Thursday, October 07, 2010

Imagine life in the machine – just look behind you in the mirror

Imagine for a moment the world before humanity dominated it. A blue planet, trundling through space with no particular purpose or reason. Life on the planet was all about just eking out an existence, always eager to procreate and evolve purely for survival's and procreations' sake.

Now imagine the world, as it is today, inhabited by humans: think of it, just for the sake of an experiment as some kind of huge factory, filled with giant machines of different sizes and functions, constantly running. All these different kinds of machines running and running, making something, producing something. What kinds of machines? Well, there'd be machines of different sizes and of different purpose, just like there are countries of different size and purpose. There would be some machines closely integrating their production lines, while others would be barely getting much input from others while still producing outputs needed by other machines. The different machines would all be running at vastly different, ever changing speeds, using different and evolving technologies.

What happens within these machines? Well, in the same way that the big machines are ultimately all part of the factory each of the big machines contains smaller sub-machines, with conveyor belts, pistons and mechanisms linking all the machinery up in some way or another. Equivalent to a countries' institutions really, businesses, universities, governments, organisations, all grouped and linked in various ways – as cities, industries, communities and what have you not.

At that level finally, that's where people fit in – if we imagine the world in this way, each and every one of us living in this planet earth would fit into this machine somewhere. We'd ultimately be the ones making all these machines run. The machines need us to make them run. Well, we're of course trying to get out of that and that's why we invented computers. But for now that's still mostly the way it is. All the machines need people to make them run. How do we keep them running – well, there's work of course, but pretty much everything we do - from watching TV to cooking a dinner to walking the dog - keeps some machine somewhere humming away busily.

Talk about what is power – power is the ability to change the course of a machine

Machines provide for humans, they keep us alive but at the same time they suck life out of us. With all of our lives being ruled by machines, keep the machines running becomes the main reason for humans to live. The only open question will be how comfortably we will be living and for a few whether they can maybe influence the production mechanism of some of the machines.

Struggles between humans about resource distribution, social justice etc. are about adjustments to the production - whom the machine produces what goods for, how much profit it makes or how many things, how fast it runs etc.

Next question – why do we keep them running?

Of course, one could say it was and is people who created all these machines in the first place so it's just fair that we'd be keeping them running. After all we created them for a purpose. What, however, is that purpose? What are all these many many machines producing, what are they making and for whom? Now, one can take one of these machines, let's take a fairly explicit example, the cigarette vending machine around the corner from here. This machine has the obvious purpose of distributing cigarettes. It will be doing so for a fee. This small machine can of course not act on its own accord but is merely the tip of an iceberg. The iceberg is the company that owns that machine, that caused it to be placed around the corner from here, that causes the machine to be refilled with cigarettes once it's empty, maintained etc. Why then did the company, the big "mother machine" feel the urge to expose its little, vulnerable "baby" of a cigarette vending machine into the bad and dangerous world? To hand out cigarettes to the smokers in the area yes, but ultimately to make money for the mother machine. Because, that is currently the ultimate goal of most machines on this planet. Making money. One would think their inventors gave birth to them to make humanities' lot easier – for example by making cigarettes available 24/7 for those poor deprived smokers in our neighbourhood. But the big mother machine of a company placed this cigarette machine in that place for one purpose only – to make profit if possible. Because that is by now the most popular carrot that has been chosen to make most machines on this planet run at a higher speed. Because you see, humans are still needed to run the machines and humans are so bloody difficult to motivate to keep the machines running. You offer them money, of course never as much as their work is actually worth but something but then with time they get lazy. So if you want to keep the machines running nice and smooth and keep improving their speed and efficiency you need a nice and juicy carrot and that's profit, money, dough, that stuff.

Some machines used to be trained at producing just things, things that people could use or not. But those machines didn't quite run at the same speed, they didn't have the agility to adapt quickly to the changes in what people wanted and what they produced quickly became quite outdated. Well, that said, they ultimately never really produced what people wanted in the first place but were focussed on being competitive with other machines. Anyway, they lost out so now it's pretty much only money-producing machines around. Of course those machines also produce things for people to stay alive, life comfortably, make them miserable, entertain them, make them happy, destroy them and all that sort of rubbish but ultimately it's money they produce.

That hints at another important factor in this mechanical landscape – competition between machines.

Tied up in this constant wrangle, various machines are always focussed on becoming ever more efficient, fast and smooth-running – the digital revolution for example is about integrating humans and their environment completely into the machine's thinking to make its production decisions more efficient. By living ever more of our lives in the machine code of 0 and 1 we make our lives comprehensible and computable to machines. Human lives become calculable, thereby increasing efficiency of the production of the goods and services to support that life and ultimately a bigger yield in profits.

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