Machinic Life

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The Allure of Machinic Life

Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and the New AI John Johnston


In The Allure of Machinic Life, John Johnston examines new forms of nascent life that emerge through technical interactions within human-constructed environments—"machinic life"—in the sciences of cybernetics, artificial life, and artificial intelligence. With the development of such research initiatives as the evolution of digital organisms, computer immune systems, artificial protocells, evolutionary robotics, and swarm systems, Johnston argues, machinic life has achieved a complexity and autonomy worthy of study in its own right.

Drawing on the publications of scientists as well as a range of work in contemporary philosophy and cultural theory, but always with the primary focus on the "objects at hand"—the machines, programs, and processes that constitute machinic life—Johnston shows how they come about, how they operate, and how they are already changing. This understanding is a necessary first step, he further argues, that must precede speculation about the meaning and cultural implications of these new forms of life.

Developing the concept of the "computational assemblage" (a machine and its associated discourse) as a framework to identify both resemblances and differences in form and function, Johnston offers a conceptual history of each of the three sciences. He considers the new theory of machines proposed by cybernetics from several perspectives, including Lacanian psychoanalysis and "machinic philosophy." He examines the history of the new science of artificial life and its relation to theories of evolution, emergence, and complex adaptive systems (as illustrated by a series of experiments carried out on various software platforms). He describes the history of artificial intelligence as a series of unfolding conceptual conflicts—decodings and recodings—leading to a "new AI" that is strongly influenced by artificial life. Finally, in examining the role played by neuroscience in several contemporary research initiatives, he shows how further success in the building of intelligent machines will most likely result from progress in our understanding of how the human brain actually works.

About the Author

John Johnston is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Emory University in Atlanta. He is the author of Carnival of Repetition and Information Multiplicity.

autopoiesis, ethics, and object-oriented rhetoric

For me these concepts need to respond to Guattari, even though certainly in broader brushstrokes we have seen OOO's departure from Deleuze. In Chaosomsis, Guattari writes

there appears a being beyond, a being-for-the-other which gives consistency to an existent beyond its strict delimitation, here and now. ... it is a plurality of beings as machines which give themselves to us the moment we acquire the pathic and cartographic means of reaching them. The manifestations- not of Being, but of multitudes of ontological components-are of the order of the machine. And this, without semiological mediation, without transcendent coding, directly as "being's giving of itself." as giving. Acceding to such a "giving" is already to participate ontologically in it as a full right. The term right does not occur here by chance, since at this proto-ontological level it is already necessary to affirm a proto-ethical dimension. The play of intensity of the ontological constellation is, in a way, a choice ofbeing not only for self, but for the whole alterity of the cosmos and for the infinity of times.

If there's choice and freedom at certain "superior" anthropological stages, it's because we will also find them at the most elementary strata of machinic concatenations. (52-3)

And then later,

Machinic autopoiesis asserts itself as a non-human for-itself through zones of partial proto-subjectivation and it deploys a for-others under the double modality of a 'horizontal" eco-systemic alterity (the machinic systems position themselves in a rhizome of reciprocal dependence) and phylogenetic alterity (situating each actual machinic stasis at the conjunction of a passéist filiation and a Phylum of future mutations). (54)

autopoiesis, ethics, and object-oriented rhetoric

The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis (Semiotext(e) / Foreign Agents) [Paperback] Félix Guattari (Author), Taylor Adkins (Translator)

Product Description We certainly have the unconscious that we deserve, an unconscious for specialists, ready-made for an institutionalized discourse. I would rather see it as something that wraps itself around us in everyday objects, something that is involved with day-to-day problems, with the world outside. It would be the possible itself, open to the socius, to the cosmos . . . —from The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis

In his seminal solo-authored work The Machinic Unconscious (originally published in French in 1979), Félix Guattari lays the groundwork for a general pragmatics capable of resisting the semiotic enslavement of subjectivity. Concluding that psychoanalytic theory had become part and parcel of a repressive, capitalist social order, Guattari here outlines a schizoanalytic theory to undo its capitalist structure and set the discipline back on its feet. Combining theoretical research from fields as diverse as cybernetics, semiotics, ethnology, and ethology, Guattari reintroduces into psychoanalysis a "polemical" dimension, at once transhuman, transsexual, and transcosmic, that brings out the social and political—the "machinic"—potential of the unconscious.

To illustrate his theory, Guattari turns to literature and analyzes the various modes of subjectivization and semiotization at work in Proust's In Search of Lost Time, examining the novel as if he were undertaking a scientific exploration in the style of Freud or Newton. Casting Proust's figures as abstract ("hyper-deterritorialized") mental objects, Guattari maps the separation between literature and science, elaborating along the way such major Deleuze-Guattarian concepts as "faciality" and "refrain," which would be unpacked in their subsequent A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

Never before available in English, The Machinic Unconscious has for too long been the missing chapter from Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus project: the most important political extension of May 1968 and one of the most important philosophical contributions of the twentieth century.

Foreign Agents series Distributed for Semiotext(e)

Paperback: 328 pages

Publisher: Semiotext(e) (September 30, 2010) Language: English