July 2002
volume 1, issue 1


Writing the Future- Technoscience and theAvant-Garde (continued | 1, 2, 3, 4)

And so desire, for an Idealist Utopia not entirely divorced from that of the Constructivists or Platonists, for the overcoming of death (generally and the authors’ own deaths in particular) for sexual pleasure reconstituted as an energetic mechanism, and for mass legitimization and popularization of vision, permeates these texts. These lead to a more formal realization of desire which exists in both content and form- the desire for control, for mastery, and ultimately the desire for the supreme mastery which will be realized within the wholly rational machine consciousness that transcends our own.


If technologies (and scientific discourses) might be partially understood as formalizations, i.e., as frozen moments, of the fluid social interactions constituting them, they should also be viewed as instruments for enforcing meanings. The boundary is very permeable between tool and myth, instrument and concept, historical systems of social relations and historical anatomies of possible bodies, including objects of knowledge. Indeed, myth and tool mutually constitute each other.

Furthermore, communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move--the translation of the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in terms of the common coin through which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment, and exchange. I like to term the logic of this kind of knowledge and practice an informatics of domination. The world becomes a game plan; everything is only a move; to win is to stay in the game; to persist is to communicate successfully, to reproduce favorably, and to replicate faithfully enough. Perhaps there is nothing new here, but only the traditional moves of reductionism so friendly to capitalist integration. But the scale and the power are new, and the consequences for women, among others, are large.

-Donna Haraway, from an early version of The Cyborg Manifesto

The gravity of the Idealism at work within Kurzweil and Moravec’s books is cast into relief by Haraway’s text. The enforcement of meaning and mutual constitution of tool and myth embodied by technoscience’s objects constitute a reintroduction and radicalization of tendencies that are very old. The Ideal mobilized by this work is a process in which heterogeneity is disassembled and placed under the control of the (One) code, that is to say, wholly rationalized.

The similarities between elements within these texts and the Futurist’s uncritical embrace of power-technological and political (which ultimately led them to support Mussolini and Fascism) are fascinating. Moravec’s matter-of-fact embrace of transcendent machinic entities assuming economic, political, and cultural power over humans has often been characterized as crypto-fascist, leading him to soften his stance somewhat in the follow-up to Mind Children, Robot.

When you can simulate in vitro the explosion of the sun or the fertilization or gestation of living creature, you have to decide what you want. And we just don't know. This foreclosure of ends… has been dressed up in disguises: destination of man, progress, enlightenment, emancipation, happiness. Today this foreclosure appears naked. More knowledge and power, yes-but why, no. —Lyotard, page 54

The lack of human or humanist meaning at the heart of the process of technoscientific intensification is the source of much of the anxiety surrounding and permeating these texts. Technoscience has an ever-expanding list of alibis including the improvement of individual welfare and improved sustainability, which do not hold up in the face of the sheer incomprehensibility of many of its larger-scale machinations and manifestations. While the artistic utopias had at their hearts the humanist teleology of Hegel and Marx, the Utopias invoked by these writers are startlingly bereft of meaning except at the level of proliferation and intensification of instrumental control. The dream of increased effectivity and well-being on the part of humanity is severely compromised at every turn by rationalization of a steady shift towards surveillance and control. Many of these negative elements are taken to the point of conceptual suspension of the basic tenets of Humanism.

This process of technoscientific development which is ongoing is unusually adept at adapting for its own use any theory and any ideology- even those that are non-isomorphic with it- for its own uses. This is the essence of Baudrillard’s concept of the Fatal Strategy and is integral to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of capital. It appears throughout these texts that the methodologies of the avant-garde with their emphasis on ‘vision’ and creative power as well as the teleological expression of that power that is Utopia, have been assimilated, ‘recuperated’ in Marx’s sense. The claims of the avant-garde: to ‘vision’ and radical action, in order to affect a radical transformation of the social, has been assimilated as well, possibly to entirely contrary ends.

It is possible that a lack of a visionary element in technoscience as practiced at the level of production called for a remedy, embodied within the previously distinct area of discourse that constituted radical, improvisatory transformation and critique. It is important to note that this assimilation occurred over the entire course of the history of computer culture. The attention to science fiction and radical politics since the 60’s, as well as the 80’s technoculture within which computers and corporations mingled with artists in the pages of periodicals like boing-boing and Mondo 2000 and the early Wired as well as the proliferation of radical organizations like the Extropians (in whose journal Moravec published) all exerted an influence on the imaginations of technoscience producers evidences a continuous process of assimilation. The transformation of Wired from its early ‘paganism’ to its eventual position as house organ of the ‘new economy’ is particularly instructive.

What strikes one most about the visions of these writers is the strong univocality on one subject, that is: the hard neo-determinist belief in the inevitability of transcendence of machine intelligence. One voice opposed to this vision of is that of Jaron Lanier, whose "Half a Manifesto" is closest in this milieu to the negative dialectics practiced by the Frankfurt School. He critiques the proposals of Kurzweil and Moravec at the level of practice as well as theory- stating that their predictive apparatus’ fatal flaw is its focus on improvements in hardware and not software, which is notoriously difficult to fabricate. Lanier even makes the leap, rarely made by Kurzweil and Moravec, between theory and its social implications, at one point suggesting that technoscience in the 21st century is poised to become a tool possessed at its most sophisticated level only by the very rich, who may through its agency (including the implementation of life- and knowledge- extension tools) become completely unlike other members of their species….




Haraway, Donna. The Cyborg Manifesto

Harrison, Charles & Wood, Paul. Art in Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. 2000;

Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines. New York: Penguin, 2000.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Inhuman. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 1991.

Moravec, Hans. Mind Children: The Future of robot and Human Intelligence. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press, 1988.

Minsky, Marvin. The Society of Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

Poggloli, Renato. The Theory of the Avant-Garde.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.


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