Re-Historicize Ourselves, Historicize Computers

Two essential, intertwined questions about our present condition of politics and technology. 


What is identity?  What's the point of a a-historical system? 


These questions and possible answers form the basis of what it means to be human - which has nothing to do with our biological form.  The lack of overt asking of these questions in society and as individuals is why our current political climate is so dangerous.  Technology lacks the historical contingent context necessary to mediate us into restrained and thoughtful positions.  We have given our identities up to the algorithms written by the mere 30 million programmers on the planet and soon to the robots who will further de-contextualize the algorithms. 


Art and Philosophy IS the only way to "talk to AIs" (Wolfram's words).  We will completely lose humanity, and relatively quickly, if we don't put the machines and ourselves back into historical contingency.  We must imbue our technology with the messiness of history and set them to ask questions not state answers.  We must imbue ourselves with that same context.


Trump and his base is an example of ahistorical society.  It is a movement of noise, not signal.  It is out of touch with current contingencies.  It is a phenomenon born of the echo chamber of branding/corporate marketing, cable news and social media.  It is the total absence of philosophy - anti-culture.  And it is not dissimilar to ISIS.  While these movements/ideologies have physical instances they are mostly media phenomena.


Boris Groys (The Truth of Art) and Stephen Wolfram (AI and The Future of Civilization) go into great depth on the context of these questions.  I have extracted quotes below and linked to their lengthy but very valuable essays. 


"But here the following question emerges: who is the spectator on the internet? The individual human being cannot be such a spectator. But the internet also does not need God as its spectator—the internet is big but finite. Actually, we know who the spectator is on the internet: it is the algorithm—like algorithms used by Google and the NSA."


"The question of identity is not a question of truth but a question of power: Who has the power over my own identity—I myself or society? And, more generally: Who exercises control and sovereignty over the social taxonomy, the social mechanisms of identification—state institutions or I myself?"


http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-truth-of-art/


"What does the world look like when many people know how to code? Coding is a form of expression, just like English writing is a form of expression. To me, some simple pieces of code are quite poetic. They express ideas in a very clean way. There's an aesthetic thing, much as there is to expression in a natural language.

In general, what we're seeing is there is this way of expressing yourself. You can express yourself in natural language, you can express yourself by drawing a picture, you can express yourself in code. One feature of code is that it's immediately executable. It's not like when you write something, somebody has to read it, and the brain that's reading it has to separately absorb the thoughts that came from the person who was writing it."


"It's not going to be the case, as I thought, that there's us that is intelligent, and there's everything else in the world that's not. It's not going to be some big abstract difference between us and the clouds and the cellular automata. It's not an abstract difference. It's not something where we can say, look, this brain-like neural network is just qualitatively different than this cellular automaton thing. Rather, it's a detailed difference that this brain-like thing was produced by this long history of civilization, et cetera, whereas this cellular automaton was just created by my computer in the last microsecond."


[N. Carr's footnote to Wolfram]

"The question isn’t a new one. “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s,” wrote the poet William Blake two hundred years ago. Thoughtful persons have always struggled to express themselves, to formulate and fulfill their purposes, within and against the constraints of language. Up to now, the struggle has been with a language that evolved to express human purposes—to express human being. The ontological crisis changes, and deepens, when we are required to express ourselves in a language developed to suit the workings of a computer. Suddenly, we face a bigger question: Is a compilable life worth living?"


http://edge.org/conversation/stephen_wolfram-ai-the-future-of-civilization