“Fuck off, Google!” The Invisible Committe’s Revolutionary Analysis of Cybernetics and the Internet

The Invisible Committee came back again about 7 days ago, with a brilliantly original and unapologetic essay on the naïvete of the many, many celebrations of the “new technologies” of Web 2.0 (Google, Facebook, etc.) as potentially emancipatory or revolutionary. “There are no “Facebook revolutions”, but there is a new science of government, cybernetics.” The new tract of the Invisible Committee, available both in writing (download the PDF file below) and audio, lays bare the roots of current communication technologies mired in the post-WWII military construction of “Cybernetics” as a scientific discipline. Cybernetics, however, cannot be farther from a branch of the sciences; Simondon’s description of cybernetics as the “second schema of intelligibility” after the Cartesian “method” is much more accurate, although even this does not capture the deeply political nature of cybernetics. By drawing attention to the latter as a pervasive albeit barely noticeable form of government(ality), the Committee joins the relatively thin ranks of the thinkers that recognize and announce the shifting of the forms of government, control, and even human-being/species-being away from the rational and grounded towards the cybernetic, the real-time, the empire of data. The essay is unbelievably refreshing, a development of original ideas without following any big philosophers. Its descriptions of the new human beings produced by the cybernetic organon (although the latter is my term) is a clear critique of Deleuze and “Deleuzian” thinkers.

The rational Western subject, aspiring to master the world and governable thereby, gives way to the cybernetic conception of a being without an interiority, of a selfless self, an emergent, climatic being, constituted by its exteriority, by its relations. A being which, armed with its Apple Watch, comes to understand itself entirely on the basis of external data, the statistics that each of its behaviors generates.

As I am attempting to demonstrate in a work in progress, Deleuze’s once radical or revolutionary theories, especially his pursuit of immanence have now become the ideologies of the diffused, absolute, singularized cybernetic control;they read like prophecies that came true not by the revolutionaries, but by the reactionary State. The authors’ clear and uncompromising declaration of the end of the era of rationality (the end of the rule of the principle of sufficient reason) and its correlate-subjects.

Political economy reigned over beings by leaving them free to pursue their interest; cybernetics controls them by leaving them free to communicate.

The essay’s treatment of data-mining as the more recent part/procedure of the cybernetic organon together with the cult of self-sharing amounts to lucid statements that show why the celebration of all things “social” is not such a great idea. Their emphasis on the cybernetic procedures as bypassing the universal-individual plane echoes my own conclusions to the same effect (see earlier posts, or one of my recent essays).

The great refrigerated storehouses of data are the pantry of current government. In its rummaging through the databases produced and continuously updated by the everyday life of connected humans, it looks for the correlations it can use to establish not universal laws nor even “whys,” but rather “whens” and “whats,” one-time, situated predictions, not to say oracles.

Please read the article in its PDF version I have placed below, or hear the presentation given by one of the Tarnac 9 here.

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Actuarial Judgment and Decision-Making Machines: Introducing Rouvroy’s Algorithmic Governmentality

The relation between machines and judgment in the legal sense is already somewhat actualized in terms of “actuarial” judgment: in parole boards, for example, the “judges” are given a computer-produced risk-probability based on preexisting statistics and the convict’s behavioral pattern. The “judgment” they render is thus really not ought to be considered on a par with legal judgment in the non-actuarial, more common form. Antoinette Rouvroy, the French philosopher of law who has coined the phrase “algorithmic governmentality,” has given an insightful talk on the subject, which I believe is available in written form, entitled “Governmentality in an Age of Autonomic Computing: Technology, Virtuality, and Utopia” (there is also another talk, “Algorithmic Governmentality and the End(s) of Critique,” available on the web for free).

She meticulously analyzes the forms of governmentality that are increasingly dependent upon predictions made from large data-sets by autonomic machines. Examples include risk-assessment of individuals to identify likely terrorists or offenders early on and preempt crime, as well as the already mentioned actuarial decision-making in certain legal settings. The most important issue here as well as in every discussion regarding the data-technologies is the notion of protocol and the “standardization” of the data produced by different profiling resources (these include Facebook as well as state-related polls and profiling projects): not only is the human being to be reduced to a (huge) number of data-fields (name, age, …) processable by “intelligent” and autonomic machines (the latter are defined by their autonomous decision-making; the more common examples are AI enemy players in games and shopping-bots, not to mention the Google PageRank and Facebook’s now (in)famous NewsFeed), but the data thus produced are to be standardized according to protocols and pooled together to form data-mines as “complete” as possible, making for more “accurate” predictions, whether about potential criminality in the “risk society” or the personalization of ads and services.

The decisions and predictions made by these autonomous agents is the result of turning the human being (and the world) into a black-box, whose internal life, intentionality, and states of mind are simply made to do not exist, at least where it matters. They are thus not in any way comparable to human judgment, although their end-result can be made to approach human judgment to determinable degrees. The most concise way to describe the difference between the two is to say that machinic decision-making does not know anything of the “excluded middle” and (perhaps) syllogism in general: it is absolutely singular and does not bypass the universal-individual continuum characteristic of judgment.