Monday, March 05, 2007

Reality, as told by the Machine (Digital SObjects, part III)

All media work us over completely”, said Marshall McLuhan, meaning that whenever a new media, a new medium, takes over, the function human= f(medium) returns a different value. Currently, f(medium) defines human as a SObject, a limbo creature, half here in the physical, half there in the virtual.

In the previous Digital SObjects posts I have described an old spec, the memex, interpreted by some top corporations (Microsoft and IBM) as a reason to launch a project with the objective of creating the first, real-time, digi-replicated SObject. I then described how those projects have become, for all practical purposes, obsolete, when the web2.0 social-something turned the digi-replication of the Self into a prominent trait of the participation economy, providing whatever web2.0 store-and-share services that are required for real-time, virtual cloning.

Jamais Cascio, a futurist, takes the memex one step further. So far, we have been discussing the memex from a subjective point of view, i.e. what I see, what I hear, what I produce and so forth. Cascio takes the recording device that each "I" is wearing and redirects it to the outside world. Suddenly, what I see is You. Not only am I digi-replicating myself, but I'm digi-replicating the others too (even those rebels, refusing to wear the memex, will be recorded). I'm digi-replicating the environment in its entirety: every single, tiny, insignificant detail is captured, transferred and stored for good.

Cascio defines this situation with a lovely analogy, saying that this would be a world controlled not by one Big Brother, but rather by millions of little brothers and little sisters… each pointing their recorder on... YOU.

How reality will look like when every object, subject, event or context would have so many real-time copies coming from different recording devices? Cascio affirms what is inevitable: telling lies will become harder; forgetting will become extinct.

But Cascio seems to ignore or to reject the potentially disastrous outcomes of this reality:

With multiple, real-time, digi-replicated sources of the same thing the statistical reliability of the story told by the Machine will be practically irrefutable. Unlike Minority Report, where the machine was based upon an esoteric mutation, the new machine is based on us - "millions of us". Hence, its higher reliability.

Cascio claims that the multiple, different sources of the thing are just like in Rashomon – where anyone tells his/her version and there's a judge to decide from the different alternatives. I disagree. All those sources of digital reality are created and produced by devices, extensions of the Machine, which are accurate, objective and… standardized, the opposite of human memory – that limited, flawed container of ours.

With the correlation of real-time recordings coming form that many standardized, accurate and objective sensors, the machine can filter out anomalies (i.e. stories which are not aligned with the official version, the statistically probable version), thus making Reality nothing but a statistical phenomena.

Reality has gained its probability.

Actually, Kurosawa's Rashomon is the exact antipode of this Reality, with every man/witness having his own flawed memory, creating his own version of reality, confronting the others with his own alternative. Reality maintains its secrets so humans can create their own stories. In the real-time, multi-sources, digi-replicated world, there's no place for human creation; there are no more faults or lies; memory losses are obsolete; forgetting is an unknown word. But a society that cannot forget is a society that cannot remember! It's a total memory loss, and "Memory", says Kurosawa, "is the basis for everything; to create is to remember". (see clip)

The interpretation of the two parts of the memex (Desk, Recorder) is now revealed in its hideous aspects: the memex desk serving as a mean for eradicating human memory by extending it mechanically ad infinitum (extending is a politically correct term; replacing is a more accurate one), while the memex recording device is feeding the desk with real-time, simultaneously parallel recordings, creating a statistical Reality of which the Machine is the sole narrator.

For the time being The Machine is us – but just for as long as the machine needs us to carry around its Reality recorders. One day those recorders will become autonomous enough, capable of moving around, flying up high, going deep into the oceans; the big digital narrator will no longer need its faithful carriers and we will be, so they say, disconnected.

Brains in a Vat; Ghost in the Shell; The Matrix - it's all the same story

This is the 3rd post in the Digital SObjects' series: The Memex Reloaded, The Desert of the Real, Reality, as told by the Machine


1. A short analysis of Jamais Cascio's lecture The Participatory Panopticon can be found here. In the comments attached to that post there's a dialogue between Jamais and myself about the nature of this future world.

2. Jamais Cascio's lecture, The Participatory Panopticon, can be downloaded from here.


Anonymous Udi h Bauman said...

This is just amazing! thanks for thinking this to this extent, really important. You mention the esoteric mutations in minority report having the unique vision into the future, & I think this post has some similar qualities...

There were always objections to evolution (especially engineered one) saying that without human faults & limitations the world will be less interesting (e.g., without deafness, there would be no Beethoven), but I don't remember it being applied to the subjective & limited view/memory of humans.

Did you see Kurasawa's "Dreams"? One day we'll all end up pure luddites like the old guy in the last episode. (Check out also the Unabomber manifesto.)

12:37 PM  
Blogger Muli Koppel said...


Thanks for your nice comment.
As for "Dreams" - I saw it, but... I forgot everything. A shameful memory loss. It's, than, time to remember.

Also, ecko4inc hinted me out that Reality can never be fully represented, with humans being of no exception. I agree to the extent that we agree that Reality is not consensual; that it has a human-indifferent quality. Anyway, I'm optimistic.

12:57 PM  

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