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 Do We Shape Technologies, or Do They Shape Us? (Jean-Pierre Dupuy)

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PostSubject: Do We Shape Technologies, or Do They Shape Us? (Jean-Pierre Dupuy)   Tue 17 Jul 2012, 2:45 pm

Do We Shape Technologies, or Do They Shape Us?
Jean-Pierre Dupuy*


To the question that the title of my talk raises, a short answer might be the one put forward by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the middle of the 19 th century, "machines, once made, make men". A slightly longer reply would be, we can shape technologies only to the extent that we acknowledge that they shape us. However I will be led to question the pertinence of the question itself.


Two major attitudes towards technology stress our capacity to shap e technology, although they differ strongly from each other in all other respects.


The technocratic attitude , first, is rationalistic and decisionist. It characterizes the technological elites of our countries, and is the kind of philosophy implicit in th e way scientists and engineers themselves think about technology. According to this view, technology is neutral as regards values; it is wert-frei, value-free. It is a means to an end. It can enhance or destroy our capacities for enjoyment, well-being, achievement and the like, depending on the intentions of those who devise or use it. This is the utilitarian, instrumental conception of technology as the embodiment of the kind of rationality that Max Weber dubbed Zweckrationalität – i.e. means-ends rationality. As is well known, this view was radically desconstructed by Heidegger. "As long as we think of technology as an instrument," Heidegger declared in his famous paper on the essence of technique, first presented in 1949, "we remain caught up in the will to mastery." And this will to mastery can only lead us to our destruction.


The second attitude that emphasizes the idea that technology is being shaped by us is the sociology of technology , one of its variants being known as "SCOT", i.e. "Social Construct ion of Technology". One of its founding papers states that "social setting shapes technologies as much as vice versa.1" It is obvious that the phrase "we shape technologies" has a very different meaning here than the one it has for the technocratic attitud e. It is now a matter of understanding how the social world , and not a few decision -makers, shapes artefacts. Whatever it consists of, this social shaping has very little to do with the rational decisions made by a technocrat or a bureaucrat.


This second line of thinking stresses our capacity to shape technologies in reaction to the once fashionable thesis that technological determinism trumps, overrides all other forms of causation – a thesis known as the "autonomy of technology". The view that technology is autonomous has been put forward by various schools of thought or individual thinkers, whatever their differences otherwise.


One can think of Heidegger, Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, the Frankfurt school, from Marcuse to Adorno to Horkheimer to Habermas, "deep ecology", diverse environmentalist schools, etc. For example, for Jacques Ellul, Technique is the milieu in which humans exist - it has replaced nature. It is artificial, autonomous, self -determining, characterized by growth, but not goal directed. Me ans have come to have precedence over ends. Its parts are intrinsically interrelated and inseparable. Modern human values, choice, and ideas are dominated by Technique. Our choices are always already incorporated within the technological process. We believe that we can decide whereas in effect Technique decides for us.


From the start, our group has been very concerned about the necessity to avoid joining the crowds that believe that technology must be analyzed only or mainly in relation to itself. The gro up has been mostly attentive to the ways social structures shape opportunities and constraints. In this respect, the NSF report, "Converging Technologies for Human Performance", has played for us the role of an anti -model. The US report is an interesting c ombination of technological determinism and technocratic decisionism. Technology is viewed as a means to an end; i.e. the approach is purely utilitarian and instrumental. As a means technology is the major driver. It is seen as inevitable, almost as fate, but a fate that it is up to us to choose or to refuse. Science and technology follow an autonomous development, a progression that we can slow down or accelerate depending on our decisions and efforts. The ends are glorious, like to "achieve an age of innovation and prosperity that would be a turning point in the evolution of human society." Thanks to the NBIC convergence, "the 21 st century could end in world peace, universal prosperity, and evolution to a higher level of compassion and accomplishment." Wha t adds to the utilitarian frame is the resolute individualistic bias: "The right of each individual to use new knowledge and technologies in order to achieve personal goals, as well as the right to privacy and choice, are at the core of the envisioned deve lopments."


The socio -economic analysis is of an incredible poverty. There are no social dynamics or forces, only individual behaviour that can be predicted and corrected if need be – for instance, disruptive behaviour, terrorist acts, etc. The inflow of d ollars is the only driver. The role of the government is to set the conditions for private initiatives to flourish while ensuring public acceptance.


The major impediment is ethics, that is, our current ethics, conservative and overcautious. The report looks forward to a possible radical change in ethics, akin to a transformation of civilization, thanks to which "the acceptance of brain implants, the role of robots in human society, and the ambiguity of death" will conform to new principles.



By contrast, one of the major aims of our report has been to propose a "European approach to converging technologies" – the so-called CTKES: Converging Technologies for the European Knowledge Society. Such a phrase clearly manifests that our work has been shaped in part by the sociology of technology. However, there are other influences that show in the final report, more philosophical than sociological, and as a philosopher I'd like to stress these.


The question "do we shape technologies or do they shape us?" presuppos es that there are two distinct entities, possibly connected by causal relations: technology, on the one hand, us on the other – us meaning either us as individual human beings or us as a society. But this presupposition must be questioned and challenged de terminedly. I should like to argue that technology, on the one hand, and the human and social world, on the other, are both shaped by a common set of factors in such a way that it becomes increasingly meaningless to ask which of technology or us is the mor e active causal force. The most powerful factor is a third party. What is it? Here I will go against the grain of the kind of materialism that is driving the convergence of technologies. Precisely, what I see as the major driving force is a set of ideas, w orldviews, corresponding to what Karl Popper used to dub a "metaphysical research program". The positivist philosophy that drives most of modern science (and much of contemporary philosophy) takes "metaphysics" to be a meaningless quest for answers to unan swerable questions, but Popper, following the lead of Emile Meyerson 2, showed that there is no scientific (or, for that matter, technological) research programme that does not rest on a set of general presuppositions about the structure of the world. To be sure, those metaphysical views are not empirically testable and they are not amenable to "falsification". However, that does not imply that they are not interesting, substantial, and that they do not play a fundamental role in the advancement of science. Those who deny metaphysics simply render it invisible, and it is very likely that their hidden metaphysics is bad or inconsistent. To the amazement of those who mistook him for a positivist, Karl Popper claimed that the philosopher or historian of science' s task was twofold: first, unearth and make visible the metaphysical ideas that lie underneath scientific programmes in order to make them amenable to criticism; secondly, proceed to a critical examination of those metaphysical theories, in a way that is d ifferent from the criticism of scientific theories, since no empirical testing is here possible, but nevertheless rational.


The question I have asked, then, is, what is the metaphysical research programme that drives the so-called converging technologies? I have given this program a name, "the Mechanization of the Mind"3. I'd like now to present some thoughts about it.


The arrows represent causal links. Note that the diagram does some justice to the pa rtial self-determination of technology (as well as to the partial closure of the human and social world). It also does justice to the Emerson quote, " machines, once made, make men", i.e. the circular causality between technology and society. However, the m ost important links are those that come out from the Metaphysics box.


Let there be no misunderstanding. What I call "the Mechanization of the Mind" is a set of ideas, representations and worldviews; it is very different from what our report calls the engi neering of the mind, which is a technique. The claim is that ideas precede technique . You may have noticed in our report the apparently innocent phrase, "the powerful heuristic of CTs will prove productive even if it is or should be realized to a small ext ent only.[Section 5.]" The effects we have been interested in exploring are not only the effects of technology per se, but also the effects of the ideas that drive technology, whether technological realizations see the light of day or not.


In my own work, I have been able to show that the mechanization of the mind preceded and was the condition for the invention of the computer, which itself prompted questions like "can a machine think?", which pertain to the anthropo morphisation of the machine, To this qu estion the proponents of the mechanization of the mind could only respond in the affirmative, since they had already defined the activity of thinking as the property of a certain class of machines.


What are the components of the metaphysical program borne by CTs? Converging technologies purport to take over Nature's and Life's job and become the engineer of evolution. Evolution so far has basically consisted in mere "tinkering". It can lock itself in undesirable paths or end states. It is therefore desirab le for Man to take over the role played by Evolution and become the designer of biological and natural processes. Man can participate in the fabrication of life.


If this technological and philosophical agenda is at all conceivable, it is of course because Nature and Life have been previously redefined in terms that belong to the realm of artefacts. See how one of the most vocal champions of NBIC, Damien Broderick, rewrites the history of life, or, as he puts it, of "living replicators":


Genetic algorithms in planetary numbers lurched about on the surface of the earth and under the sea, and indeed as we now know deep within it, for billions of years, replicating and mutating and being winnowed via the success of their expressions – that is, the bodies they manufactured , competing for survival in the macro world. At last, the entire living ecology of the planet has accumulated, and represents a colossal quantity of compressed, schematic information .4


Once life has thus been transmogrified into an arte fact, the next step is to ask oneself whether the human mind couldn't do better. The same author asks rhetorically, "Is it likely that nano -systems, designed by human minds, will bypass all this ¨Darwinian wandering, and leap straight to design success?5"


From its inception in cybernetics up to today, cognitive science's philosophical agenda has been, in its own terms, to "naturalize the mind". That this naturalization of the mind coincides with the artificialisation or mechanization of the mind, although a huge paradox, should come as no surprise. An enterprise that sets itself the task of naturalizing the mind has as its spearhead a discipline that calls itself artificial intelligence. To be sure, the desired naturalization proceeds via mechanization. Nothing about this is inconsistent with a conception of the world that treats nature as an immense computational machine. Within this world man is just another machine —no surprise there. But in the name of what, or of w hom, will man, thus artificialis ed, exercise his increased power over himself? In the name of this very blind mechanism with which he is identified? In the name of a meaning that he claims is mere appearance or phenomenon? His will and capacity for choice are now left dangling over the abyss. The attem pt to restore mind to the natural world that gave birth to it ends up exiling the mind from the world and from nature. This paradox is typical of what the sociologist Louis Dumont, in his magisterial study of the genesis of modern individualism, called "th e model of modern artificialism in general, the systematic application of an extrinsic, imposed value to the things of the world. Not a value drawn from our belonging to the world, from its harmony and our harmony with it, but a value rooted in our heterogeneity in relation to it: the identification of our will with the will of God (Descartes: man makes himself master and possessor of nature). The will thus applied to the world, the end sought, the motive and the profound impulse of the will are [all] forei gn. In other words, they are extra-worldly. Extra -worldliness is now concentrated in the individual will. 6"


In mechanizing the mind, in treating it as an artefact, the mind presumes to exercise power over this artefact to a degree that no psychology claim ing to be scientific has ever dreamed of attaining. The mind can now hope not only to manipulate this mechanized version of itself at will, but even to reproduce and manufacture it in accordance with its own wishes and intentions. Accordingly, the technolo gies of the mind, present and future, open up a vast continent upon which man now has to impose norms if he wishes to give them meaning and purpose. The human subject will therefore need to have recourse to a supplementary endowment of will and conscience in order to determine, not what he can do, but what he ought to do —or, rather, what he ought not to do. Converging technologies will require a whole ethics to be elaborated. But to speak of ethics, conscience, the will —is this not to speak of the triumph o f the subject?


Our situation is both paradoxical and contradictory. Paradoxical, because the artificialization of nature leads to the triumph of subjectivity, as mankind accepts the responsibility for all that is. Contradictory, because the naturalizatio n of man replaces the autonomous subject with a blind algorithm.


What is involved in these symmetrical processes of the naturalization of humankind and of the artificialisation of nature is not a mere transformation of our image of the world 7
. It is true that, not so very long ago both science and philosophy represented humans as beings that were not entirely part of the natural order. The human mind, it was thought, either because it contains a divine spark or because it is essentially historical, escape d at least in part the jurisdiction of natural sciences. It was also thought that what is artificial is clearly distinct from what is natural. Even if technology was seen as resting on the laws of nature that hold the world together, everyone agreed that human products were no match for nature’s inventions. Our image of the world has changed; no one talks that way anymore. However, it is not only the way in which we represent what is that has changed. The world itself that we represent has been transform ed.


If the world has changed it is not only because our representation of the world is part of the world and therefore if it has changed so must have the world itself. More importantly it is because modern science is not so much a representation of the world as it is an action, an act of creation. Vico, Hobbes and Locke all believed that politics, and mathematics, had more certainty and were more rigorous sciences than physics or natural history. The reason why this is so, they thought, is because we have made ourselves the world of politics and of mathematics, while nature was created by God.


In consequence we can know politics and mathematics inside out, in the same completely transparent way that an artisan knows the secrets of his inventions. Natur e on the other hand will always remain opaque to us. We can describe its behaviour and propose hypotheses to explain what we see, but we will never share the knowledge of the Great Artificer who made the world that surrounds us.
Experimental science chan ged all that. Through experiments at first and through technology later we became the makers of the world we studied. Nature entered our science through the narrow door of elaborate preparations and through the production of phenomena that never existed naturally, at least if to exist naturally is to exist without the help of human intervention. In the end, there is little sense in asking whether our creations are natural or not. Nature conceived this time as the object that our sciences describe is not in any way different from those things that we create and produce. It is not something that is out there and exists by itself. The ultimate reason why nature has become an artifice is not because of what our science tells us about the world, but because we understand natural phenomena through making them . Converging technologies represent the horizon of this scienza nuova , this new science, this new way of approaching nature whose advent Giambattista Vico prophesied at the beginning of the 18 th century.


A similar argument applies to us. The naturalization of mankind is not simply that we now view culture or history as natural processes rather than as what sets us apart from nature. It is not only that we have new sciences like cognitive science that promise to bring the understanding of mind, of human actions, or of religion within the fold of natural sciences. These new disciplines endeavour to replace the old image of ourselves inherited from the humanities, by a new one that defines us as natural and as natu ral only. Yet the naturalization of humans is not so much the transformation of the image of humankind and of its place in nature. Above everything else the naturalization of humankind is the mechanization, the “artificialisation” of ourselves. Just like our environment, our bodies and our mind are more and more the products of our scientific interventions. From Prozac to pace makers, from skin grafts to genetic testing, from industrially produced insulin to artificial insemination, from brain implants for the stimulation of an improbable happiness centre to the augmentation of our cognitive capacities, we are inseparably nature and artifice. We are natural in the exact measure that we can become artifices, scientific products, that we can be transformed, be ttered, saved, exploited using the laws of nature.


To conclude, I should like to quote from an ancient wisdom, that proves, it seems to me, more pertinent than ever: “What should it profit a man if he would gain the whole world yet lose his soul?"(The Holy Bible, Mark 8:36).

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PostSubject: Re: Do We Shape Technologies, or Do They Shape Us? (Jean-Pierre Dupuy)   Tue 17 Jul 2012, 3:05 pm

Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Converging_Technologies_for_Improving_Human_Performance

"Understanding of the mind and brain will enable the creation of a new species of intelligent machine systems that can generate economic wealth on a scale hitherto unimaginable. Within a half-century, intelligent machines might create the wealth needed to provide food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, a clean environment, and physical and financial security for the entire world population. Intelligent machines may eventually generate the production capacity to support universal prosperity and financial security for all human beings. Thus, the engineering of the mind is much more than the pursuit of scientific curiosity. It is more even than a monumental technological challenge. It is an opportunity to eradicate poverty and usher in the golden age for all humankind."

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PostSubject: Re: Do We Shape Technologies, or Do They Shape Us? (Jean-Pierre Dupuy)   Wed 18 Jul 2012, 11:45 am

Here is a review of a book which directly addresses and responds to the technological determinism (or raw bias) of Dupuy and his brethren, on the subject of whether technology is autonomous (& Evil) or not. IMO, the evidence so far adds up to a strong vote for "Not":-

For Sale at Amazon.com
AUGUST 08, 2005

in the bubble (bottom up)

The Doors of Perception conference is perhaps one of the better named (and from a distance more fascinating) events out there. So perhaps its a bit of karmic balance that its director, John Thackara's latest book In the Bubble is so misleadingly titled. There is no dot com bubble in this book, nor any soapy stuff, merely one paragraph long anecdote that never quite relates to the book. Luckily the subtitle, "Designing in a Complex World" is spot on. Thackara's work and experience puts him in a highly privileged position to see what's going on in the design world and the book is something of his guided tour. It's a damn good walk.

I've got a sneaking suspicion that Thackara might be a fellow hypocritical luddite. He certainly has a healthy immunity to much of the high tech worship that strikes so much of the product and information design industry. Its not a traditional reactionary ludditism though, Thackara is concerned with design that works and works on a human scale. And much of the book is concerned with the navigating the multitude of contradictory challenges of "designing in a complex world".

The luddite movement predated Darwin's research and its somewhat unfortunate. The central symbolic act of the luddite, the throwing of shoes into the gears of the new machines is almost always seen as a reactionary act, but in fact it can just as well be seen as anevolutionary act. The luddites where in some ways the first hackers, when the machines where all in the hands of industrialists, gumming up the works was the only hack available, the only way to explore the mechanics. And more importantly to test the machines, break them apart with the goal of making them better. Like the luddites I have a deep fear of technology, particularly when its created for its own sake. But the hypocrisy emerges when a technology works, works well and most importantly works well for humans. This is the technology I love, embrace and sometimes propagate. And to get this sort of technology sometimes you need to throw some shoes in the works.

Design is a process of modulated hypocrisy. Thackara never reaches this conclusion, but he certainly illustrates in the course the books journey. The book is divided into ten thematic chapters, Lightness, Speed, Locality, Flow, etc, etc and, as fitting an exploration of complexity, they often contradict. The human mind of course is amazing at handling contradictions, to ignore the rules of logic is a fundamentally human act. In America liberals are pro abortion, anti death penalty, conservatives anti government, pro military industrial complex. Preachers make careers out of criticizing the very actions they discreetly carried out the night before. People argue for tougher criminal sentences and fight against building prisons near their homes, are militantly prorecyling until they found out it means building loud plants down the street, artists gentrify neighborhoods then fight the "yuppies" that they opened the doors for. Peruse any internet bulletin board and you'll inevitably find people typing messages telling other members to go outside and get away from the keyboard. And most telling people are happy to criticize others of hypocrisy, despite almost certainly being prone to it themselves.

A designer navigating a complex world inevitably needs to pick their focus, pick where their hypocrisy lies. Environmental architects rely on high speed computers filled with toxins to build zero emission buildings. Solar engineers suck massive power off the grid in an effort to build technology that ends it. The project needs to be bounded, a network can potentially, and often functionally does, stretch to infinity or fold recursively inward, fractal-like. If there is a designer, the designer is bounding the project, drawing lines and cutting off aspects to the network. The designer is applying directed energy, the product is not emerging, it is being designed.

In Thakara's "Mobility" section he cites a Swedish study of deliveries in Uppsala region. By optimizing delivery routes it seems "the results were startling" the vehicle fleet could shrink from 19 to 11, the total distance of delivery travel reduced by 39%, etc. Great for the environment, probably good for profit margins. But what about jobs, community and communication? Less delivery equals less work, and less networking. Community is in many ways an outgrowth of inefficiency, slowness advocated the chapter before, allows things to develop, conviviality (chapter 6) and locality (chapter 4). Both of which are probably served by more deliveries, done slower, with space for the idle chatter that lets information circulate across town, small ties to form and networks to grow.

Is it possible to address these contradictions continually? Humans it seems would rather just ignore them, our design choices perpetually solve certain problems and birth new ones behind them. And this is not necessarily bad, perhaps it's only human. Designers and the engineers, inventors and politicians who often play similar roles are in constant states of oscillation. Mass produced and cheap is in one day, handcrafted and intimate the next. A car plant is lauded for bringing jobs to the community and then five years later seen only as source of traffic and pollution. A freeway once liberated people, but now seems to destroy neighborhoods separating one side from another with a gulf far wider in effect then the block it occupies.

Thackara wanders the world where designers are questioning just where to bound their projects. He urges designers to expand their parameters, to think of broader connections and more locality, to watch energy flows and slow down. To design smarter but also go design free. "We are all designers" are his closing words, his books "premise" is "if we can design our way into difficulty, we can designer our way out". What is missing from it all is what design actually is. "Design is what people do" is the answer you can find on the first page, but that makes is pretty much everything human. And I'd actually agree, design can be everything humans do, but it can't be all of them at the same time. Rather design is the process of bounding and prioritizing around a particular set of focuses.

Most design decisions are directed actions that collapse our possibilities, guiding our focus. Often they open up new possibilities too, but only within a particular set of bounds. Picking up a hammer for instance reduces what our hand can do greatly. But it also opens up the possibility of driving in nails, breaking stone and shaping metal. This is a repeated cycle, collapse and release, a process that guides and sometimes directs us in actions. Thackara, along with other proponents of the 'design thinking' meme, wants to redesign design itself. And the book functions as a wonderful guide to the variety of potential spaces that design can enter. This is the back half of the pattern, the release. Design can be released into any number of spaces, but just how does one collapse them into a working process, a working product, not design thinking but a design itself?

============
Note: Including this interesting comment:

Posted by Abe at August 8, 2005 01:41 PM

Actually, the luddites were not against technology per se, but rather the use of technology to supplant the power of the bosses and eliminate jobs and self-determination of workers. They were very concerned with the way technology was being developed and in whose interest. Not against innovation as a whole, but perhaps evolutionary in the sense of fighting to create a different path for it, on that didn't demand or suggest that workers be subordinated to technology and treated like machines.the best cite I know for this is David Noble. His book is Progress without People:A Defense of Luddism.. there's an article or 2 but I can't place it at the moment.

so it's not wholly inconsisten with Thackera as you present him, but perhaps more directly political... not about human (vs. inhuman?) scale, but more about the idea that techonology/design is not a neutral process, but rather can serve the aims of different classes, different humans, against other humans.

(incidentally, the "Diggers" in england were similar, they were not resisting the supposedly innovative enclosure, but rather wanted to change the kind of ownership system that was being enforced by the state (against the commons) and be free to innovate in their own way on the land)

****
http://abstractdynamics.org/2005/08/in_the_bubble_bottom_up.php
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PostSubject: Re: Do We Shape Technologies, or Do They Shape Us? (Jean-Pierre Dupuy)   Wed 18 Jul 2012, 3:25 pm

Quote :
"Design is what people do"
I interpret this to mean self-organizing systems. The totality of what "people do" creates the system that we live in. Hence, he's talking about system theory, just putting it into his own words.

So, what happens when everyone spends the majority of their time inside computer networks, especially using social networking technologies? This is the gist of most of my focus on Cybernetics (Network Centric Operations), Goedel's incompleteness, Baudrillard's Simulacra. What are "WE" building? From the OP...

Quote :
These new disciplines endeavour to replace the old image of ourselves inherited from the humanities, by a new one that defines us as natural and as natu ral only. Yet the naturalization of humans is not so much the transformation of the image of humankind and of its place in nature. Above everything else the naturalization of humankind is the mechanization, the “artificialisation” of ourselves.


ScoutsHonor wrote:
Actually, the luddites were not against technology per se, but rather the use of technology to supplant the power of the bosses and eliminate jobs and self-determination of workers. They were very concerned with the way technology was being developed and in whose interest. Not against innovation as a whole, but perhaps evolutionary in the sense of fighting to create a different path for it, on that didn't demand or suggest that workers be subordinated to technology and treated like machines.the best cite I know for this is David Noble. His book is Progress without People:A Defense of Luddism.. there's an article or 2 but I can't place it at the moment.

so it's not wholly inconsisten with Thackera as you present him, but perhaps more directly political... not about human (vs. inhuman?) scale, but more about the idea that techonology/design is not a neutral process, but rather can serve the aims of different classes, different humans, against other humans.
Yup, Ellul would agree that Technology always serves to give some men power over others.

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