[ExI] Of Which Human Are We Post? :: Don Ihde :: Global Spiral

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Thu Jun 12 14:00:44 UTC 2008

Here's an excellent opportunity for thoughtful, rational criticism and
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- Jef

Of Which Human Are We Post? :: Don Ihde :: Global

Of Which Human Are We Post?
By Don Ihde <http://metanexus.net/tabid/72/Default.aspx?aid=596>

[image: Les Ailes]

Human? Posthuman? Transhuman? Did all this bother arise with Foucault? In *The
Order of Things*, he claims:

Man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed
for human knowledge…taking European culture since the 16th century...man is
a recent invention within it…in the midst of all the episodes of …that…
history [and] now perhaps drawing to a close, has made it possible for the
figure of man to appear….As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man
is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing an end.1

That is, *if one accepts *a Foucault-like disjunctive-frame *episteme *account
of history, *then *man—how *outré,* since feminism it must now be human—can
be invented, and if invented, disinvented or deconstructed. I open in this
way because the issues of the human, the posthuman and the transhuman
revolve around distinctive narratives, and these are often highly slippery.
I must forewarn you that, as a philosopher, I am *highly skeptical of
slippery slope arguments of any kind. *At the same time, I am not unfriendly
to the notion of 'posts' since I have described, and others have described,
my style of analysis as *postphenomenological.*

What is the human? Biologically, modern humans, *homo sapiens sapiens, *are
reckoned to be between 100,000 and 200,000 years old. How modern can you
get? This is to say that biologically we differ very little from our ancient
African ancestors. But is this *nature? *Not entirely. Physical
anthropologists argue and recognize that many of what once would have been
called cultural practices are involved with our own human evolution. Tool
use technologies, created and used by our pre-sapiens relatives, preceded us
by more than a million years. Tool use technologies involving complex
eye-hand bodily actions are part of the way in which our brains were formed.
More recently, a very provocative thesis has been put forth that the
practice of *cooking* may be highly important in the evolution of our
physiognomy! Cooking is a sort of 'external digestion' technology—as Ernst
Kapp, the very first philosopher of technology, already claimed in 1877.
Such pre-digestion provides for two conditions for biological selectivities
which help define modern humans: smaller teeth, a key physiological
difference between us and most earlier humans, and the loss of the skull
crest to which much stronger jaw muscles were attached for chewing. And, as
these anthropologists also claim, cooking hearths go back precisely to such
early modern sites, but the evolutionary process begins earlier in that
charcoal heaps without hearths do go back to pre-sapiens sites. I suggest
that what is neat about this analysis is that it is much closer to a
'natureculture' or 'culturenature' notion, as described by Donna Haraway,
rather than the too clean division between nature and culture which
presumably defines the 'modern settlement' à la Bruno Latour. It also gives
a new meaning to: "We are what we eat."

Or, is the modern human the one who was invented at the beginning of the
early modern scientific era of the 17th century? This would be the
Cartesian-Lockean human—the subject in the *camera obscura *mechanical body
box, but individualized and a subject epistemologically, and also one who
has inalienable rights to private pleasures, freedom and happiness in the
social-political arena. Surely, this version of 'human' is enigmatically
being called into question in a postmodern era—on the one side the notion of
extreme autonomy, without social relations and networkings, but on the other
the possible loss of or weakening of civil liberties—posing an ambiguous
threat to hard won Enlightenment values. Can we have a less self-enclosed,
less autonomous, even closer-to-the-animals human, without losing the
important political gains made in modernity? The transcending of a now four
century old interpretation of the 'human' is certainly timely and important.

If we are then at a crucial juncture, a time-warp in which we, as
self-interpreting animals, must re-assess ourselves, then there is a type of
parallelism which stretches back to the beginnings of our 'modern' era. As
it turns out, this summer one of my commitments was to do a number of
entries for a forthcoming Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of
Technology volume, one of which was an introduction to a section on science
and technology. In the process, I returned to one of the pioneers of that
modernity, Francis Bacon, who in his *Novum Organum *was aware of a turning
point in his historical time and who developed the notion of four idols to
be avoided in entering the new era. It occurred to me that this device could
serve a good purpose for precisely this theme as well. So I shall talk us
through four new idols in discussing the human, the posthuman and transhuman
issues here. My idols are:

   - The idol of Paradise. This is the idol of much *technofantasy *which
   often underlies much of the discussion context we are engaged in.
   - The idol of Intelligent Design. This is the idol of a kind of arrogance
   connected to an overestimation of our own design abilities, also embedded in
   these discussions.
   - The idol of the Cyborg. Cyborgs, made popular since mid-century, are
   hybrid creatures of human, machine, and animal combinations, but what do
   they imply?
   - The idol of Prediction. Projections of futures are always involved in
   era shifts, but if past projections are taken into account, this turns out
   to be a very dicey practice.

*The idol of Paradise: *

Anyone familiar with much history of the literature on paradise knows that
one problem with paradise is that it is likely to be *boring. *From singing
angels on a cloud, to the discovery that seventy virgins may turn out to be
seventy raisins due to a mistranslation, to Dante's dull paradise in
the *Divine
Comedy *compared to his imaginative levels of Hell,all point to the
difficulty of making any utopia exciting and stimulating. I have always
argued that to 'imagine up' is much harder than to 'imagine down.' Take, for
example, science-fiction presentations, particularly those such as "Star
Trek," "Battlestar Gallactica," and other series. When the humans and their
allies, sometimes quasi-humans from other planets, come into the presence of
a 'superior' set of beings, what do they find? The two most popular variants
are these beings have either superior technologies or extraordinary
spiritual and mental capacities (i.e., they can see futures, meld with other
minds, communicate without technologies, and are usually peaceful mediator
types). All of these superior technologies, by the way, can be found in
ancient literatures in non-technology forms: powers of invisibility (now a
type of electronic shield, then a cape of invisibility); powers to change
forms (now into a transformer or a tech exo-skeleton, then into a dragon or
a spider); and so on. From flying carpets to warp speed, I note there is
little new in such fantasies. The difference is that since modernity the
fantasy embodiments have tended to be *technological *rather than organic,
animal-like, or supernatural. Contrast Bruegel's organic animal,
supernatural tormentors in his paintings with da Vinci's fantasy
technologies and you get something of the shift.

I have earlier argued that fantasies take shape and form in relation to the
relative lifeworlds of the inhabitants.2
if one lives in a world in which daily life includes frequent and
existentially important interactions with animals, and for that matter,
plants, as in hunter-gatherer cultures, then the wish fulfillment fantasies
will take the shapes of animal fantasies, dreams, stories, or of plant
cycles and growth and decay metaphors. However, if your lifeworld is one
saturated with a technological texture, then you get the more 'modern'
versions suggested above. The technologies will provide the magic answers.
Our myths are indexed to our experiences.

Clearly the implication is that our current debates concerning
human/posthuman/transhuman take this current techno-mythological shape. Let
me begin minimalistically with enhancement desires: Do we want more muscle
power? Bigger breasts, fuller lips or tighter buttocks? Larger penises or
better erections? Steroids, breast implants, Botox, liposuction or tucks,
penis surgery or Viagra—this drill is apparent on television and in spam
email. (Ironically, my wife gets more penis enlargement spam than I do).
This has led to changes in time awaiting the doctor, in which time is
shorter for Botox injections than wart removal. This in turn is related to
capitalism, in the sense that injections are profitable and easy and wart
removal is limited by insurance. All this is part of "Modern Times" in the
post-Charlie Chaplin movie we live in. All these techniques *work*—but not
without unintended consequences. Steroids increase the risk of early heart
problems; silicone implants can leak and seem to be implicated with
auto-immune diseases; long term Botox use has toxic effects; and in the
wrong mix Viagra can cause critical low blood pressure or blindness.
Paradise is not to be found here; calculated risk and trade-off compromises
are to be found here.

Here, then, is my thesis: The desires and fantasies are ancient.
Historically, they appear in our literatures, our fairy tales, and in our
art. The fantasies and desires then want some *kind of magic* to fulfill the
desire-fantasy. But the form of the magic differs, according to my thesis,
by the textural patterns of historic lifeworlds. From magic potions to magic
injections, from an age of alchemy to one of chemistry, the fulfillment
technique will differ. But why do I call it magic? Because magic, unlike
actual chemistries and technologies, does not have ambiguous or unintended
or contingent consequences—trade-offs are lacking, only the paradisical
results are desired.

How, then, does this relate to the human-posthuman-transhuman discussion?
The answer is simple in one respect—to locate the desire-fantasy, look for
the *hype.* Technofantasy hype is the current code for magic. Switch
examples now from personal enhancement desires to technologies which will
fulfill our social energy desires. Remember the time when the world
community, fearful of a nuclear holocaust, hyped the 'magical'
transformation of that power into peaceful uses? One was the technofantasy
of limitless, almost free, nuclear supplied power.

This is precisely an example of magical thinking, the hype which projects a
non-contingent, non-consequential, non-trade-off solution. The 'infinitely
inexpensive' projection did not take into account the need for safety
redundancy, for security factors, and for the still problematic need for
hundreds of thousands of years safe waste storage, all of which complicate
'paradise,' and all of which need to be calculated into the *costs* of this
non-neutral technology. Please note here that I am not arguing a dystopian
view. It may be possible with very careful planning, with contingency
considerations and new technologies to make such an energy source less long
range dangerous than it now is. Rather, I am arguing that magical thinking
disregards the ambiguous, non-neutral character of actual technologies.
Desire-fantasy, with respect to technologies, harbor an internal
contradiction. On the one side, we want the super-powers or enhancements
which technologies can confer—long range vision with telescopes, mountain
moving capacity with earth movers, supersonic speed with jet power—but on
the other, the technofantasy is to have this enhancement be so totally
transparent that it *becomes us.* This is a Superman technofantasy; to have
and to *be* the power embodied. Such then are the dynamics behind the idol
of Paradise.

*The idol of Intelligent Design.*

Most of you are familiar with this term from the currently raging
evolution/creationist debates popular in the United States. In that context,
"intelligent design" is the notion that various natural phenomena,
particularly forms of life, are too complex *not* to be intelligently
designed. The implication, of course, is a throw-back to the old
teleological argument for God, that smart design implies a smart designer.
Now, were I to plunge into the evolution/creationsist argument, I would in
my usually perverse provocative way, probably *invert* the proposition and
argue that evolutionary results are *in fact too complicated to have been
designed!* And I would look at the current state of robotics as a very good
illustration of this inversion. To date there are no robots with the gracile
motility of even insects-in-motion, let alone simulacra of upright posture
humans playing tennis. Beetles are better at negotiating chaotic terrain
than robots and in terms of flight, bumblebees and humming birds make
mockery of the smart bombing "Predator" of Iraq War fame. Once again, let me
warn you that my ironic gestures against this sense of intelligent design
are not indicators of a lack of appreciation for technological innovation
and modeling-simulation experiments. To the contrary, one of the most
delightful and amusing of my observational side-lines over the years has
been to witness the way a lone phenomenologist, Hubert Dreyfus, so
provocatively influenced the trajectory of both AI (artificial intelligence)
and robotics.

Dreyfus' application of Heidegger, picked up by Terry Winograd and Samuel
Flores, in programs called 'ontological design' changed office systems to
much more user-friendly platforms, but in robotics, the Merleau-Pontean
notion that bodily motility underlies all intelligent behavior has deflected
design notions regarding robot motility. For example, the old dicta
regarding a central nervous system centralized in a sort of brain-in-a-vat
model for deciding and directing robot motion, has gradually begun to be
replaced by 'smart insect' models of less self-conscious motility leading to
better abilities to locate obstacles and such. Both directions are
bodily-being-in-environment models with greater reliance upon perceptual
analogs than upon calculation machine capacities. Perhaps embodied beings
are less calculational machines and more sentient animals than modernity
usually thinks?

Permit now a shift of example. In this case human intelligent designers,
recognizing the gracile motility of our fellow beings and in line with the
previous desire-fantasy dreams, now wish to fulfill the ancient desire
for *flight.
*As I have suggested, the earliest stages of modernity began to shape such
desires into technological forms, and whereas most of the imaginations
pre-renaissance used large birds, dragons or other flying animals—or
sometimes out-of-body dream flights—Leonardo da Vinci began to visualize
different flight technologies. Some were quite naively amusing, such as his
presumed anticipation of a helicopter, a 'flying screw' machine which, of
course, could not possibly work! However, he was also an avid observer of
birds, and birds have always been icons for the human desire to fly.
Leonardo was a keen enough observer to note that bird wings contain
curvatures in form which we now know allows for *lift, *and he incorporated
this into his drawings of winged flight machines. None, again, could have
worked. But why not? Some have argued that the conceptual design was good,
but the lack of light weight materials and the lack of tensile strength of
materials prevented such possibilities. Indeed, when I made remarks of this
sort not long ago in a review in *Nature,* I was taken to task by an editor
who pointed out that a designer inspired by da Vinci, had indeed built a
hang-glider along da Vinci lines, which did glide. However, when I examined
this design, I discovered that a whole series of design modifications
totally unknown to da Vinci had been incorporated. In either case, once
again the properties and capacities of the technologies needed to be taken
into account.

Humans can be stubborn, so the dream of human powered flight persisted. We
look back at the funny home movies of the clumsy attempts at flight
technologies at the end of the 19th century, and when flight succeeds—with
modified bicycle parts and finally a non-human engine—a quite different
trajectory is born. The finally successful powered flight, the Wright flight
in 1903, was actually a combination of many hybrid technologies, light and
flexible, strong materials, control designs for fixed wings, a small
internal combustion engine and propeller (a variation on the ancient screw
machine), and an abandonment of the bionic 'bird model' of da Vinci. Rather,
the developmental history points to what Andrew Pickering calls the "dance
of agency." That is, through much human-material interaction, from which
emerged new design and trajectory factors, came today's very non-animal like
flight. So, when finally one successful human-powered aircraft does appear,
the "Gossamer Albatross", powered by a highly trained bicycle racer with
similar technology driving a large, slow propeller, in a mylar-plastic
airframe, which flew across the English Channel in 1979, the stubborn
fantasy was fulfilled. Yet it was fulfilled only in ideal, limited
conditions and with the appearance of a sort of clumsy, anachronistic

Once again the idol of intelligent design gives way to a human-material or
human-technology set of interactions which through experience and over time
yield to emergent trajectories with often unexpected results. The fantasy
model of an intelligent, autonomous designer—working out an intended result
upon a purely 'plastic' material—gives way to the more realistic notion of
human-material interaction, through experienced 'resistances and
accommodations' in a 'dance of agency' à la Pickering, or the invention of
an entirely new set of uses for a useless 'glue' as in Latour's description
of the Post-it.3

*The idol of the Cyborg:*

* *Although it was probably Donna Haraway who made the figure of the cyborg
into its best known form, as the non-innocent hybrid of
human-animal-and-machine moving amidst the techno-science naturecultures of
postmodernism, the cyborg was gestated in the *cold-think *of World War II
and then the Cold War. From Clynes to Wiener to von Neumann to Herman Kahn,
the technofantasies of moving beyond the humanistic were configured. First,
in the Manhattan Project and thinking the unthinkable, then on to its
'peaceful' uses—such as creating huge atom-bomb produced harbors in
Alaska—cold-think prided itself on machinic thinking replacing human
thinking. One of the main technologies of cybernetics, after all, was to
create a non-evadable aircraft artillery fire.

But the slippery slope fantasies are perhaps better seen when
science-fiction and its filmic expressions are introduced, as in
"Terminator," "Robo-Cop," and the variations upon 'bionic' men and women. It
is here that a history and phenomenology of *prostheses *can be informative:
Prosthetic replacements for limbs and other body parts have an ancient
history. Wooden teeth and detachable artificial limbs go back to ancient
mummies. In experienced use, these prostheses fall into what I have earlier
called *embodiment relations, *that is, we humans can use technologies
through which we can experience our environment by 'embodying' such devices,
and while in use, such devices are 'experienced through' in a partial
transparency or partial withdrawal. We do not attend to our eyeglasses, or
better, our contacts; Merleau-Ponty's lady with the feathered hat or the
blind man with a cane, can 'feel' through these extensions for bodily
motility in an environment. *But, *the withdrawal or transparency comes with
both a partial incompleteness, and more, with a selectivity such that what
is experienced through the prosthesis is both magnified in some aspects and
reduced in others. The peg leg, or its high tech, Iraqi War hydraulic leg
replacement, cannot 'feel' the hot, sun-baked surface of the sidewalk the
way one's bare foot can. But through the prosthesis one might be even more
sensitive to slipperiness or rough texture. Once again, it is the
sensitivity to the materiality of the prosthesis which slippery slope
fantasies forget. Prostheses are compromises; we may have them, but we fall
short of experiencing a total transparent embodiment. At a very low and
simple level, with a tooth crown, there may be a very high transparency, we
are rarely aware of which tooth is crowned. But at a more complex level—say
hearing aids—it becomes obvious that transparency is at best partial. In my
own case, such painful occasions ranging from dinner parties to a bar, the
background noise cannot be dampened even with my hi-tech digitals and remote
with ambient sound suppressing programs. Nor is music, either live, or worse
on the radio, what I can remember it once being.

Returning to limb prostheses, today the attempt to have the artificial limb
mimic likeness to the original or missing limb has sometimes given way to a
different variation entirely. In a trajectory away from similarity and away
from the contradictory having and not-having, a technological self is the
move to have a different kind of prosthesis. Aimee Mullins, who played
'Cheetah Woman' in Matthew Barney's *Cremaster 3, *learned to use from
childhood a set of spring like legs. She was born with fibular hemimelia, a
birth defect of being born without fibula bones, and underwent stump
amputation at age one. The spring legs, subsequently used by a number of
athletes with the same defect, are *not like *human limbs, but give a
selectivity which magnifies spring-powered speed capacities. Oscar
Pistorius, a South African with spring powered transtibial prosthetic legs
runs almost as fast as normally legged runners, but was denied Olympic entry
in part because some feared such hi-tech devices might give an advantage.
This is a trajectory which, while not returning our sentient bodies to us,
allows us different capacities than before.

Even more internalized, knee, hip, shoulder and other *implants *work and
work better than damaged parts, *but implants, unlike the fantasized
eternality of perfect machines, *also wear out! Metal and plastic 'ages' and
must be replaced every seven or more years, and because more bone must be
cut away for the replacement part, this leads to diminishing returns. Here,
again, is contingency and trade-offs, and it is better not to have to
undergo such procedures unless necessary and hopefully at older ages. The
cyborg, when critically examined with a concern for its materiality, does
not display its science-fiction technofantasy form. The cyborg, too, can be
an idol.

*The idol of Prediction:

In the same narratives concerning the human, the posthuman and the
transhuman, both dystopian and utopian predictions produce idolatrous
technofantasies. Here I could wax eloquent for pages, but I select a few
predictions some of which are made by prominent scientists, others by those
extolling utopic virtues in magazines, most selected for deliberate irony by
current lights:

   - Lord Kelvin, 1895, "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
   - Ken Olson, 1977, of Digital Equipment, "There is no reason anyone would
   want a computer in their home."
   - Recall the above cited infinitely cheap atomic energy prediction—this
   era included other predictions including the atomic car which could go
   500,000 miles without refueling.
   - Or extolling modern magical materials such as the beautification of
   walls with white lead paint; the amazing material, asbestos, for floor
   tiles, roofs, insulation and decorative interiors.
   - How about radioactive suppositories? So every tissue in the body could
   benefit from healthful radiation.

These are examples from *Follies of Science *(2007).4
can more than be matched with lists from Tenner's *Why Things Bite
Back *(1996),
when he cites Toffler's famous prediction of how the electronic society
would be the 'paperless society,' and how home security systems, by
generating false alarms, tied down the equivalent of 58 police officers full
time answering 157,000 calls when only 3,000 were genuine, thus likely
diverting attention to other crimes. And the list can go on.5

David Nye, in *Technology Matters *(2006) points to an in-depth survey of
predicted technologies, 1890-1940; 1500 predictions, and less than one-third
occurred. This, by the way, concerned what technologies would be invented,
not what uses, unintended consequences, what reversals would occur. Chiding
me for pointing this out in *Nature* and claiming these are pretty good
odds, my response is that 50% odds are normal for a penny toss, and these
are less than that!

Now, you will note that I have not addressed many of the famous predictions
coming from post- and transhumanists, for example, those issued by Hans
Moravec, concerning downloading a human mind into a computer, and Ray
Kurzweil, concerning the age of intelligent machines. Do these worshippers
of the idol of prediction have credibility? Pause for a moment: Just what of
a human mind would, should, could be downloaded? The internet, which plays a
strong role in Kurzweil's fantasies, turned out to have some very
unpredictable outcomes in relation to its original design and intent. As
everyone knows, the decentralization and distributive network technologies
of the early internet—largely restricted to the Cold War university
cold-thinkers and the military—were designed to be non-defeasible by nuclear
attacks. No central authority or power could overcome the distributed
networks. Yet, once access was expanded—and is still expanding—this lack of
central 'nervous system' analog control has led to all sorts of unintended
consequences. From Andy Feenberg's analysis of the French minitel with its
dating game results, to the current American obsession with hide and seek
and avatar sting operations for catching pedophiles, non-defeasibility has
turned out to have lots of unintended consequences. Thus, Kurzweil's almost
accidentally correct prediction than the Soviet Empire would fail due to the
corrosive power of rising internet-communication-distributed networks did
point up the potentially democratic effect, or subversively democratic
effect, of this technological complex. But, then, turn this back to
Moravec's notion of downloading the human mind into a computer—and by
extension onto the internet—and what do we have? Were we all merely
cold-thinkers as per von Neumann and Herman Kahn, this might be bad enough,
but how about pedophiles, and all the rest of the Freudian 'unconscious'
aspects of the human mind, downloaded and distributive through the internet?
What does it mean to download a mind? If it means downloading all the 'bad'
parts along with the 'good' parts, are we not back at the copying machine,
which is, after all, the perfect reading machine that faithfully reproduces
precisely the page it is given. Were Moravec himself downloaded, would he be
any better than he now is? And, if not, are we stuck with a possibly flawed
Moravec now and forever?

Note here that my worries are *not** *at all those of romantics, objecting
because this is 'unnatural,' nor are they those of the theistically
inclined, concerns with human hubris, overreaching our natural human limits.
They are, rather, worries about unintended consequences, unpredictability,
and the introduction of disruptions into an ever growing and more complex
system. They are worries about how 'normal accidents' get built into systems
as per Charles Perrow. My worries arise precisely from what I have learned
about technologies in the now nearly four decades of thinking about
technologies. My worries focus upon precisely the *disregard* for the
materiality of technologies, the ambiguity of technologies, the
multistability of technologies, and above all, the intimate role of *humans
with technologies. *Thus I will conclude with another narrative, which I
hope will capture the sense of what I have been talking about.

*John Henry and Big Blue:*

The American 'John Henry' legend expressed in songs and tales reflects an
earlier era in which technologization was feared with respect to replacing
humans, but in this case laboring humans. John Henry was depicted as a big
Black man, known for his exceptional skills at driving spikes for setting up
rails for the advancing railroad—in another version, he was depicted as a
tunnel digger. In both cases, an invention—of a steam powered spike driver
in the first, or a steam powered digger in the second—threatened to outdo
and replace John Henry. So a contest is set up between John Henry and the
steam machine, and with superhuman effort, John Henry scores a very tight
victory over the steam machine. However, his efforts ended with a heart
attack and he collapsed at the finish line, dead.
Of course, we know the outcome. The machine actually wins, since once
driving spikes or digging tunnels became automated, steam machines replaced
human muscle power. And as the moral of the story goes for labor unions and
a social left, the armies of Coolies who did that work on our 19th century
railroads were left unemployed. But fast-forward to today: Who today bemoans
the replacement of hard, 'chain-gang-like' labor with efficient machines?

I switch to my observed version from two events at my retreat in the Green
Mountains of Vermont. Now almost a decade ago, a devastating ice storm
coated the forests of my region and mountainside, damaging many trees and
downing others. I have a managed forest plan and, on the advice of my
forester, accepted a selective cut. The end result was that seven double
truck loads of logs were cut and sold, and the stumps cut down to the ground
and brush burned or removed. How did this happen? With one tough old
Vermonter, armed with a large chain and a four wheel machine, complete with
road making blade, chain saw in hand by himself*—no, by himself plus his
technologies—*who in a matter of weeks completed the task. Then, again this
summer, this time wanting selective trees which had grown up in my lower
meadow and apple orchard, now threatening my highly taxed view (there is a
view tax in Vermont!) I had my meadow mowing Vermonter do the job. This
time, with a large excavator with clasping arm, dozer blade, and another of
the large four wheel machines—again by himself, no, by himself with the
large machines—he does the job in a few days. I imagined a century ago when
both these jobs would have called for a gang of Vermonters, horses and
sledges, and hand powered two-man saws, undertaking what would have been a
month's work. So what is my point? The technologies *did not *replace the
humans; rather, different technologies *plus *the humans changed the nature
of the task.

Today, here in the context of the human, posthuman, transhuman narratives,
the variant is, once again, the humans *versus *the machines, this time not
with respect to muscle power, but with respect to *calculating power.* AI,
VR, and the range of more 'mind' related technologies are again
mythologizing the human versus machine myths long embedded in our culture.
Now, frankly, were my computer able to simply ingest all my tax related data
for my annual income tax report, and spit out a legal and yet maximal result
for me, I would cheer and accept giving up the task entirely. That is, of
course, not the way it happens. Instead, it happens—if I borrow from
Latour's human-and-non-human collectives notion— more like this: I collect
and organize my now enormous and complicated annual data, and turn it over
to my tax advisor. He, now with four others in his office, format it for the
programs which are responsible for analysis, and last year he said he tried
some seven variants to produce the most effective result. This is a
simulation and modeling process now so common for complex phenomena problems
for which such calculation machines are at their best. However, again, it is
clearly not human versus machine—it is humans in conjunction with machines
that produce the result.

And this is where I finally turn to my last legend, the 1997 presumed *defeat
*of champion chess player, Kasperov, by the IBM computer with the Big Blue
program. The PR—and the Minsky's and Moravecs and all the other
technofantasizers—hyped this occasion as the ultimate, inevitable result of
yet another mythical 'machine-beats-human' contest, a mental and century
later version of "John Henry." However, that is not what happened and the
history of the event not only is different from its mythical version, but
precisely needs to be reframed in human *plus *machine interpretation. From
the first, of course, it is human plus machine in the creation of the
software. The software did not create itself, it was honed and refined by
many skilled programmers, as per the previous tales in amongst the idols,
and gradually perfected through resistances and accommodations and the dance
of agency peculiar to computer programming. But there is more: During the
match, after each game, but behind the scenes, somewhat like the gang of
water dabbers and cleaners at a boxing match, Big Blue was aided by its
programmers who tweaked and re-tweaked its programs before the next round.
This was not machine versus Kasperov, this was the collective machine plus
programmers, a collective versus Kasperov! Is it then any wonder that
Kasperov is as much exasperated by the behavior of the 'machine' as he is by
the lightening quick moves it can make with hyperspeed calculations?

I suggest here, that only if humans are stupid enough to end up worshiping
the very idols they create, could the fantasized replacement of humans by
machines take place. The changing technologies with which we interact, form
collectives, and experience the dances of agencies, do forecast vastly
changed conditions of work and play (and even love), but it is not them
versus us. In Long Island, my living room has a number of pieces of 'art'
from the Sepic River region of New Guinea. I bought these pieces while in
Australia, from a shop in Sydney which specialized in this sculpture 'art.'
Now, in their own cultural context, such pieces were not at all what we
would think of as 'art,' but were simultaneously more a sort of 'practical
religious' set of objects. They served fertility, ritual, healing, and many
other social functions; they were what older anthropologists might have
called 'sacred' objects—or *idols. *However, if they are sacred, how could I
acquire them? The answer is one which I find appropriate for my conclusion
here. These sacred objects, idols, are in their original context, thought to
gradually lose power, to deteriorate, even to break-down—*amazingly just
like technologies—*so when they reach a certain stage of uselessness, they
are discarded. And so I have collected some of these discarded idols and
re-formulated their use into 'art objects' in my home. Here lies the moral
of my tale concerning the human, the posthuman and the transhuman.

*The Order of Things *(Vintage Books, 1973), pp. 386-7.

my "Technology and Human Self-Interpretation,"
*Existential Technics *(SUNY Press, 1983).

*Science in Action *(Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 140.

Dregni and Jonathan Dregni,
*The Follies of Science *(Speck Press, 2007).

*Why Things Bite Back *(Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), p. 7.
**[image: Separater]*

Published   2008.06.06 * *Comments:* Share your thoughts on this article:
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