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Magnus Ramage’s Paper Proposal

The rise of the infoborgs: post-humanism and materiality in the age of ubiquitous information

It is now more than fifty years since the coinage of the term ‘cyborg’ (for cybernetic organism), and more than twenty years since Donna Haraway’s use of the term which made it so prominent in the social sciences and cultural studies. Naturally, the use of the term is of great interest to cybernetics, and its use draws upon many different areas within cybernetics. However, it is one which the field could usefully re-engage with at the present time.

We live in an age which is often described as the information age, and information is all-pervasive in our society. Very many objects and phenomena which were previously considered as material are now considered in terms of information: just a few examples include money, music and friendship.

We also live in an age where ubiquitous computing has shifted from being an aspiration of computer scientists to being the lived experience of very many people in society (at least in developed countries). Smartphones, tablet computers and small laptops, combined with widespread networking, have brought computing power to the pockets of most of us. This is likely to be extended considerably further with the rise of wearable computers, such as Google Glass.

It might be argued that ubiquitous computing is turning us into cyborgs, blended beings so dependent on our computers that we have become a single organism. I will argue in this talk that this is the wrong focus – that we should look not at the devices but at what they convey: ubiquitous information. In this sense we are turning not into cyborgs but into ‘infoborgs’. Massive amounts of information is being created by and about us, stored in networks of large data-servers (the cloud).

This shift of our lives to being information-driven, enabled by connected devices, is exciting to some but deeply threatening to others. It raises many questions (some of which have been asked in different ways previously by figures such as Katherine Hayles) about what it means to be human, and what is the nature of materiality.
There are parallels here to the conference theme which relates acting and understanding in a circular relationship, linked by learning. In the same way, the technological and the human are conjoined in a circular relationship (as the cyborg/infoborg), linked by information. Examining the processes of the technological-human relationship will help us to see the links between acting and understanding.

1 comment

  1. I am reminded of Richard Gregory’s thinking about tools. He saw tools not as the outcome of our thinking, or as amplifiers for our minds, but as thought shapers. To him, it was the tools (instruments etc) that determined how we learnt to understand and picture the world.

    There is a really interesting discussion to be had here, and the extension of our conference circle into the techological (techie: doing) and human may help throw very valuable insights.

    Incidentally, I look forward to a presentation of some of Hayles’ concepts in a language I find less personally offensive than hers! I am sure there is much good in there.

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