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Luciana Parisi: Digital Automation and Affect
Digital Automation and Affect
(p. 161 – 177)

Intensive thought, randomness, dynamism

Luciana Parisi

Digital Automation and Affect

PDF, 17 pages

Clockwork automata, but also motor automata, in short, automata of movement, made way for a new computer and cybernetic race, automata of computation and thought, automata with control and feedback. The configuration of power was also inverted, […] power was diluted in an information network.1

As depicted in the movie Elysium, in the near-future scenario of 2124, data will not simply be processed by machines or by brains but rather exchanged across brains by means of machines.2 Elysium is a self-sustainable, pollution-free space habitat that lives off the underclass work of a derelict planet earth, overpopulated and deranged, with a dying human species. In this scenario, machines cannot think and rather seem to be simply instrumental to human-oriented intentions (exposing a traditional moral puzzle of the battle of good versus evil, which is ultimately ascribed to voluntary decisions). Whilst appearing to be mere channels of governance, machines constitute the computational infrastructure of Elysium, whose operations are precisely neutral: unable to understand the cause of things and thus devoid of will (since the AI probe parole officer cannot interpret Max’s allusive comments and jokes, it says to him: “Do you want to speak to a human?”). The neutrality of this algorithmic architecture, however, also reveals the effective power of instrumental reason. Here machines do not simply rebel against the human (as in the I Robot movie for instance), but they more importantly process (i.e., select, exchange, store, activate) any form of information that can be destructive and creative, beneficial or detrimental to the human race. This form of neutralized automation, whereby robots do exactly what humans tell them to do, comfortably reveals a sort of unilateralization of thought, an asymmetry in power between human and machines through which instrumental reason is realized. It is only the rebooting of the information matrix, requiring a radical change in the initial conditions of its algorithmic inputs, that the entire techno-organic elite of Elysium can be eliminated. And yet it is precisely the emphasis on the ultimate possibility to change the initial conditions of the automated architecture of Elysium that exposes instrumental reason to an interesting equivalence of thought and automation, revealing that algorithmic processing, in spite of much critique, is open to revision.

Instead of reducing this near-future possibility to the mere fantasy of a Promethean thought free from finitude and death, I suggest...

  • body
  • affects
  • perception
  • Gilles Deleuze
  • epistemology
  • knowledge
  • automatic life
  • automation
  • Alfred North Whitehead
  • temporality

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Luciana Parisi

is Professor in Critical Humanities, the Program in Literature, Duke University. Her research is a philosophical investigation of technology in culture, aesthetics and politics. She She is the author of Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire (2004, Continuum Press) and Contagious Architecture. Computation, Aesthetics and Space (2013, MIT Press). She is currently completing a monograph on the history of automated reasoning and the transformation of logical thinking in machines.
Other texts by Luciana Parisi for DIAPHANES
Marie-Luise Angerer (ed.), Bernd Bösel (ed.), ...: Timing of Affect

Affect, or the process by which emotions come to be embodied, is a burgeoning area of interest in both the humanities and the sciences. For »Timing of Affect«, Marie-Luise Angerer, Bernd Bösel, and Michaela Ott have assembled leading scholars to explore the temporal aspects of affect through the perspectives of philosophy, music, film, media, and art, as well as technology and neurology. The contributions address possibilities for affect as a capacity of the body; as an anthropological inscription and a primary, ontological conjunctive and disjunctive process as an interruption of chains of stimulus and response; and as an arena within cultural history for political, media, and psychopharmacological interventions. Showing how these and other temporal aspects of affect are articulated both throughout history and in contemporary society, the editors then explore the implications for the current knowledge structures surrounding affect today.