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<nettime> The Holy Empire of AI & VR 2/2
sage on Mon, 1 Sep 1997 23:05:23 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> The Holy Empire of AI & VR 2/2




Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality

Political power, or the administration of space, is embodied by the
archetype or technology of artificial intelligence. Religious power, or the
continuation of time, is embodied by the archetype or technology of virtual
reality. Artificial intelligence is a mode of organization that is used to
describe concepts such as the global market, the network of networks, and
everything from our information/communications systems, to the way we
organize our societies, whether political, economic, or social. Virtual
reality is a polytheistic belief system, represented best as consumerism, or
the ability to buy your reality via products tailoring to lifestyle,
identity, status, character, or communications. Both of these concepts are
resident within corporate organization, as trade liberalization accompanies
communication deregulation, and the market determines policy and perspective.

The relationship between AI and VR is definitive of the relationship between
holism and paradox resident within our ruling structure. As archetypes, AI
and VR run throughout the empire as the unifying elements of politics and
religion. They are the two extensions that form the reality of present-day
global corporate rule. They represent the dominance of technological
determinism and fatalism that forms the governance of our society. As they
continue to supersede the old monopoly of knowledge, this new state
increasingly embodies an absolutist authoritarian consensus that becomes the
market determined and manufactured reality.

AI has been a dominant metaphor within the management and governance of our
society for many decades. As more and more of our trade and communications
is virtualized: reduced to a digital form of 1s and 0s, we rely upon
networked forms of organization to manage our perception and interaction
with the world. The notions of 'convergence' and 'networks' combine to form
the archetype of artificial intelligence. McLuhan described the printed word
as having an effect of externalizing our experiences while the electric word
encourages us to internalize our activities. AI is the hybrid between the
two phenomena whereby we can manage the constant interaction between the
two: newspaper and television, book and internet, terminal and network.
Rivers of information that more and more resemble an electronic maelstrom
where information overload threatens to prevent real time cognition of our
living reality.

AI's most powerful manifestation is as the amorphous entity called the
'market'. All across the world political authority is being ceded to this
institution, and further pursuit of trade liberalization and communication
deregulation is entrenching political authority within what is increasingly
a 'global market'. In the 1960s McLuhan described the unification of the
sensory environment under electronic communications as producing a global
village: a shared space in which all inhabitants of the world become
tribesman in a common collective global reality. Contributing factors such
as national government debt and increased use of 'global' information
technology has facilitated this shift in governance, and the economic
dependence upon trans-national corporations who prefer the market place as
the arena of governance, simply because it is also the basis of their
identity and power.

Virtual reality as the religion, or system of continuance, arises as a
natural extension and partner to the role of AI as a system of
administration. VR is the archetype that is able to harness that vast array
of information organized by the networks. VR is the technology that allows
our identities to change faster than our bodies or brains may allow. VR is
the polytheistic religion that not only allows us to choose our own gods and
goddesses, but more importantly allows us to become them. VR allows us to
change our reality so as to empower ourselves, albeit through enslavement.

Virtual reality is the out-of-body experience that is consumer capitalism.
Whether new age gnosticism, Christian fundamentalism, or technological
millenarianism, VR as religion allows the individual to exist in a tribal
world of paradox and holism, allowing the illusion of either choosing a
tribe or escaping to a hermitage. VR is consumer reality: it's the ability
to choose your own media, choose your own lifestyle, choose your own
identity. VR enables a new liberal isolationism divorced from social
responsibility, enclosed in privilege and luxury.

Virtual reality is the utopian police state currently on sale from corporate
capital. Privacy is discarded for total surveillance, and imagination is
commodified and captured while our bodies remain in urban prisons staring at
flashing screens flooding us with electrons. VR has the most insidious
potential when coupled with its natural mate AI. Together reality and
identity no longer become a question of perspective, but rather a product
manufactured for resale. With advertiser driven broadcasting the audience
was the product. With network driven virtual reality, the audience becomes
the prisoner.


The Holy Digital Empire

In this context we see the true unity of  politics and religion, of church
and state. The combined communication biases of AI and VR balance off to
negate time and space, empowering and stabalizing an entrenched yet still
emerging empire. The new monopolies of knowledge are a hybrid of old power
structures, appropriated from many civilizations, operating within an
accelerated present that obsesses with the immediate future, while
worshipping a perceived yet distant divine future.

An appropriate metaphor for the current ruling structure is the traditional
Chinese empire. As an imperial system extending from a tribal society, the
Chinese empire has almost always sustained a synthesis between the biases of
space and time, politics and religion. The ruling head was the 'Sage King',
the embodiment of heaven on earth, the manifestation of god in human form.
Within western civilization this resembles much more the Christ figure of
god on earth, rather than the king who rules by divine law. The 'Sage King'
is the synthesis between space and time, political and religious power.

An appropriate metaphor for the ruling 'Sage King' is digital monopolist
Bill Gates. Whether through Microsoft or his new consortium Teledesic which
plans to launch 870 low earth orbit satellites for wireless multi-way
broadband communication, Gates operates on a combination of political and
religious power. His political power stems from his control of the software
industry, and his religious power stems from both consumer and market belief
in his personal and corporate identity. He has successfully combined these
two and is now attempting to gain an oligopolistic if not monopolistic
control on future telecommunications, determined of course by the faith he
is able to generate from the global market.

Throughout the world, at the behest of the World Trade Organization and
under the leadership of American legislators, national governments are being
either coerced or seduced to deregulate their communications. This has had
the effect of accelerating corporate concentration, and centralizing power
amidst a handful of conglomerates. Many analysts have regarded these changes
as an act of faith, in which national governments hand over the basis of
their sovereignty to what is called: market control. The ideology describes
an era of free markets, but the reality depicts global giants operating a
capitalist command economy. AI enables this accumulation, while VR permits
the illusion of free trade, and the dependence upon faith as a form of policy.

While convergence drives the agenda, and pragmatism nurtures the ideology of
technology, the real quest waged by the corporate missionaries concerns the
character or identity of the networks. These open dynamic environments now
form the basis of our economy and society. Their identity is determined by
the culmination of identities active within its system. The defining
character within the networks rests upon the attributes: presence and
absence. The inclusivity and openness of the networks foster an environment
in which presence is the primary characteristic. Either you're present and
you're counted for, or else you're absent and of no effect. This absolutism
forms the basis of the network identity. The corporate state still maintains
the politics of exclusion as its basis of political power. The tyranny of
the networked environment rests within exclusion from inclusive environments.

Virtual reality is a prison when it consists of infinite choices without the
abilities associated with the expression of voice. The consumer identity is
powerless without the simultaneous identity of the producer. The liberating
aspects of the networks reside in the synthesis of consumer and producer,
listener and speaker. Corporate power, whether via appropriation,
marginalization, or elimination of voice, seeks to imprison the subject to
the role of consumer, while preventing access to the means of production.
The cost and ability to consume continually reduces, while the cost and
ability to produce advances further and further out of reach.


Immigration and Network Nomads

The paradox of increasing disparities is central to the emerging networked
society. For every perspective that exists within the networks a thousand
more exist outside. The vast majority of the world have never made a phone
call, and approximately 0% of the world has accessed the Internet. The
Internet remains an elitist sandbox, increasingly used by the global
intelligentsia to program the propaganda for the rest of the masses accessed
through broadcast radio and television networks. Class becomes the dominant
perspective within the networks, as presence becomes the primary definition
of status.

It is within this context of absence that we must reach out and accommodate
the opposite perspective, connecting with our own sense of otherness. Alien
hysteria fuels xenophobia and prevents us from comprehending our inverse
reality. The paradox of contradicting realities exists, but the privilege of
presence is the employment of virtual reality as a renewed form of
constructed linear hiearchy. In seeking environmental awareness we strive to
go beyond cause and effect to an understanding of the relationship between
opposites and the operation of chaos. Embracing the holism and paradox
resident within the network structure, we can invigorate a dynamic open
system that thrives on change and diversity.

At a national level this manifests as an open immigration policy. Hubs or
nations within the network thrive on activity, traffic, and trade. Humans
become the resource of value within the network economy, and embedded within
each individual identity is the strength of potential connection and with it
the contribution of diversity. However this immigration should not be viewed
as a resettling of cultures, but the retrieval of nomadism within our own.
With space and time negated by the networks, the natural instinct is to
travel, to move where conditions are most favourable, wherever and whenever
that may be. The more doors and minds that are open the stronger the
identity the network is able to generate for itself.

Within a global networked world dominated by tyranny, ravaged by insecurity,
and plagued by intolerance, Canada as a counter-environment, Canada as a
culture, Canada as an identity, becomes a safe haven for the development of
democracy, and the preservation of human rights. Canada is itself a process
of the open mind. It is an integral part of the networked society, and it
lies in juxtaposition to the most powerful parts of the network: the US,
Europe, and Asia. As the cottage country of corporate capitalism, Canada
allows the rich and poor to relax and be free. Unfortunately only a small
minority of the world's population has access to the Canadian network. With
a commitment to open immigration policies, Canada could embrace the
diversity of the world, and allow itself to become the cultural antidote to
the poison of corporate power.

The reality however is that the majority of the world's population will
never have the ability to travel through Canada. On it's own, an open
immigration policy would only reinforce Canada's status as a haven for the
global ruling class. As an anti-nationalist pro-federalist culture, Canada
can no longer be considered geographic, but synonymous with the quest for
the open mind. Canada as a cultural identity transcends space and time to
weave itself into the very fabric of the global networks.

"Culture survives ideologies and political institutions, or rather it
subordinates them to the influence of constant criticism." (Harold Innis,
Bias of Communication pp. 195)

The political ideologies and institutions that characterized the monopoly of
knowledge from the age of literacy have been supplanted. Our nation state
has been declawed and overthrown from within. With communications
deregulation we have given up the basis for which the state exists. With
trade liberalization we have given up effective control of our borders. This
process which is underway at a global level, can be viewed as the shift from
a 'state of being' to a 'state of mind'.


Canadian Culture in Action

Within the Canadian context, the issue of cultural identity persists,
especially when our cultural industries are large participants in our
overall international trade. However what was once a national culture is now
an element of network culture within a larger framework of mind. The
emerging global political structure stems from the synthesis of national
identities. The Canadian identity continues to play a prominent role,
frequently present within the network structure, a combination of its
developments in industrialization and literacy. Our culture when free may
well be our preservation.

"Culture is designed to train the individual to decide how much information
he needs, to give him a sense of balance and proportion, and to protect him
from the fanatic... Culture is concerned with the capacity of the individual
to appraise problems in terms of space and time and with enabling him to
take the proper steps at the right time. It is at this point that the
tragedy of modern culture has arisen as inventions in commercialism have
destroyed a sense of time." (Harold Innis, Bias of Communication, pp. 80)

An excellent focal point for understanding both the uniqueness and strategic
position of Canadian culture within the networked world is our pulblic media
organization: the Canadian Broadcasting Company. The CBC was our national
response to the proliferation of electronic networks in the form of radio
and television. In terms of its contribution to the dialogue otherwise known
as the Canadian identity, the CBC has been our great national facilitator.
It's the subsidy for national identity. For as long as its been able to
maintain its independence, its been able to create a cultural space where
the peoples of this land could share their stories.

At present however, the CBC is besieged on all sides. Externally the decline
of the nation state has challenged the CBC with budget cuts and the threat
of privatization. Internally the CBC has been controlled by a stubborn
national elite who have brought the institution to a life-threatening
stasis. Organizational survival has been attempted through both denial, and
life spent in the communications past. Due to the insecurity and closed-door
atmosphere of the CBC, the organization has either been unwilling or unable
to appropriate knowledge and experience outside of its own cultural sphere
while still within the nation called Canada.

As the Canadian identity evolves and changes as part of the networked
society, so too should the CBC. Explicitly the CBC should move from a
facilitator of national identity, to an agitator for global democracy and
human rights. The CBC is already an international organization, and with the
national identity it already shares, can infiltrate the global networks and
spread the virus of freedom and democracy throughout the world.

A networked CBC is an international community centre. It's an open media
literacy centre. It's an extension of our public education system and a
bridge into the international networked world. It's an organization that
exports literate and skilled communication workers throughout the planet.
It's the exchange program by which people can emigrate to Canada both
culturally and physically. The CBC could again become the cultural space in
which identity is developed alongside democracy.

The CBC as agitator can jump into the political arena by championing the
cause of Universal Access. On a social, economic, and technological level,
the CBC combined with the library and educational systems could nurture a
new media literacy: a synthesis of traditional literacy with our new found
electric orality, that enables people to effectively engage in the emerging
network environments. The pursuit of this media literacy is the pursuit of
the environmental awareness associated with the new context of identity.
Access is the opportunity for presence, presence the opportunity for identity.


Hakcing Reality: A Renewed Existentialism

This identity is a form of existentialism, a way of being within the
nothingness of the networks. 'Hacking reality' is the process by which this
identity is generated. The dynamism of the networks coupled with the
perpetual projection of virtual reality force the individual into a
spontaneous dance for identity. The individual must hack the networks of
reality to find their own space, their own time, within the ceaseless flux
of change. The most concrete example of this is the shift from jobs and
full-time employment to roles and freelancing. Instead of fulfilling duties
on a regular basis in a job, the individual now performs roles organized as
a freelancer under contract.

Environmental awareness as an extension of media literacy allows the
individual to engage in the dialogue that is our 'national' identity and
democratic society. All of this within an accelerated culture where
organized power is able to circumvent our democratic institutions,
distracting us with a narcissism derived from images of our past.

Elements of western civilization have fallen while others have been
appropriated into the new global regime. Our culture is transfixed on the
image of apocalypse, the metaphor of cataclysmic end, contextualized with
severe intolerance and divine salvation. The end of the world is the end of
the individual; the end of the world is the redistribution of poverty not
wealth; the end of the world is the shared reality of cyberspace; the end of
the world is the revolt of the masses and the renewal of democracy. The end
of the world is a new beginning.

When the networks crash they repair themselves and come back online. When a
system goes down it reboots. The networked world knows no death, only new
beginnings. In this we find democracy as a process: democracy as the
struggle for human rights, dignity and respect. Democracy as a culture
passed between friends and loved ones. Democracy as the story of liberation
carried through generations upon generations, grandparents upon
grandparents. Democracy as the air we breathe to perpetuate life.

The emergence of the networked society presents a challenge to the forces of
democracy, constantly changing the environment in which it exists. However
the conditions by which democracy can flourish are in historical abundance.
The culture that we have nurtured carries within it the seeds for a
democratic revival. An open embrace of the peoples of this world, an open
ear to the stories of the global village, could garner a democratic movement
that emancipates all of our minds from the tyranny of artificial
intelligence and virtual reality.

Canada as a global counter-environment could be the catalyst for an
international movement of solidarity with all peoples seeking freedom,
justice, and equality. Canada as a safe-haven from global tyranny could be
the countermeasure by which the networks open themselves up and embrace the
diversity and change that are all peoples within the village. The critical
mass for democracy lies within the hearts and minds of billions. We would be
fools to turn our backs on freedom for everybody when we are increasingly
threatened with freedom for nobody.

As a cultural identity we must hack through to reality, by any means
necessary.



Jesse Hirsh - jesse {AT} tao.ca - jesse {AT} lglobal.com
P.O. Box 108, Station P, Toronto,  Canada, M5S 2S8

http://www.tao.ca/~jesse

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