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flaneur musings by teodor mitew

Comparative hierophany at three object scales – book chapter

This is the print version of an essay of mine to appear in an upcoming book I am co-writing with a few colleagues, titled 100 Atmospheres: Studies in Scale and Wonder. The book is coming out in July 2019 from Open Humanities Press, and it will be available in 4 different versions: as a standard paperback through Amazon, as free download through the Open Humanities Press site, through Scalar as an interactive space, and through Big Fag Press as a limited edition hardcover. Exciting!

Zeitgeist

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Cyborgs: “Does it bother you that I’m not completely human?”

This is Episode 2 of Naive and Dangerous, the podcast series about emergent media I am recording together with my colleague Dr Chris Moore. In this episode we discuss the notion of the cyborg and the tension between being a cyborg and being a human. We start by unpacking the various meanings injected in the concept of a cyborg, using recent movies such as Alita Battle Angel and Ghost in the Shell as a starting point. As is our habit, we engage in extensive speculative analysis of the cyborg trope, from contemporary cinema, to cyberpunk, early science fiction imaginaries of robots, the assembly line, and ancient mythology. In the process we develop a definition of cyborg/humans and manage to have a lot of fun. Have a listen.

The Medium is the Message

These are the slides for the first two topical lectures from the subject BCM112 Emergent Media that I teach this session. In the first lecture I discuss Marshall McLuhan’s framework of understanding media, and the trajectory and dynamics of the process of convergence. I concentrate on the ways convergence affects industries, technologies, and audiences, establishing the parameters of the internet paradigm. In the second lecture I examine how ‘the medium is the message’ manifests itself in the process of digital production. I explore the kinds of experiences and production processes made possible by the emergence of a digital network economy.

Cognitive mercantilism

In his Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism Robert Jay Lifton gives the following interesting definition of the language of a totalist environment [p.429]:

The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. […] [B]rief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed […] become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.

In other words, the preponderance of thought-terminating cliché phrases such as ‘agree to disagree’, ‘it’s all relative’, ‘this is hate-speech’, ‘these are the facts’, ‘[authority figures] all agree’, ‘this is [x] privilege’, ‘that’s your opinion’ is a symptom of being in a totalist environment.

A totalist environment is characterized by fully synthetic thinking, itself a function of a dynamic milieu control of information. In an environment of dynamic milieu control, certain information inputs – phrases, words, images, feelings – are branded as undesirable and banned from circulation. This in turn means that any and all thoughts associated with these information inputs become undesirable and dangerous.

In effect, synthetic thinking, as modulated by milieu control, acts to remove undesirable wrong-think and wrong-speech from all downstream communication feedback loops. Importantly, this is a self-reinforcing mechanism which, over time, generates an equally synthetic, and total, image of reality.

When consistently performed at scale over a given time-space, the causal chain of milieu control >> synthetic thinking >> synthetic reality leads to the emergence of cognitive mercantilism. Cognitive mercantilism is the systemic and dynamic formatting of the cognitive processing of a given local reality [i.e. a country], as directed by the actors in control of the communication mechanism of that local reality [i.e. the state].

This is how this maps to the historical process so far:

local mercantilism [tribal/feudal state] >> colonial mercantilism [empire/colonial state] >> [pseudo] liberal colonialism [we are here] >> cognitive mercantilism

“I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Why Humans Fear AI.

This is Episode 1 of Naive and Dangerous, a new podcast series about emergent media I am recording together with my colleague Dr Chris Moore. In this episode we discuss the fears surrounding the emergence of Artificial Intelligence and its effects across the fabric of human society. We engage in some speculative analysis of the AI phenomenon and its tropes from current cinema, to cyberpunk, 19th century Romanticism, the ancient Mediterranean world’s fascination with automata, and ancient mythology.

On speculative makerspaces

I’ve been thinking for a while about a conceptual model of makerspaces that will capture the various modalities of technology interaction made possible by such a creative space. On the one hand makerspaces allow the rapid development of established and emergent technology practices, and their framing and normalisaiton into the everyday. On the other, makerspaces foster serendipitous, non-linear, and speculative technological development. This type of makerspace use is interesting, because it allows for speculative experimentation involving the repurposing, hacking, and re-imagining of a technology/object’s context, utility, and user-base. In trying to conceptualise and map these practices I think a makerspace can be mapped as a place simultaneously facilitating processes along two axes: epistemic-ontological, and pragmatic-speculative [see map below].

The multidimensional nature of makerspaces

A makerspace mapped in this way operates simultaneously across four dimensions: epistemological, ontological, pragmatic, and speculative. The first two map to the various vectors of knowledge generation in a makerspace, from surface-level and concerned with operating within an existing technology’s frame, to deep-level and concerned with reframing a technology. The other two dimensions map to the modalities of agency within a makerspace, from pragmatic and outward-facing, focused on quick feedback loops, rapid prototyping, and deliverables, to speculative and inward-facing, focused on serendipitous, non-linear, and speculative examination involving design fiction. In combination, these four dimensions map to four conceptual types of learning/making spaces coexisting within the same makerspace: innovation hub, startup incubator, informal leanring space, speculative making lab.

Hippocratic Oath for Connected Medical Devices, and Automotive Cyber Safety

I recently discoveredthe The Cavalry movement’s Hippocratic Oath for Connected Medical Devices, which I believe is of enormous importance not only in terms of its exact formula but also the mapping of the key vectors around data security in the IoT. The Cavalry movement started out of a series of meetings at DEFCOn nd BSides in 2013, concerned with addressing the enormous security issues emerging at the nexus of the IoT, big data, and AI. The oath:

Hippocratic Oath for Connected Medical Devices

I will revere and protect human life, and act always for the benefit of my patients. I recognize that all systems fail; inherent defects and adverse conditions are inevitable. Capabilities meant to improve or save life, may also harm or end life. Where failure impacts patient safety, care delivery must be resilient against both indiscriminate accidents and intentional adversaries. Each of the roles in a diverse care delivery ecosystem shares a common responsibility: As one who seeks to preserve and improve life, I must first do no harm.

To that end, I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability, these principles.

  1. Cyber Safety by Design: I respect domain expertise from those that came before. I will inform design with security lifecycle, adversarial resilience, and secure supply chain practices.
  2. Third-Party Collaboration: I acknowledge that vulnerabilities will persist, despite best efforts. I will invite disclosure of potential safety or security issues, reported in good faith.
  3. Evidence Capture: I foresee unexpected outcomes. I will facilitate evidence capture, preservation, and analysis to learn from safety investigations.
  4. Resilience and Containment: I recognize failures in components and in the environment are inevitable. I will safeguard critical elements of care delivery in adverse conditions, and maintain a safe state with clear indicators when failure is unavoidable.
  5. Cyber Safety Updates: I understand that cyber safety will always change. I will support prompt, agile, and secure updates.

Importantly, The Cavalry has a similar security manifesto for cars. The Five Star Automotive Cyber Safety Program shares the same key vectors of safety by design, third party collaboration, evidence capture, security updates, and segmentation and isolation.

Internet of Things state of play

Nice infographic illustrating the current state of play in the IoT, courtesy of Goldman Sachs investment research. I like how they have organized the developmental vectors into homes, cars, wearables, cities, and industrial. Interestingly, they view the smartphone as the emergent default human interface to the IoT. I think this is already the case, but not for much longer, to be superceded by the body-as-interface. With voice and facial recognition already good enough to around 90-95% the human body is the only logical interface for human-IoT interaction. This is already emerging with the Amazon Echo and Google Home, which are based on voice recognition and are starting to roll out facial recognition based interfaces. Add the spread of clothing-embedded sensors over the next 5 years, following the acceptance trajectory of wearables, to be followed by body-embedded sensors in the next 10 years, and the trend is clear. We are in the computer now.

Internet of Things drivers [courtesy of Goldman Sachs]
Internet of Things drivers [courtesy of Goldman Sachs]