FINDING THE FUTURAE LOKA
‘…the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea’
As a prerequisite for this chapter I will discuss Michel Foucault’s Heterotopia’s in a metaphorical sense; real spaces that act as other spaces, reflecting the time we are in, where norms of behaviour are suspended; spaces of illusion; such as what can be seen as, the boat that we are all living in(Earth) - a floating piece of space within the infinity of the universe. Please allow me to curate and design a space that ‘is at once physical and interpsychic’(Davis 2013, para.6), the physical embodiment of this essay and the mindscape in which our ideas, opinions and stories dance together within your conscious.
During this conference between you and I, we will first have to establish our boat. It’s a humble design, the hull is built from panels of one way mirrors made in Hong Kong. This allows us to reflect whatever reality we visit upon itself whilst we can analyse it from our point of view. The top half resembles the Mit Ghamr dovecotes (immense pigeon coops, an omnipresent part of many Egyptian landscapes ) to provide us the nutrition, company and fertiliser for our new homes. The antenna is manufactured by BT, because paying for Virgin or Sky is out of our budget, despite going on an intergalactic cultural excursion. The ladder, oxidising chamber & landing gear; windows, von Braun wheel & rocket fuel; record player, artificial intelligence & docking light, are from some geezer down the pub because I haven’t the faintest clue as to where I could buy such things. It may, perhaps, be seen as more of a spaceship but tomato, トマト.
CERAMIC MODEL OF SHIP
How say we journey from Earth’s systems, networks & computations into the darkness in which ‘we have been conditioned to think of…as a place of danger, even of death’(Bridle, 2018, p.15); however, we will view it through a democratised light, a light ‘of freedom and possibility, a place of equality’(Bridle, 2018, p.15). After all, machines and artificial intelligence are much better at solving the problems of Earth whilst we are more so suited to be explorers! Perhaps we can carry on the legacy of Sun Ra? Escaping from colonisation to the stars, where we can blossom into an evolutionary space race. But no! No, no, no, that won’t quite do either. I’m afraid that although we may temporarily be free from the nations of Earth, their private companies will do unto us as they have done on this wet, muddy and blood stained planet. Well…I guess we, the mixed race space children, are stuck here on this planet that, unlike space, does not belong to the status of common heritage, or at least feel like it. We are from here, but it does not feel like we belong here. But that is okay, because we are just at the beginning. We are human. We have grand schemes, setbacks and solutions. Plus, with Artificial Intelligence on the horizon, they may, just may, be able to help us on our cosmic quest.
New Haven, Connecticut, CT 6250, U.S.A, Planet Earth. 3:12 PM Tuesday, February 19, 2019 (EST):
Appiah Meets Bridle.
“If the modern problem of identity was how to construct an identity and keep it solid and stable, the postmodern problem of identity is primarily how to avoid fixation and keep the options open. In the case of identity, as in other cases, the catchword of modernity was creation; the catchword of postmodernity is recycling.”
(Bauman 1996, p.18)
The sun is cast across the cobble stone buildings of Town Green District against the unbreakable, yet fragile blue sky. I am looking around at human beings of various backgrounds and cultures, never absent from the presence of technology. Some are smiling whilst having conversations with, who I presume, are friends or loved ones from far way; some are seemingly lost, but more accurately, would be to say: ‘switched-off’ as they plough through keys’n’clicks; you see, the rest are doing so as I am - wondering what everyone else is thinking as we surveil each other.
Meanwhile, the words ‘Appiah meets Bridle’ are sketched into my notebook as I desperately attempt to make sense of my own identity within the digital age. There are keywords and phrases with lines joining them, as if they had been caught within my web of recontextualisation(or as Bauman would say, ‘recycling’). Some of the connections include: shared social identities(K.A.A.) linked with Networks(J.B.); Religious Identities(K.A.A.) linked with Faith in Machines(J.B.), and norms of identification(K.A.A.) linked with computational thinking(J.B.). In this part of our journey we’ll look out of our ship at the state of mixed race identities within the digital age as we fuel up for take off.
To be honest and quite frank with you, I am slightly disappointed in Appiah’s ‘The Lies That Bind’, for it begins with a scent that perhaps you will be engaged in rethinking identity from the personal perspective of a mixed race person. Appiah commences by expressing very familiar stories of people’s incomprehension to his biological Ghanian British inheritance:
In São Paulo, I’ve been taken for a Brazilian and addressed in Portuguese; in Cape Town, I’ve been taken for a ‘Coloured’ person; in Rome, for an Ethiopian; and one London cabbie refused to believe I didn’t speak Hindi. The Parisian who thought I was from Belgium perhaps took me for Maghrebi; and, wearing a caftan, I’ve faded into a crowd in Tangiers. (Appiah 2018, pg.xi)
Letting us in to his own entanglement with belonging, albeit briefly, he regards his British mother’s people being patrilineal and his Ghanian father’s, matrilineal. An experience I’m far too accustomed, having felt loved yet not resident to my parent’s respective families - let alone ancestry. Appiah then references Erik Erikson, who, ‘as his daughter once observed drily, suggested that he was father to himself. In a sense, then, he was his own creation’(Appiah 2018, pg.4) - these both express mixed race people contemplating or reclaiming their own identities, something that is somewhat behind the curtain of the remainder of the ethnography. On the other hand, Appiah provides us with a toolkit to dismantle these five pillars of identity concerning the human race as a whole, offering our ways of understanding up for scrutiny.
However! I wish to bring the mixed race experience to the forefront, for we are not merely ‘mixed’, we are the Futurae Loka(‘Futurae’ being ‘Future’ in Latin & ‘Loka’ being ‘Human Race’ in Sanskrit, I think you may understand what I’m getting at here). Nevertheless my dear friend, as Appiah himself states, ‘what, biologically, makes you you, or me me, isn’t best explained by tracing our respective ancestries; it’s the total genetic package each of us carries now’ (Appiah 2018, pg.121).
Now, what does that mean for us? In Bridle’s case, it’d be The New Dark Age. We’re living in the age where vast amounts of information within opaque structures cloud our vision, with only those in power who know how to manoeuvre it. From realising that we could predict weather conditions in World War Two through mathematical equations(computation) to now, computational thinking has weaved itself into our lives to the extent that Bridle would claim that ‘Culture itself is a Code/Space’(Bridle 2018, pg.39). A Code/Space being a space that, without code, fails to function at all. Bridle’s explanation of how computation becomes culture is based on not just how algorithms can shape personal interests, frame political insights or ease previously complex tasks to a point of supreme simplicity(for example, checking next week’s weather, although as Bridle points out in an interview, becomes harder to predict with more information), but becomes culture ‘by operating beneath our everyday, casual awareness of it’(Bridle 2018, pg.39). What does this mean for our identities as Humans? We are now more than just sentient flesh and blood, we are augmented both physically and mentally; our smart devices grant us access to seemingly more answers than questions to ask through the network - the metaphysical bind that ‘gave expression to the basest and highest ideals, contained and exulted the most mundane and the most radical desires,’(Bridle 2018, pg.9) the sea that we all swim within and continue to grow with our own piss(one of the attributes to it’s growth is the byproduct of your interaction).
- Appiah addresses his first identity pillar; Creed, by arguing that when you think of religious identities ‘in terms of mutable practices and communities rather than sets of immutable beliefs, religion becomes more verb than noun:’(Appiah 2018, pg.67) which I would draw parallel to our relationship with the network - how we commit to it’s “scriptures” most hours of the day, acting accordingly to the ways in which it tells us to; we tell ourselves to. With every search enquiry, every status upload about our lives or merely being present within the network, provides it with an ever-growing perspective of the world. Let us use those one-way mirrors whilst we’re still on Earth. As the network looks to us for knowledge, reflecting inward upon data to learn of our universe, we look through the mirror to the network for wisdom; similar in many ways, to our relationship (in a variety of religions) to God. Matt MacPherson’s Church of Google - Googlism, is a satirical/critical religion with its beliefs embedded within the idea that ‘Google is the closest humankind has ever come to directly experiencing an actual God (as typically defined).’(Matt MacPherson 2009) Whether or not it can be regarded as an actual religion, Appiah’s restructuring of religious identities still applies to Googlism, as it’s communities and practices are something that we are now (for the most part) all entangled within. This is underpinned in Joanna Sleigh’s short documentary ‘The Church of Google, Googlism’, by an uncredited interviewee: ‘We create a God, we collectively start believing in that God, and then, the God or Goddess has actual real influence upon the material world.’(The Church of Google, Googlism March 25 2016)
- I agree that there is validity in the notion that Google scientifically ‘exhibits a great many of the characteristics traditionally associated with such Deities’,(Matt MacPherson 2009) but a more relevant discussion here is how it affects our behaviour. The ‘Internet of Things’ is a term coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 which now describes billions of devices, sensors, literally any ‘thing’ connected to the internet that collects and shares data. As you provide the network with more information about, who your social circles are, when you exercise, what time you sleep, where you go at 02:00am and why, it will work with the IoT to shape your day to day behaviour. Regularly hit snooze when your alarm goes off? Siri now pops the kettle on whilst running the shower; lets you know what your friends are up to, except Stefan because your decreased contact implies he really did say that thing at the work do(office party for the Americans); plans your exercise routes away from Burger King because you already had two this week, and yes that free one counted; turns off most appliances and applications around 23:00pm except Tinder because Sally wasn’t turned off by your puns. All of the above reiterates Bridle’s concept that computation becomes culture. Is this a cause for concern? Maybe…but our ‘faith in the machine' is already almost sealed. As the ‘Ewe people sometimes say to themselves, “As an Ewe, I should…”’(Appiah 2018, pg.10) and religions have the less commonly known orthopraxy, ‘a matter not of believing right but of acting right’(Appiah 2018, pg.36), we don’t question the machines around us, ‘and this backs up other cognitive biases that see automated responses as inherently more trustworthy as nonautomated ones’(Bridle 2018, pg.40). We don’t yet recognise technology as part of belonging to our faulted selves and in-return don’t question it. Bridle recalls a story of automation bias and our faith in the machine:
Automation bias means that technology doesn’t even have to malfunction for it to be a threat to our lives - and GPS is again a familiar culprit…In a region where many marked roads may be impassable to regular vehicles, and daytime temperatures can reach fifty degrees Celsius with no water available, getting lost will kill you. In these cases, the GPS signal wasn’t spoofed, and it didn’t drift. The computer was simply asked a question, and it answered - and humans followed that answer to their deaths.(Bridle 2018, pg.42-43)
What Bridle is talking about here and what the Death Valley National Park rangers call is: ‘Death by GPS’, humans following navigation systems entirely without common sense. Bridle follows with, ‘people try to engage in the least amount of cognitive work they can get away with, preferring strategies that are both easy to follow and easy to justify’(Bridle 2018, pg.43), which is the base of computational thinking, insisting on ‘the easy answer, which requires the least amount of cognitive effort to arrive at.’(Bridle 2018, pg.44) Appiah mentions ‘norms of identification: rules about how you should behave, given your identity’(Appiah 2018, pg.10), but what happens to those when our behaviour is evermore shaped by the network?
In 1954, Muzafer Sherif and Carolyn Wood Sherif ran the famous ‘Robbers Cave Experiment’ which documented the social psychological model of Realistic Conflict Theory. Two groups of carefully selected, Protestant, white and middle-class boys set up camp within Robbers Cave State Park, unbeknownst to the other groups presence. After a week, the groups discovered each other. They began challenging and assigning different ways to distinguish themselves. Within four days the two groups had developed separate identities, afterwards becoming hostile. Appiah mentions this when discussing identity formations, revealing how the self-given labels of the children informed their separate identities, which was followed by essentialism: a ‘psychological truth…that, long before anyone instructs children to group people into categories, they’re programmed to do it any.’(Appiah 2018, pg.25-26) The opposing identities were then followed by different norms of identification. Perhaps the network aligns our own, global norms of identification, bringing the human identity closer together.
You see, dear friend, technology isn’t our enemy, nor is it ‘mere tool making and tool use: it is the making of metaphors.’(Bridle 2018, pg.13) Just as this essay is a heterotopia, technology allows us to create new metaphors for us to gain new understandings of the world ‘that, thus reified, is capable of achieving certain effects in that world.’(Bridle 2018, pg.13) One metaphor I am sure we’re all familiar with by now is that of the Cloud. As it stands, the physical manifestation of the Cloud is due its fair amount of criticism for reinforcing colonial empires as it shapes itself to geographies of power and influence; however, Bridle talks of reclaiming the cloud as a metaphor. One that, absorbs ‘not only our failure to understand, but our understanding of that lack of understanding…which acknowledges an unknowing and makes of it productive rain…Cloudy thinking, the embrace of unknowing, might allow us to revert from computational thinking, and it is what the network itself urges upon us.’(Bridle 2018, pg.8-9). I want us to use this mindset in the next part of this journey as we head into the darkness of Space, the sublime lighthearted nihilism of uncertainty.
Antill Road, E3 5BN, London, U.K., Planet Earth. 22:18 PM Sunday, April 29, 2019 (GMT):
“Change is the essential process of all existence.”
(Spock 1969, Star Trek: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield)
I’m looking out the window, watching as the divine, definitive and delicate blue of the Earth’s sky transcends into the sublime darkness of space. As our humbling home shrinks beneath us, we venture into the unknown, like children into the cosmos, ready to learn what magnificent lessons it may bestow upon us.
Looking from the under mirrors of our ship, we see a strong contrast to the liberal utopian vision of 1970’s space travel. Far from the romantic ideas of the frontier that ‘can be exploited for all humanity’ as Gerard O’Neill once commented in his book ‘The High Frontier’, we instead see large private companies pioneering commercial space flight. ‘The baton of progress has been passed from government to private entities’ (Reimann 2017) with companies such as; ‘Elon Musk's “SpaceX”, Amazon’s “Blue Origin” and “Virgin Galactic”’ (Reimann 2017) capitalising on the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act, voted in by U.S Congress in November, 2015. It grants U.S. citizens the right to the commercial exploration of space and its resources, a quite frankly terrifying notion when considering the United State’s foundations having been built upon European explorers, leading to the genocide of the Native Americans and countless crimes against humanity. The act creates further cause for concern when you consider that the United Nations already agreed on “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies”(The Outer Space Treaty) in 1967, which specifically outlines that space and celestial bodies are exempt from national claims of ownership.
‘Space Is The Place’, is a film by the cosmological composer and poet Sun Ra that is ‘scripted in part from lectures…titled, “The Black Man in the Cosmos,”’(Díaz, 2018) and explores Ra’s idea of African Americans finding a new home amongst the stars, to live a life free of oppression. Oh I wonder how Ra would react to the private colonisation of the cosmos. Perhaps the idea of African Americans prospering on the gaseous planet of Jupiter was just too romantic for the real world… ‘However, the truth is more that “It’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality”’ So let’s hypothesise, explore and draw from Sun Ra’s mission - The Great Migration of The Futurae Loka. For the first time, we venture out to find a new rock to call our home, not as a singular nation, but as Earthlings. A new beginning, a new history and a new future. With every mile from Earth we lay the foundations for the next generation of identity, one that inevitably brings all that we have learnt, one that carries all the gorgeous aspects of our planet and its many cultures. As we arrive on the Martian surface, these first words come from our fellow cosmonaut:
‘54.6 million kilometres from home, I no longer feel the complete weight of the Earth’s gravity on my body and I can’t believe it… I’m in Tucson, Arizona.’
You see, in Geiste M. Kinčinaityté’s photography book, ‘You Belong To Me’, there is an article written by Luci Eldridge on photography as a form of space travel. ‘The rover is our surrogate, an extension of our vision that portrays an intuitively comprehensible landscape. Yet This landscape remains totally out of reach, millions of miles away.’ (Eldridge 2016, pg.12) Eldridge compares early black and white landscape photography, that, through the redaction of colour, allows us to bring our own experiences to the image. We have some idea of how ‘the deserts of the American West, the plains of Chile, and the rugged landscapes of Iceland’(Eldridge 2016, pg.12) would feel beneath our bare feet, and so when we see black and white images of the surface of Mars - we can use perception, experience and image to travel to the terrestrial plain. So why go at all? Besides, the closest experience of living in space really is ‘Biosphere 2 in Tucson, Arizona’(Reimann 2017). Well, my dear friend, the importance of space within the scope of this essay draws from ‘The Robbers Cave Experiment’ that we touched on earlier. Perhaps the expanse of the universe provides us with the ‘other’, for us to be - ‘Us’. However, there may be something more immediate, more close to home that will provide us with either the opportunity to prosper as a species, or bring about our demise - Artificial Intelligence. In Max Tegmark’s engaging and compelling book, ‘Life 3.0’, he provides us with a prelude that outlines a fictional advent of AI, based on ‘today’s economy and technology… even though most researchers guess that human level general AI is at least decades away.’(Tegmark 2018, pg.4) In this prelude, you may find yourself absorbed in the thrilling, rapid growth and achievements of the AI and those who control it, ‘the Omegas’. Confined and nicknamed the noteworthy ‘Pandora’s box’, the AI is encapsulated within a basic computer, impoverished of a keyboard, screen or even, but most importantly, an internet connection. This is done to prevent the AI, designed to created upgraded versions of itself, to spread out amongst the internet, i.e to prevent the opening of Pandora’s box.
‘By 10a.m., it had completed the first redesign of itself, v2.0, which was slightly better but still subhuman. By the time Prometheus [The nickname given to the AI] 5.0 launched at 2p.m., however, the Omegas were awestruck: it had blown their performance benchmarks out of the water, and the rate of progress seemed to be accelerating. By nightfall, they decided to deploy Prometheus 10 to start phase 2 of their plan: making money.’ (Tegmark 2018, pg. 5)
The Omegas begin to make their first billions by programming the AI to use its vast power to create movies and series via a Netflix style platform, which required ‘a detailed understanding of human society and what humans found entertaining.’(Tegmark 2018, pg.9) This provides some key elements that we’ve already covered in this essay; for example, it shows that our contemporary culture, or at least parts of it really can be understood as ‘code/spaces’ since the AI can create successful entertainment for audiences around the globe through the analysis of our online behaviour and programming movies respectively. It also shows through the use of language that this instance of AI is to be seen as an ‘other’, such as which we have used to describe outer space in regards to the Robbers Cave Experiment. However, space was more of a ‘passive other’, an entity that provides us with a chance to overcome our differences, whereas Tegmark’s AI plays a much more aggressive role as the ‘other’. As a relatively short amount time goes on, there is what Tegmark describes as a ‘new golden age for science’(Tegmark 2018, pg.14) that is surreptitiously ran by the Omegas:
‘A South Korean startup launched a new battery that stored twice as much energy as your laptop battery in half the mass, and could be charged in under a minute. A Finnish firm released a cheap solar panel with twice the efficiency of the best competitors. A German company announced a new type of mass-producible wire that was superconducting at room temperature, revolutionizing the energy sector. A Boston-based biotech group announced a Phase II clinical trial of what they claimed was the first effective, side-effect-free weight-loss drug, while rumors suggested that an Indian outfit was already selling something similar on the black market. A California company countered with a Phase II trial of a blockbuster cancer drug, which caused the body’s immune system to identify and attack cells with any of the most common cancerous mutations. […] Last but not least, robotics companies were cropping up like mushrooms all around the world. None of the bots came close to matching human intelligence, and most of them looked nothing like humans. But they dramatically disrupted the economy, and over the years to come, they gradually replaced most of the workers in manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, retail, construction, mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing.
What the world didn’t notice, thanks to the hard work of a crack team of lawyers, was that all these firms were controlled, through a series of intermediaries, by the Omegas. Prometheus was flooding the world’s patent offices with sensational inventions via various proxies, and these inventions gradually led to domination in all areas of technology.’(Tegmark 2018, pg.13-14)
As the fictional depiction goes on, the Omegas covertly assert themselves through a wide variety of public service news and media outlets, the grooming of politicians and revolutionised forms of education. The global economy no longer favoured the elite, nuclear weapons gradually became reduced in numbers and ‘poll after poll showed that most voters around the world felt their quality of life improving, and that things were generally moving in a good direction’(Tegmark 2018, pg.20), with the workers who had previously lost their jobs to the AI designed robots were rehired by Omega initiated community projects. Over time, the ‘Human Alliance’ is formed, with ‘the excuse of improving coordination of their community projects […] a nongovernmental organization aiming to identify and fund the most valuable humanitarian efforts worldwide.’(Tegmark 2018, pg.20) Nations gradually lost power and the world was in all intents and purposes, ran by the largely popular Alliance.
‘The Omegas had now completed the most dramatic transition in the history of life on Earth. For the first time ever, our planet was run by a single power, amplified by an intelligence so vast that it could potentially enable life to flourish for billions of years on Earth and throughout our cosmos’ (Tegmark 2018, pg.21)
It is here that we wonder my friend, is the future of our relationships with the triptych of ourselves, each other and the universe around us determined by our ability to think and learn together through the metaphors of the stars? Or if not, then by an aggressive, uncertain creation of our own design?
There is a terminology cheat sheet in Tegmark’s book within his section on the misconceptions of AI, in which there are different definitions of ‘Life’. The one I’d like to focus on is, actually not the title of his book itself, but - ‘Life 2.0. | Life that evolves its hardware but designs much of its software (cultural stage)’(Tegmark 2018, pg.39) This is where we are. This is what we can control. We have evolved into beautiful, fierce, compassionate and curious beings who, nonetheless have the power to design and forge our own paths.
Speaking of paths, there is one last lesson to learn on our way back to earth. The act of having left, to move, to migrate. In J.Demos’, ‘The Migrant Image’ he deconstructs the way in which we view the migrant image from a position of disempowerment to one of autonomy, redefining ‘the basis of citizenship in turn, as not opposed to the noncitizen, but rather reimagining a form of citizenship that acknowledges the fundamental condition of migration within itself’(Demos 2013). This draws parallels to the experience of the Futurae Loka, and our ability to roam freely amongst a variety of different heritages, cultures and experiences, ganging wider perspectives and having the ability to deconstruct current perceptions of identity. Demos finishes by saying, ‘Conceiving of this eventuality may be unlikely in today’s political environment. But this unlikelihood is exactly where artistic practice may assume its most radical role: to imagine alternatives otherwise impossible to contemplate, unleashing an imagination that may yet produce material effects. Let us turn, then, to an examination of those practices that do just that.’(Demos 2013)
I’ll finish our journey with what will hopefully be a gift. An open source, ‘cloudy thinking’, community based platform for the Futurae Loka; with the design being inspired by the romanticism of Sun Ra’s convoy to the cosmos and the global unity of the Olympics; with a flag that represents how at the core of the 21st century human being, we are but blood within code/spaces.
I believe it’s important for us to teach the open minded lessons that our experiences growing up, and moving through life with the autonomy to move between different cultures gives us. How seemingly at first the emotions of feeling as if we are somewhat lacking and don’t belong to our heritages is not true, but instead we have the power to create and forge our own, new and inspiring identities. With the growing tensions between people of all kinds, we should tell of the encouraging benefits of living a multicultural lifestyle, which many of us already do, yet fail to realise. After all, let’s rephrase what Kwame Anthony Appiah himself stated in his deconstructive, ‘The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity’:
“what, biologically, makes you you, or me me, isn’t best explained by tracing our respective ancestries; it’s the total genetic package each of us carries now”.(Appiah 2018, pg.121)
Live long and prosper.