Technoscience / Ecomateriality / Literature
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Siren Servers Shying Away from the Material?

October 15th, 2014 | Posted by Diego Nogales in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Siren Servers Shying Away from the Material?)

When the “cloud” and Internet appeared into the world, there was great debate as to how to classify or label this medium for communication and information. Many individuals, like Barlow suggested that cyberspace was separate from the material world and that the typical “legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to [cyberspace]. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here” (Blanchette 4). This approach to network data from the tech industry and its leaders such as Amazon and Google promoted a divergence from the material, in the hope to place digital information and networking on a pedestal above all else. Of course these tech companies want to brand the cloud in this manner because it places their valuable digital information (revenue generator), into an “untouchable” land where typical regulations and laws are a blur. The interesting part is that the false advertisement of data on an immaterial level is not hard to achieve. As we discussed in our recent seminars, the idea of a cyberspace with digital data was something that was envisioned many years ago. This idea was portrayed in many sci-fi movies and futurist shows, such that when we look up cyberspace in Google, we find bizarre photos that do not resemble anything close to what data centers look like.

This means that the general public assumes that cloud space, to be an immaterial one. This implies that the reality of a material perspective of the Internet and networked digital systems is the alternate view rather than the principle one. In personal reflection, I knew that the cloud was not really in a “cloud”-like space, floating in the immaterial, but looking at the pictures of the Google Data Centers and looking at hardware components solidified that reality in a harsh way. For example, I did not know about the wired tunneled underneath the Atlantic Ocean, I just figured that they wired it some how, but I always kept it in the back of my mind and just thought of “Wi-Fi” when I would Skype with someone abroad. My natural instincts to simplify my view of digital networks overshadowed logical and reason. This is a common occurrence and to change the general perspective of the digital network to a material one would be extremely difficult.

Even though it is a challenge, after processing the readings for this week, I think that the material in the digital needs to be recognized. It is a necessity, not because a running imagination is a bad thing, but that grounding the digital space to the material will also link the digital to the same laws and regulations that other mediums face. This is absolutely necessary because the more we allow digital data to become “untouchable”, the more access siren servers, like Amazon and Facebook, have to power and money.

Blanchette, Jean-Francois. “A Material History of Bits.” Web. 10 Oct. 2014. http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/blanchette/papers/materiality.pdf

Digital Materiality Blog Post

October 10th, 2014 | Posted by David Builes in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Digital Materiality Blog Post)

There is a very big mismatch between the public conception of data and what data truly is. As Blanchette writes in “A Material History of Bits”, many of us who do not know the nuts and bolts of the technologies used in our information age see information as immaterial; a misconception that businesses sometimes consciously promote. A very dramatic and easy way to demonstrate this mismatch, a method we used during our class, is by simply google searching “cyberspace” under images, here. These images no doubt come from various popular fictional universes, and one might think this is all just harmless fun. However, Blanchette argues persuasively that these misconceptions can have serious real world consequences. For example, when laws and policies about digital media begin to be formulated on the premise that digital media are somehow immaterial, then these laws and policies are simply based on errors (4-5). 

Adopting a material perspective on the internet and networked digital systems gives us a more realistic perspective on them. For example, having a conception of information systems as immaterial can make us draw false conclusions about its risks. The idea that the internet can simply “break” during a bad natural disaster that harms the physical buildings where the internet is maintained is unthinkable if the internet is wholly immaterial, but fairly obvious once one recognizes its materiality. Furthermore, we can better appreciate the consequences that the digital has on the environment when we recognize its materiality. Again, if the digital were immaterial, then it couldn’t possibly have environmental impacts, but given that it isn’t, we have to be mindful about the environmental impacts it does have instead of assuming that the digital is always more environmentally friendly than the analog. Moving forward into the future, there is much interesting work to be done by future engineers to minimize these environmental impacts. While information will never truly be immaterial, we can try our best to make it as seamless as possible. Human ingenuity, coupled with Moore’s law and the new breakthroughs promised by quantum computing, gives us some reasonable hope that we can make progress towards this goal.

Works Cited

Blanchette, Jean-Francois. “A Material History of Bits.” Web. 10 Oct. 2014. http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/blanchette/papers/materiality.pdf

Reading response – 08/09/14

September 8th, 2014 | Posted by Cathy Li in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Reading response – 08/09/14)

I will update this after finishing Neuromancer (over the fall break).

 

Neuromancer is the very first sci-fi I have ever read, honestly. So far, NOT so good, and here is why. According to my friend, this work started the generation of “cyberpunk“, which is “subgenre of science fiction in a near-future setting”(Wikipedia). Naturally, Gibson invented his unique language such as “matrix” “crack an AI” and “jack into the cyberspace”, regardless what they actually mean. Also, Gibson is such a name-dropper that he incorperated lots of multi-cultural themes throughout the novel, things like, “a pack of Yeheyuan” (Gibson 108) which is a cigarette that no one smokes anymore, or the “Kandinsky table” or the “Neo-Aztec bookcases” (Gibson 108). I appreciate the effort of his research but he also made this novel so hard for me.

Meanwhile, under current artificial intelligence technology, the novel at the same time raised more questions than it could answer about the nature of cyberspace and human activities about it. In the novel, the cyberspace can be hacked in by one’s mental abilities, shown by Case’s brain damage also damaged his capability of hacking. In Neuromancer, Gibson indirectly showed us what one can do in the cyberspace by giving out very extreme examples such as merging Wintermute and Neuromancer. However, the cyberspace also in a sense resembles the DiVE “physically” because we were physically invited into the DiVE and it is perfectly possible that one lives in DiVE. Same with the Cyberspace: the Neuromancer invited Case to stay in the cyberspace with his dead girlfriend Linda Lee. For all we know, Case is a physical person (he was in Chiba, Japan) and were Neuromancer’s world completely mental, there would be no way for Case to actually “live” there. So the cyberspace becomes this intriguing place that seems to wander at the edge of the physical and the mental.

We also discussed the ethics surrounding artificial intelligence and the advancement of other technologies. Related topics have become the themes of lots of popular animes/mangas in Japan because Japan is extremely advanced in this field. This is also the reason why Gibson set the first scene of Neuromancer in Chiba prefecture in Japan. Related anime (that I’ve watched) include: Mirai Nikki, Steins;Gate, Ivu no Jikan (short, highly recommended). The first two concern time-travelling. The first one is also closely related to the game space concept that we talked about. The last one is related to the ethics of artificial intelligence and it made me emotional in the end.

 

Sources:

“Cyberpunk.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 June 2014. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.