016.

  25. Jean Baudrillard, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? (2009).

What really happens here was recently made clear by Slavoj Žižek: Musk’s plans force the disappearance of the difference between consciousness and reality, between within and without – an “operation both ambiguous and possibly dangerous”. The enforced conformity of man and machine touches upon a crucial question: who controls the new techno-organic space, who decides in the end? The fallible human? The “more objective” data-fedalgorithm fed with data? Something in between or a talented hacker? It remains unclear what exactly could still be qualified as a consciousness considering the connection of man and machine. Musk, approaching these questions in a terse manner, explains that we are per se already “cyborgs” through our continuous use of smartphones – and he might not even be wrong.

THE CYBERNETIC HYPOTHESIS

The disappearance of the internet coined by Schmidt is not solely related to the ambivalence of the medium itself, i.e. that the medium itself disappears behind what it renders visible. Like Musk’s vision, the prophecy of the AlphabetInc-Chairman rather attests to a form of erasure and annulment: with the disappearance of the web, a “beyond”, an “elsewhere” away from the plugs disappears. If everything communicates with everything, the internet becomes ineluctable.

The collective Tiqqun described such developments years ago, through alluding to a specific world-view: the “cybernetic hypothesis”, which claims that the entirety of “biological, physical and social behaviours can be considered as entirely programmed and reprogrammable.” 3, that man itself is some sort of machine one would only need to in-form correctly, through the simple adjustments of the feedback-loops of communication.

4.

In this context, Tiqqun describe a cybernetic „modernization of power“ – what they call the „visible production of Adam Smith’s „invisible hand““. The collective therefore recognizes that through the steady establishment of cybernetic concepts and their materialisation in forced computerisation processes, “the mystical keystone of liberal experimentation” no longer was a mere fiction. The common good, they claim, was no longer based on the blind belief in the somewhat transcendental mechanics of Smith’s Metaphor. In the processing of computers, its functioning rather becomes visible with the inter- and transactions rendered transparent and malleable through the “rational coordination of flows of information and decision” : “The communicative system becomes the nervous system of society, the source and destination of all power” 5

In this vein, Eric Schmidt’s more or less direct use of the cybernetic hypothesis is not surprising: in his cyber-pamphlet The New Digital Age he candidly mentions that the „importance of the guiding human hand“ 6 is on the rise in the dematerialized digital age. Its growing influence is ascribed to the risen connectivity, the massive increase of stored data, and, last but definitely not least, the culturally recognized striving for quantification and the successive metrics of scores, rankings, likes and shares etc. 7.

DIGITAL „WORLD DESTRUCTION“

Schmidt’s vision of converting the entirety of social processes and epistemes into the digital, and of shedding light on the back-room-mentality of antiquated institutions mainly marks a socio-political consequence. In the end, it leads to what Philipp Howard recently called “final interconnection” (Beth Noveck called it “smart governance” and Parag Khanna “direct technocracy”) 8

All those technologically upgraded concepts –dreaming of replacing politicians with experts, public discourse with algorithmic regulation and evidence-based data systems or parliamentary democracy with a fluid technocratic order – focus on continuing the cybernetic programme of transparency in the sphere of politics – up until a “politics of “the end of politics”” 9

In such a post-politics, there are no revolutions, while resistance is reduced to forms of erratic disturbance, to mere irritation – or, to put it shortly, noise. Strikingly, such noise is not characterised by an actual reversal of established orders, for one thing remains essential to the efficiency of cybernetic governance of the technocratic jargon: it must not be about suppression or suspension of communication, but rather about its acceleration, its circulation, its orientation. As long as the noise escalates in the feedback-networks, in the apparatuses’ girdle, it remains under control. Communication of information, whether cat content or Trump scandal, must not run dry – only the political disappears. [read on]

In this regard, digital machines mark a pervasive effect: they inhale matter, thus leading to what Martin Burckhardt describes as “world destruction”: “for no matter which object is to be digitalised, it is to be stripped of its specific quality.” Each thing loses its unchangeable idiosyncrasies throughout the process of digital doubling. It covers up the Real, like a second skin, or a shadow, to finally emancipate itself from its stubborn insufficiencies and formulate new freedoms. Thus, an almost poetic “moment of symbolic destruction” seems to be characteristic of programming itself 10 It brings us closer tot he „second world“ 11, the world of the fantastic, which it realizes by expanding the realm of the virtual, allowing it to experience a new dignity. Yet, such digital seductions and promises of freedom rely on an ambiguous ground. For the digital „questions“ all stabilities in a disruptive manner, it liquefies institutions, thus letting them seem replaceable. Thus, it creates an essential indifference, homogenisation or flattening. Finally, the digital logic of programming leads everything to the binary play between 1 and 0. [read on]

REGIMES OF (IN-)VISIBILITY

The manifold processes of disappearance – of the internet, of an outside, of politics – are based on an elementary paradox: for, the digital machines that so thoroughly demand transparency, are themselves extremely in-transparent. While their sensors panoptically see through both society and its subjects, they are most often incomprehensible (especially artificial intelligence that is elusive even for programmers), ungraspable, complex – and remarkably opaque to us. As media philosopher Wendy Chun explains, digital machines become metaphors for “everything we believe is invisible yet generates powerful effects”.12

In this ambiguous optical relation Alexander Galloway accentuates “blackness”, a specific form of darkness. He thereby sketches the opaque as a condition of possibility of cybernetic programming itself, whereby the logic of the “black box” 13 – a machine rendering visible only input and output and in no way its functioning – is immanent to modernity. Indeed, its history goes through Leibniz’s monad, Smith’s formerly mentioned invisible hand and Marx’s definition of a commodity. In today’s cybernetic societies of control this “blackness” forms a questionable preference. For if one follows Frank Pasquale, this cybernetic darkness has created a “Black Box Society” 14 ranging from shadow banks over delirious secret services and the secret algorithms of Facebook and Google up to idiomatic expressions such as “unknown unknowns” – it has thus created entirely new relations of power.

The pursuit of open profiles, generalized datafication, the generalisation of the network, all of which put cybernetic surveillance capitalism to work 15 are only comprehensible via an a-priori opacity, a hidden source code. Through this, the digital age, which mainly accelerates a techno-logical optimisation of governmental relations of visibility, marks at least two overarching tendencies. On the one hand, it models a “democratised panoptism” through establishing a “non-hierarchic model of reciprocal visibility” 16 in the service of efficiency and mutual evaluation – with the quantified self being the self-referential variant of all and everyone. On the other hand, this totalised transparency presupposes new invisibilities – a black-box-isation. The profiled visibility of social networks is only possible through an opaque machinery of a finely pixeled, flat surface-aesthetics.

In the end, we guess that there are further “black swans” in such models, that there are various “deep secrets” in state apparatuses and all kinds of other uncertainties. Thus, we often precautiously request even more data, transparency, and demand light in the dark. Oftentimes however it is forgotten that each beam of light casts a shadow: for with every medium promising more visibility – from Galilei’s telescope up to the smartphone – there “appears a dark background of invisibility, deeply intruding into the presentation of the visible” 17 Only through this interplay of “coverings and uncoverings” (Foucault) can one recognize how the mode of transparency seeps ever more deeply into the flesh of society; how it in-forms the social; how it installs this maelstrom which in turn installs digitization, including its rather absolute cybernetic feedback logic.

Albeit both perspectives – opacity and transparency – seem to differ in their functioning, they are inseparably linked. It seems almost necessary to define social constellations of power via both concepts and their mutual dependence. If power is, in a Foucauldian sense, an “acting influence on action, on possible and real, futural or present action” 18, then the new agents and agencies pursue their sunny postulate of transparency, the widening of their own spheres of power – which is why national exceptions such as intended by the German minister of justice Maas are to no avail. Turned into an anecdote, the self-censuring imperative of Schmidt – “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” 19 reveals not only the almost religious status 20 of the value of transparency in our times, but also a questionable regime of (in-) visibility that certainly carries totalitarian traits. [read on]

NEW WEAPONS

While Dieter Mersch seems to recognise diverse forms of impotence in the face of the new (in-) visibility, or the omnipresent signs of disappearance, among the “celebration of the techno-logical” 21, Tiqqun suggest looking for new weapons. It is in their interest to “broaden the fog overlapping the triggering of feedback-loops and rendering expensive the recording of behavioural divergence by the cybernetic apparatus” 22. Only the indeterminacy of the inscrutable – of another beyond that transcends the dichotomy of transparency and opacity – seems to escape from the generalised consumption: it is mainly smoke shattering all known coordinates of perception: “it creates the indistinguishability of visible and invisible, of information and event. Thus, it constitutes a condition of possibility of the latter. Fog allows for revolt. 23

It however seems doubtful whether one can cloud the senses within the external omnipresence of the internet (Schmidt) and the concurrent sub-cutaneous installation (Musk), and how the internalized feedback loops could be broken. Perhaps a first step would be to recognise that networks, algorithms, as well as digital technologies are not revolutionary as such; that they do not carry emancipatory potentials by themselves, but would far better be understood as mere means to an end. 24 If we leave them in their neoliberal autopilot-mode, they indeed do change the world – but towards a world without us. In that case, following Baudrillard there will remain nothing but a spectre, „a narcissistic double, a bit like a cat lets its smile flow in the room“ 25

Felix Maschewski is a scholar of literature and economics, research fellow at the Institut für Wirtschaftsgestaltung [Institute for Economic Design] (Berlin) and member at the graduate college “The knowledge of literature” at Humboldt University Berlin. He has published Essays for Public Seminar and Merkur (Blog), Agora42 and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Anna-Verena Nosthoff is a free author, philosopher and political theorist. At the moment she is writing her PhD on the influence of cybernetics on the political. Her newest academic papers were published in Cultural Politics and Culture, Theory & Critique; journalistisc essays can be found among others in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.