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Palinopsia "C

A text by Harwood / YoHa on "Information as Reality" with reference to cold war algorithms and agent based modelling. As part of a collaboration with different version has appeared in "Kritische Netzpraxis – Springerin / Band XXI, Issue1, Winter 2015".

A friend of mine has an admirable penchant for the poetics of administration, he is capable in both the Dutch and English education systems. Together we have been working on an article entitled 'Abstract Urbanism'. We started by reading Thomas C. Schelling's racist algorithm for 'Models of Segregation' from the (1969-71).  Shelling posits a logic for discerning the micro/macro behaviours in segregation in the USA.[1]   His paper was the precursor for what would become Agent Based Modelling which is currently trending civil violence, book sales, national grid electrical supplies and corporate America in equal turn.[2] Agent based modelling(ABM) sees society as people acting purposively with self interest with limited cognitive processes. Social interaction is largely techno-logically-facilitated in social networks. The structuring of behaviours we see within ABM could be con-strewed to create a milieu, a pool of phased potential for a second wave of computational logics to invade the urban universe, filtering possible futures into the present and filtering the past into the future. A space where time is collapsed and agents act out all possible scenarios from your big data store, a kind of dating match with environments for all your most likely futures.

This is a world were you can be finally free in any way you wish, as long as you just keep shopping. Your individual system will be based on previous modelled behaviours, people bubble sorted, deemed to be just like you. Agents will now carry out mundane acts of consumerism, education, minor work tasks for you. Never mind the drones will be calculating best scenarios for attack, for arrests and awaiting the systems administrator to to just say yes. In the office companies regard all knowledge you posses or process as the property of the enterprise and having invested in you, will not want to loose that investment should you quit. So they will be harvesting your decision making capability into machine learning that will structure the environment of your choices and having chosen will learn form you and calculate your efficiency and optimum time for your retirement.[3]

It would be too simple to see ABM and other like minded logics as simply as neo-libralism on steroids.  My friend told me that my planned drug holiday from anti depressants should be abandoned while we think about Agent Based Modelling. He said I needed a protective layer if we were to consider how multiple scales of materiality emanate from human collectivity with technical objects. So how can we begin to think about the flows/performance of power in/out and around technical objects and find ways to play with them as the world moves inevitable on to a dismal grey eternal Sunday afternoon.  Firstly how can we ascribe the word logics a wider meaning within a world with computational reason is at it's centre.  

It was during this torture that I began to notice the after-image or Palinopsia created by staring intently at my monitor while replying to a never ending chain of email. Apparently the photo receptors exhaust their supply of photo-pigment, become numb and result in a decrease of signals to the brain. The logics of staring motionless at inconsequential information physiologically programmes the eye to retain an afterimage no matter if the eyes are closed or change focus, a small square of complementary colour remains. I decided to try this technique in the office. I would sit motionless and stare into the abyss of email with a fixed gaze for one hour, I tried not to blink, then as someone entered the room and asked me some meaningless question I frame them with the afterimage of the screen and enjoyed the aesthetics of my eyes dysfunction and completely ignored them.

The space between the people who programmed my email client and people like me using computers to read email, create domains of different forms of logic, both at the level of coding the machine to perform calculations to display the text and regulating the behaviour of me pushing around my mouse and navigating menu systems to produce desired results. One way to think about  computational logics is to think of them as a Foucault type discipline, a mode that analyses and breaks down a phenomena through modeling it to produce a kind of remote control. Computational logics, discipline the way a phenomena is approached and analysed, so that when it becomes visible again from within the computer, it makes the phenomena materially available for comparison and modification.  As users participate in the flows of power created by comparing information they become normalised to its process and themselves entailed into the inter-relation of logics at different scales.

The logics described above fixes what Foucault would call “progressive training”[4] for those that model, feed, collect, process and react to the logics, as well as those objects that are the subject of its calculations.  Logics decompose processes and the entities, including people, that are aggregate with such process and the routine processing/interaction with such models set a stage, a collective logic to be applied to all areas of society and the natural world. 

 Logics allow new modes of power to slip unnoticed into electrons whizzing around silicon, flowing along fibre optics performing grey tasks. De-centred authority, transparency, openness, become the latest technologies of power. 

“Facebook's mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”[5]

In this imaginary, critical thought becomes replaced by the structural analysis of behavioural data as we act out our extended minds through mobile devices offering us the freedom of more of the same in a concentrated pay as you go form of containment.  Their is no need to understand motivations of anyone, only be able to detect discernible patterns within consumption or monitor the body as it moves through technologically structured environment. Given a world without even notional progress, meaning and it's critic becomes redundant. Just another way to give a jolt to the decaying corpse of a failed humanist project.

Art within this scenario becomes just another technology of power, a doubling of logics, it becomes a ruse for regenerating the places of the poor into interesting  sample boards for the design of cultural industries or at it's most exciting becomes the acceptable side of mental ill health, an escape from the mundaneness of the logics of participation and shopping. 

YoHa decided some time ago to stake a claim for dullness as the space where power is being performed in the 21st Centuary, to bath in the grey soup of logics. My Palinopsia is best explored in this, the half  forgotten process of administrative coercion.

[1]              Thomas Schelling, “Models of Segregation”, The American Economic Review, vol. 59. no 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Eighty-first Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May 1969) pp.488-493.

[2]      A Weakly Supervised Bayesian Model for Violence Detection in Social Media

[3]              Robert L. Axtell and Joshua M. Epstein.  Coordination in Transient Social Networks: An Agent-Based Computational Model of the Timing of Retirement. Center on Social and Economic Dynamics, Working Paper No. 1, (May 1999)

[4]        Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, lectures at the College de France,

[5]          Facebook. 2013 Available at: http://www.strategicmanagementinsight.com/mission-statements/facebook-mission-statement.html [Accessed on 18:10:14]


Harwood, YoHa


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