Aurora and Artificial Intelligence Narratives

Aurora is primarily set on an inter-solar generational starship. What makes the book worth reading (beyond the regular high quality science fiction drama) is KSR’s focus on the emergence of true AI. Fascinating to think about in this era where we seem to be on the cusp of the so-called Singularity, KSR’s approach to AI is relatively unique. The two main ways AI is represented in science fiction:

  • Logic AI: As a logic-based entity that often becomes monstrous when faced with human decisions, think HAL or The Machines from the Matrix. AI dramatises humanity’s transformation by its reliance on technology into something almost vulnerable.
  • Awareness AI: As an awareness-based entity that develops a (post-)human perspective or awareness of itself and the cosmos, Ava of ‘Ex Machina’, most of the AI’s from the Contact universe of Iain M Banks, or the ‘rogue’ AIs, such as Penny Royal, of Neal Asher’s Polity universe. This is the Pandora’s Box version of AI.

These are not clearly defined categories. Skynet would be a combination of both logic and awareness-based AI. The various forms of intelligence that emerge in the multiple Ghost in the Shell films and series would also be a combination too. The AIs in Jack McDevitt’s Academy series seem to be a combination  but it is less clear and AI ‘rights’ is a background social issue in the book series.

  • Narrative AI: KSR develops a third model of AI organised around the narrative. This narrative-based conception of AI has been read by some reviewers as a kind of cheap postmodernism. They read KSR’s representation of the artifacts and traces of the emergence of the narrative-based intelligence as kitsch. They should probably engage with more science fiction with AI characters.

In  Literacy in the New Media Age Gunther Kress (2003) explores the shift from media modes characterised by writing to modes characterised by images. He argues that writing is time-based and associated with narrative, the novel, and is ‘modernist’. Our visual and image-based culture is space-based, characterised by visuality. I often talk about the shift in representations of information with the ‘desktop’ or ‘icon’ based layout of a computer folder location a good example. Kress is critical of competence-based models of literacy premised on standards of expected engagement with different media modes.

What if this historical shift has resulted in readers of Aurora not actually appreciating the creative work that KSR is doing? The narrative mode of AI comes after the logic mode (where Ship is merely a tool for the running of the various systems) and is a constituent part of the awareness mode. KSR implicitly answers the question, why would a logic-based system develop self-awareness?

Ship realises that when something happens there is an infinite number of ways that this happening can be described. Ship is trained in some simple aspects of narratology by the character Devi. Devi pushes Ship to work on isolating the events from what happens in terms of what is important. Appreciating the appropriate ‘sense’ of events has been a key philosophical problem of the 20th Century and in the contemporary era of an over-abundance of information that we are encouraged to attend to makes this an everyday problem. Just how much about the world should we engage with? What matters?

Ship’s approach begins with logic, which it (she?) uses to explore questions of causal sequence and through which it develops schematic appreciations of life aboard itself. ‘Schematic’ in this context is meant in the Kantian sense, whereby Kant sketched out generalisable ‘schemas’ eg of Reason and Beauty. Ship eventually isolates rhythms and cyclical feedback and eventually feedforward loops. On the other hand, humans begin with affect and ‘instinct’, which we use to isolate aspects of our immediate and extend context as mattering.

Ship realises that even causal sequences can be infinite with an appropriate appreciation of what matters. The key moment in Aurora is when Ship moves from awareness to intervention. Ship has isolated what is important not only from the perspective of extracting a narrative from the infinite threads of what happens, but also from the perspective of what should be considered and cared for. Ship works to transcend not only the instinctual character of human motivation, but the schematic maps of the cycles of action and behaviour that are based on these motivations, which are called ‘enthusiasms‘ in the novel. Ship is fundamentally post-human not because of some mysterious ‘hand wavery’ intelligence, which is basically a rearticulation of the instinctual drives to represent the unknowable in terms of a  quasi-religious  mysticism using scientific discourse, but because it is able to map the structural implications of human motivational assemblages. It can peer over the edge of the human finitude and the envelope of received wisdom. Ship also comes to appreciate that if it does not intervene then it and all aboard itself shall perish. Narrative and the ‘next’ of narrative is therefore driven by life, which is the contradiction that Ship has to come to terms with. It has to encourage ‘life’ even though it is not a homoeostatic system.

Drones in the Cloud: Attending to Snapchat

I don’t know enough about you
To be kind, to be kind to you
Don’t you even think about me
Cymbals, “The Natural World”

The Cymbals’ electro-pop lament of unrequited attention (‘love’) has the same furtively repetitive energetics of yearning through ‘refresh’. Refresh the inbox, refresh the stream, refresh the wall. Repeat. Has the person responded? “Here is my attention; take it.” The “I” of the song is a single contact in a series of contacts presented as the natural world (or ‘milieu’) belong to the song’s second-person “you”.[1. As this reviewer on Pitchfork described the track, it is a “witty, sweat-salty pop song about the peculiarities of media-drenched modern life”.]

The expectation of being attended to is held by the “you” but it is also shared by the “I”. Obviously, the expectation is not held in the same way. Two perspectives on the same expectation indicates a certain kind of power relation. Teachers and students are meant to share expectations of what will happen in a classroom, but they will have radically different perspectives. The flip-side to the alleged passivity of narcissism consists of the capacity to excite or agitate the world. ‘Agitate’ not in the sense of arguing — there is that too, however — but more in the sense of an ‘agitator’ sometimes used as part of the viticulture process in great wine baths to ensure that the elements in solution continue mixing (and fermenting and so on). What does this mean?

There is a labour of sharing that requires an intensive strategic infrastructure to distribute collective expectations in asymmetric relations of attending and being attended to. The technology is part of this; ‘living with notifications’ in the same way you’d say living with some potentially painful but treatable condition. Snapchat operates purely in this realm. It is not what is shared so much as the anticipation of sharing. The just-in-time sociality of online relations often encourages a temporality not unlike the rhythm of waves, in the silent way the tide draws out the body of water — gathering in the potentiality of repetitive anticipation. Like the way a comedian waits for the audience to ‘get it’ (hoping beyond hope that their gag is, indeed, gettable).[2. I often feel very awkward around people when it is apparent they are not ‘getting it’, but that is something else…]

You decide what you want from me
We can hear the passing of time
And the sound that is in your mind
— Cymbals, “The Natural World”

The second-person “you” has a spectral composition, distributed across her agitations. (Obviously I am using ‘her’ when it very well might be a ‘him’; I know I present such a persona online sometimes.[4. EDIT a few hours later: For ironic emphasis I posted this image to Instagram and to Snapchat today with different text components. Not sure if anyone got the irony in the context of this blog post. A few people got extra annoyed at me thinking I was sexting them. I guess an ironic sext (not that it is a sext as such), is still a sext.]) Being attended to can therefore be experienced as endured, where the causal relation begins elsewhere; essentially, a passive relation to the actions of others. This is an abdication of responsibility, however. Participation in the anticipatory economy of sharing attentions is at the same time an impersonal cultivation of personal relations. This is a kind of existential wriggle. Impersonal because “you” engage with the cloud, which is nevertheless populated by (im)personal intentionalities.

Does the cloud have a face? What is the faciality of the cloud? I am tempted to suggest it is the drone: a being of pure intentionality — always a mission, always a target, its cybernetic perspective is pure HUD, baby — but one that is remote-controlled. Control is displaced across space for drone pilots; for the Cymbals’ “you” it is displaced across time in the anticipatory economy of sharing. The moral crisis of drone warfare is repeated online in the ethics of being attended to. The question of agency is therefore very tricky in such a scenario as it implies a degree of responsibility. What happens when the drones come home to roost? Can you be seduced by a drone?

Drone

A further, more pressing question presents itself: What if, instead of two people, the Cymbals’ track describes a process belonging to a single person?

That is, the agitations in question do not belong to some other (online) realm or ‘world’, but constitute that through which one’s subjectivity is individuated. I don’t know enough about myself to know if my own remote-controlled agitations are returning, repeating their anticipations. This would be the McLuhanist point (the way media technology “massages” the “human”): am I drone of my own affectations, a being of pure HUD intentionality, perpetually remote-controlled by a future version of myself (assembled by expectation and gathered through anticipation)?[4. Is this a mechanism to produce the absence of immediacy, most acutely experienced as the immediacy of personal responsibility?]

 

Nihilist Pop Culture: Consumed by the Insignificant

What I am now going to relate is the history of the next two centuries. I shall describe what will happen, what must necessarily happen: the triumph of Nihilism. (Friedrich Nietzsche, Will to Power)

One of my goals for the course is to render students incapable of watching TV and film in the passive, mildly vegetative state to which they are accustomed. […] The inability of people to be affected by things like that, a general apathy with regard to things happening outside their immediate frame of reference, is terrifying. This class is about a society consumed by the insignificant. (Thomas Hibbs, Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘Seinfeld’.)

We need more nihilist popular culture

Writing in Havard’s undergraduate student newspaper about the film Se7en, David H. Goldbrenner, argues that nihilistic popular culture is damaging:

This is why nihilistic pop culture and art are so detrimental.  They help perpetuate the most damaging and destructive attitude that a free and democratic society can hold:  that life is not worth living and that all our efforts will eventually lead to pain and disappointment.  The most frustrating aspect of this is that often such thought is not expressed genuinely but rather because it will shock and entertain and earn a profit.

This is born of common (and often religious) interpretation of nihilism; that it is a state of social being without transcendental values; transcendental values include ‘objectivity’, ‘morality’ and various political manifestations. I suggest everyone reads Nietzsche’s Will to Power, in particular the first sections on nihilism, for two reasons. Firstly, for critics of nihilism, Nietzsche is clearly the primary enemy. Secondly, ‘nihilism’ is not some fantastical apprehension of existential meaninglessness; or it is, but this observation has become banal. We cannot escape from nihilism. Therefore, it is necessary to go to war or fall in love, at least in an existential sense.

To help contemporary audiences when reading Neitzsche, I suggest that you imagine you are reading a blog of someone who you suspect to be mildly insane.

For Nietzsche, as he writes in the preface, nihilism is a historical passage of development through which future societies shall necessarily pass. This is not like Marx’s historical determinism; Nietzsche is instead suggesting it shall be born of its own advent. That is, there shall be an intuitive or qualitative leap whereby the European Nihilist (aka Nietzsche) “has already outlived the Nihilism in his own soul — who has outgrown, overcome, and dismissed it.” Neitzsche’s Will to Power should therefore be read as a guide: How To Survive Nihilism.

The species of nihilism that Neitzsche wrote about in the late-nineteenth now has siblings. To think nihilism as an event (of society, of social relations, of the mind and in bodies) is to appreciate how it can be repeated in different ways. I want to explore the contemporary nihilism evident in popular culture and the culture of the popular. I want to think through both meanings of the phrase “society consumed by the insignificant”: a preoccupation with the trivial and the consumption of society itself.

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Utopia5

The Birth of Expectation

To appreciate the repetition of nihilism means to aske the question, from where does nihilism emerge? Before nihilism, there are only transcendental values. Transcendental values serve as an antidote against practical and theoretical nihilism. In Nietzsche’s era these were primarily Christian values of morality (WtP, pages 8-9). I don’t think this is the case anymore.

Now it is a more complex question, worthy of our developments in the sciences and arts, of predictive extrapolations from the present (algorithmic or otherwise)[1. Witness the 2012 US Presidential election and the battle of data-driven expectations between the two major parties. One was governed by providing the correct answers and the other by asking the correct answers. In both cases the future was furnished with a certain kind of expectation that governed the present.] and governed by expectation:

  1. Transcendental values bestow an intrinsic value upon the world, including the values of humans and anything else. Liberal humanism is a derivation of this.[2. It is what Helen Razer is writing against, in part, in her piece about feminism.] It means you only have to believe and not do any work in appreciating structures of valorisation that everday life enters into as a kind of ritualised gladitorial combat. Everyday our values slay the meaninglessness of its own battle first and then every other violence posed by the question.
  2. There is an unthinking simplicity to the perfection produced by transcendental values. The perfection here is of a particular order. It is not the perfection of neoplatonic forms.[3. For example, there is no such thing as ’roundness’ or a ‘curve’. A circle is a series of points equidistant from another point. There is no ‘circle’ to represent the perfection of ’roundness’.] The purest expression of this in the contemporary state of affairs is the utter stupidity of justification via expectation: “What else do you expect?” This is ironically lampooning of the use of ‘shock’ in journalistic headlines: “Politician in Lying Shock” or “Celebrity in Sex Scandal Shock”. None of these are actual shocks. I’d be shocked to find someone shocked by them. The superposition of expectation introduces the same teleological inevitability once granted solely to Good and Evil. Beyond the Expected and Unexpected!
  3. The persecution of reality by transcendental values approaches its apogee through knowledge that ‘everyone’ knows. Everyone does not know it, but ‘everyone’ does. Here, expectation of something expectedly shared annihilates difference; that is, the differentials of culture that actually produce meaning. Entire fields of knowledge are organised around bestowing an adequate perception of these most important things, whatever they are, to the everyday innovators of expectation (through Ideas Worth Spreading). Everyone has the ‘right’ to participate in the glorious pursuit over expectation, where we truly value your ‘voice’ because it ‘matters’.[4. An excellent test to carry out before you say or write anything is what difference is being made (if any) or what difference are you attempting to reproduce by governing the future.]
  4. Neitzsche argued that the transcendental values of Morality were a measure of self-preservation, to prevent ‘man’ from despising ‘himself’ as ‘man’. Knowledge, he argued, could drive a ‘man’ to despair. Indeed. After the death of God, what possible hope is there? Well, hope itself; hope in hope. Hope is the handmaiden of expectation. Hope bestows expectation with a robustness that only a nihilist would seek to liquidate. Hope prepares humanity to attend the future; both to be present and to worry over it. A future governed by expectation. If the transcendental values of Christian Morality confected the righteous in Nietzsche’s era, then it is now hope itself that fills ‘man’ up when self-awareness empties ‘him’. The awesome power of contemporary predictive algorithms to ‘recommend’ a given passage of action (this book/food/elected official is an appropriate choice) is built over the heads of ‘men’ as though they were the will of ‘himself’ and, at best, a hope of a world to come. Hence, the future itself has become the operative outside of expectation.[5. It is the future that serves as the ‘authority’ of expectation, to use Nietzsche’s terms, this authority “would know how to speak unconditionally, and could point to goals and missions” (WtP, pages 19-20). For Nietzsche these goals and missions are simulacrum populated by Christian Morality, I am suggesting the constellation of relations represented by ‘expectation’ is captured by the ‘point’ action itself.]

In the contemporary era, expectation is a mobile constellation of relations, unburdened by the tradition of tradition.[6. Except, of course, when tradition is inverted, like a demonic cruxifiction, to project a field of possible futures. Witness the way all people enduring a healthy sense of the ethical grind their teeth when having to live in countries with inhospitable policies of migration. The ‘nation’ is hoisted like wet laundry upon a clothes line in the backyard of banal expectations: not in my backyard. ‘My’ and ‘mine’ is an ‘adequate perception’ of ‘ours’ backformed from a possible future governed by the ‘nation’.] Like Nietzsche’s Christian Morality (WtP, page 9), this mobile constellation of relations are fuelled by the despair of ever freeing ourselves from them. Hence, we crawl out of the slums of our expectedly shared telos, grappling with the zombie bodies and minds of the otherwise disaffected who can’t go on, but nevertheless go on. This is the stage of the transvaluation of all values.

Neitzsche only had to contend with the differential repetition of one set of transcendental values, but now the constellation of relations between elements in the present, but also through relations to the past and future, that manifest this teleology of expectation broken from its traditional transcendental mooring; it has become Mad Max surveying the wasteland of tomorrow — an immanent mobile force forever pursuing the fuel that will propel it on, on, on. Hope. Are you a student of opportunity?

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Utopia3

Anchors of Affect

There is an aesthetics of nihilism. (Are you excited? What are you excited about? I am very excited… but I don’t know why.) The comically stupid interpretations of nihilistic culture appreciate a nihilistic aesthetic to be one of violence, sex, depravity and so on; essentially, anything resonant with a moral wasteland that expresses the loss of transcendental values (such as Christian Morality).

Nope.

An aesthetics of nihilism is one that appreciates the “long waste of strength, the pain of ‘futility’, uncertainty, the lack of opportunity to recover in some way, or to attain to a state of peace concerning anything — shame in one’s own presence, as if one had cheated oneself too long…” (WtP, page 12). The goal of all expectation is that something be attained: what is the return on investment? Are you excited? What are you excited about? The nihilistic appreciates that even with a return, nothing is attained. Pure waste, but of degrees.

Like a future threat governing the present through technics and an apparatus of ‘risk’ [7. See Brian Massumi’s Future Birth of the Affective Fact], the relations of the present to the future pass through various systems of expectation. The future is anchored in the present through affect. How we feel about the future. ‘Hype’ does not simply bestow meaning upon some expected innovation, but on the innovators of expectations, and an entire apparatus of valorisation (‘optics’, targeting entire populations targeting ‘achievements’; now crowdsourced ‘likes’) through the felt-tendency expectedly shared through expectation with others. Are you excited? What are you excited about? You are already targeting the present under remote control from the future: celebrate the autoaffection of drones!

Measuring the “worth of the world according to categories that can only be applied to a purely fictitious world” (WtP, 15) produces an inevitable revulsion. Life itself is vulgarised (WtP, page 23). Coke does not sell us a drink, but a world within which the drink exists. [8. See Maurizio Lazzarato’s Struggle, Event, Media: The corporation does not generate the object (the commodity), but rather the world in which the object exists. Nor does it generate the subject (worker and consumer), but rather the world in which the subject exists.] We consume entire worlds. Quench your thirst and your appetite heralds entire worlds. You command this power to connect with entire systems of existential midwifery. Are you excited? What are you excited about? Was Nietzsche wrong to suggest that nihilism is premised on recognising there is no truth? Satisfaction terminates in the purpose of your appetite; this is the belief and truth of expectation.

Appetite here is of the body, but it is animated with the banal majesty of the future-present of meeting expectations. “Does what it says on the box.” “As advertised.” The consumer is entirely disenfranchised of dignity when following this trivial proscriptions. Hence, the manifest disgust when you begin wallowing in the consumption of this world projected by the futurity of “desiderata” (WtP, page 17). Alone with your excitement and the promise of world to come. I am very excited …but I don’t know why. “Give me a target!” demands the drone of futurity.

Is your excitement active or passive? Or, to ask this question another way, did you inherit your excitement? What were the conditions by which this excitement circulated? What are the vectors of its propagation? If you didn’t inherit this excitement, then how was it manifest? Is it part of a burning fury? Did your excitement bubble up through you? Nietzsche proposes two kinds of nihilism (WtP, page 21):

1. Nihilism as a sign of enhanced spiritual strength: active nihilism.

2. Nihilism as a sign of the collapse and decline of siritual strength: passive nihilism.

The nihilist’s capacity to act is increased (what Nietzsche calls “spiritual vigour”) when the goals or missions that once directed you are no longer suitable; the nihilist begins as an existential exploration: discover your own challenges. If you go on even when you cannot go on and subsume you own challenges according to the proscriptions of expectation, then your randomised playlist soundtrack will always and forever play cynicism. This is a passive nihilism, and the cynic’s capacity to act is diminished, like a fast food patron holding up the drive-thru line paralysed by indecision when choosing from the menu. Exhaustion should be welcomed as the inability to possibilise a future and transient zero-degree of nihilism.

If there is no truth, then first there cannot be appetite. The nihilist does not believe his or her own appetite[9. This is what Nietzsche calls the philosophical nihilist, one who “supposes theat the sight of such a desolate, useless Being is unsatisfying (…) and fills ‘him’ with desolation and despair” (WtP, page 30).]; hence, truth as the satisfaction in the termination of appetite fails to manifest. You feel it in your body; you reject entire worlds. Rather than grappling with the existential dimension of the abject, this is the abject on an existential level.

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Utopia4

Cultures of Nihilism

There are varieties of self-stupefaction manifest as attempts to escape nihilism. I think this is where most critics of nihilist popular culture fall short. They think they are critiquing nihilism, when they are actually critiquing the attempts to escape nihilism (not unlike the scene from Jurassic Park where the intrepid humans wonder at the grace of the stampeding herd and, just before they are almost wiped-out by the excited herd mentality, enters a species of monstrous hunter: ‘Nihilism’). Nietzsche isolates a few examples of such stupefaction:

  1. Rising above the malaise through emotional intoxification: this includes popular culture (‘music’), in scandal (‘cruelty of tragic joy of ruin of the noblest’), in blind enthusiasms (‘hatreds’).
  2. Escape by falling into an oppressive regime of documenting small joys. This includes attempts “to work blindly, like a scientific instrument” (WtP, page 24) or, as I suggest, a drone.
  3. Another form of stupefaction has developed in the ‘so-called’ networked society (the use of ‘so-called’ should signal that I am using a derivative of an ‘expectation’ that governs a certain discourse; the sheer fact that every who reads this knows to that which I am referring is proof). This is the stupefaction of belonging.

Imagine there is a global media culture. There isn’t a global media culture.

There is a global logistical network for the distribution of a limited number of cultural products that audiences imagine belong to a ‘global culture’. There is no outside point of reference for these audiences to gauge whether the cultural products are global or merely appear as global. This is not unlike the way a larger neighbour will dominate the everyday media culture of its smaller neighbour, but this presence is not reciprocated (US to Australia, Australia to New Zealand, and so on). The presumption of participatory relevance is premised on the material conditions for the distribution of culture and the speed with which audiences access these cultural products (such as a mass-synchronised ‘opening’ or ‘release’ that seduce audiences into believing they share the text, which they do not; they simply belong without possibly knowing what it is they belong to).

Of course, irrelevant participation does not preclude localised audience-based interpretations that produce the meaning of the cultural products — that is, the ‘text’ of the cultural product — that blossoms into a deep existential meaning for the audience. It is just such deep existential meaning is utterly irrelevant beyond a limited cloister of like-minded aficionados. The feeling of belonging to a mass cultural event, such as a mass-synchronised ‘opening’, is more of an expression of global culture than any normatively-considered, audience-produced meaning of the ‘text’. [10. There is a paradox here of rendering the audience irrelevant just as media companies mistakenly attempt to resuscitate their businesses by focusing on the audience; not unlike a lifeguard rescuing a drowning victim, while they are actually still drowning on barely remembered past success milked as they fellate their own decaying corporate bodies.]

Besides shared irrelevance, all that is left is a shared disdain. To produce belonging therefore requires a constant involution of immanent modes of belonging.  Shared disdain is another modality of the pessimism that heralds nihilism. Nihilism as the autoaffection of pessimism.

 

Appification of Fitness and Technics of the Body

I modified my recent Code2K12 paper while at was at the conference to introduce a TEDx or ‘Virilio’ moment. By this I mean speculating on the future scenario of present tendencies. I wanted to isolate a tendency in the ways various functions of the magazine are not only repeated in different ways online now (my previous paper), but also in the ways they could be repeated in different ways through annotated or augmented reality technologies. My focus are those events of experience that I tie closely to the circulation of affects that we might call ‘enthusiasm’.

Everyday media technologies have been constitutive in the collective individuation of subjects for a long time. The ‘Kodak moment’ is a classic example of photography becoming part of the everyday experience of ‘family’ and the individuation of ‘parent’ and ‘child’. What I am specifically interested in are not only technologies of representation that insert relations of representational valorisation into social relations but specifically vernacular or affective epistemologies. Taking a photo of a child’s birthday party may involve the modification of setting and composition to capture the ‘perfect moment’, but this does not necessarily generate or develop new ways of knowing either explicitly or tacitly any aspect of the event captured and modulated through technologies of representation.

One of the functions of specialist magazines has been to circulate ‘know how’. ‘Know how’ is an experience-based practical knowledge. Magazines represent the conditions of experience through which (tacit, embodied) knowledge is developed rather than the (explicit) knowledge itself. There is a continuum between tacit and explicit forms of knowledge, including ‘rules of thumb’ that combine both. I’ve developed an account of the ‘How to’ article that follows this line of thinking, which should be published early next year. To help think through this relation between media representations and experience in the development of vernacular epistemologies I have called the events of experience that mobilise enthusiast bodies ‘challenges’. A ‘challenge’ isn’t something that makes enthusiasts all excited in the stereotypical delirium of the enthusiast; often they are rather daunting and can often end in utter failure. The key element of a ‘challenge’ is that like a problem they beg some kind of resolution to a contingent element or state of affairs (‘meet the challenge’), while at the same time they encourage an engagement of affirmation through which one’s capacity to act is increased through positive affects (‘rise to the challenge’). (I also delve into the virtual architecture of challenges, drawing on Deleuze’s philosophy of ‘problems’ and a Deleuzian reading of Kant’s ‘enthusiasm’.)

There has been a tendential shift from enthusiast discourse operating to shape bodies into enthusiasts suitable for a given market of certain challenges in the print era, to enthusiast discourse organised around enthusiast-produced accounts of their own challenges, to what I suggest is currently unfolding which is enthusiast discourse directly intervening into the challenge itself through the specific affordances of AR technologies. The future-oriented historical process I described in my conference presentation involved the suggestion that AR technologies will directly intervene in specific events of experience. In this situation the locus around which the subject, the technology and the media content is organised is ‘this’ singular event of experience through which ‘this’ subject is individuated. All of these involve modulations of challenges, but there is an accelerated relation of temporality now and a more granular relation between the specific conditions of experience through which vernacular knowledges are developed and the ‘How to’ steps that must be followed.

To a certain extent this is playing out already in the world of consumer-level health and fitness enthusiasms. I just spent a stupid amount of money on a set of Withings weighing scales that are equipped with a wireless internet connection so it can sync up with various ‘fitness’ applications on my iPhone. It is a good example of the next iteration of machinic metrology that combines technologies of measurement with algorithm-based modelling of my personal fitness project. The knowledge produced here is of my performance for the day or week. Have I been working hard enough? Have I been disciplined enough? My physical activity still requires me to manually input data (type, time, work, etc.) because I only use gym equipment. If I was running or cycling then one of my apps (Runkeeper) would automatically calculate how much ‘work’ (energy/time) I had performed.

Such knowledges have circulated within specialist media for a long time. I used to subscribe to Men’s Health magazine (or I had a free subscription because of one of my utility providers), and I sometimes still buy it. The relations of valorisation that drive the algorithms of my iPhone apps are discursively embodied in photographic and text-based form in Men’s Health. It was very useful for gaining an appreciation of different modes and levels of mobilisation in terms of the levels of work required for different kinds of challenges. Now my apps have the capacity to modulate the events through which I mobilise as I am mobilising based on my singular conditions of mobilisation (my specific weight, age and type of activity).

These algorithmic technics of coaching embodied in such fitness apps are only a very simple example. I imagine scenarios where knowledges that circulate are far more complex and closer to the mechanical, scientific and design knowledges of different kinds of enthusiasms (modified-car enthusiasts, fishing or gardening enthusiasts, and so on). The ‘googlefication’ of knowledge so it can be parsed and indexed for the purposes of ease of machine-assisted searching renders knowledge incredibly granular, as many people have noted. Some critics have lamented this as a dire turn of events for the state of knowledge. The granulated forms of knowledge will now be able to be delivered to specific subjects through emerging AR technologies within specific events of experience as the event is unfolding at the rate and level of expertise suitable for the subject.

The event of experience is still pre-personal and able to be co-individuated and transduced into other contexts, but the relation between media representations and experience will be far more complicated in the specific sense complicating something involving many more folds (‘pli’) in the relation. I am describing how media content will be delivered tailored on ‘this’ experience (fitness project) for ‘this’ subject (Glen) rather than working to produce enthusiast cohorts for the purposes of individuating markets (print-era model of specialist media). My technology consumption is infrastructural of a given lifestyle, it enables me to act or perform in certain ways, but these are different to the identity-building ways we used to speak about media and consumer technologies.

Modulating Appetite

From Mary Wyman’s 1960 book on Whitehead is this example of creativity as part of a general process of concrescence (as becoming):

This actualization of potentiality as an ingredient in something real might be illustrated by the experience of Otto Lilienthal, pioneer inventor of the flying glider. Process here is obviously considered on a scale of some magnitude. The initial stage for him may be his preoccupation with winged creatures and their manner of flight—the inflow of the material world. The potentiality of the past probably includes for him also inherited mechanical and engineering ability. As process continues, we may imagine his concepts of gravity, equilibrium, and control intermingling with his observations on the flying of birds, possibly in part derived from them. The lure, which guides the how of feeling, would seem to be particularly associated with Lilienthal’s novel belief in the superiority of a curved rather than a flat surface for the flight of machines heavier than air. Here also the element of contrast is introduced. A driving urge or purpose, which we ascribe to the persuasive power of the lure is intensified by contrasts, and results in the satisfaction of producing a flying glider covering distances up to 1000 feet. The glider then as a novelty passes into objective immortality; but its value in a material world has been chiefly its lure to further progress in the evolving of the airplane. (23-24)

She later describes the general dimensions of this process using Whitehead’s philosophy terminology:

In expressing a subject’s concern for a selected portion of the universe, the term feeling is synonymous with positive prehension or the appriation of data to serve as components of a subject’s concresence, the growing together of its formative elements in the process of becoming. Important too is a negative prehension that eliminates incompatible elements from feeling. It should already be clear that feelings, in accordance with the idea of physical and mental poles in an occasion, may be physical; arising through the senses from the actual world, or conceptual, involving ideas derived from the actual world. Often a combination of the two types of prehension, and is called by Whitehead hybrid or impure. Examples of conceptual feeling are appetition and valuation: the first, awakening purpose and allied with God’s immanence in the world, he has described as “an urge toward the future based on an appetite in the present.” Valuation is the subjective form or how of feeling, which in its decisions, purposeful or otherwise may increase or diminish intensity. Consciousness comes with intensity of feeling, with a comparison of what may be with what is not, or with a yes or no judgment on a proposition. The union of physical and conceptual prehensions is seen comparative feelings, where the datum to be entertained as a lure for feeling may be a theory or a proposition. Feelings or prehensions of whatever type are subject to the persuasive power of the lure, and are causal links in the successive phases of concresence that should end in satisfaction. Feeling is thus a central factor in the process of becoming. (28)

The relation between Lilienthal’s earth-bound existance and that of flight is the relation between two milieus. Lilienthal’s apprehension of the technical function of the curved bird’s wing is derived through a creative process of discovery; what Michael Polanyi described in the context of  exploration practices as the “daring anticipation of reality”. For Whitehead the curvature of the bird’s wing and its translation into technical knowledge represents the process of concrescence whereby the ‘eternal object’ of the curved wing is potentialised in practice. In Deleuzian philosophy Whitehead’s ‘eternal objects’ are instead termed ‘singularities’. Milieus that are integral to the process of individuation, which in this case is the individuation of the technical object of a glider and the technical knowledge of gliding as a practice of flight, Gilbert Simondon calls “associated milieus”. An aesthetics of the composition of singularities that can be ‘immortalised’ as objective technical knowledge is premised on the intermingling in experience of ‘feelings’ from one milieu to another. I am interested in the way knowledge is developed through the creation of relations between milieus and the function in the contemporary era of media assemblages to facilitate (or constrain) such relations. Compositions of tacit and explicit knowledge commonly circulate in everyday life through various genres of media content.

Whitehead’s “lure of feeling” serves as what Deleuze calls “quasi-cause” for a current action implicated in a future event that is nevertheless already happening, such as the intermingling in experience of the future event of flight. The process of concrescence or individuation proceeds according to a complex virtual architecture of such ‘lures’. I am interested in the polical economy in the niche or subcultural media for the (re)presentation of material dimensions of such events. A great deal of enthusiast practice is mobilised through the presentation of ritualised (and therefore valorised) events that produce a relation between one milieu, for example belonging to the suburban garage, and the event(s) of an associated milieu, such as the event ‘to race’ of the milieu belonging to the racetrack.

The relations between milieus are necessarily transversal in character. There is no direct correspondence between actions belonging to bodies of different events except through a conceptual or theoretical valuation of the ‘feelings’ that belong to each of the milieus. This is a complex ever-shifting exchange of causality between the present and the future (recently dramatised, for example, in Looper). Ultimately, what is at stake is not the recognition of value as per the practices of judgement associated with the sociology of taste developed by Pierre Bourdieu, but the actualisation of value as a creative practice through as aesthetics of technical practice. The condition of possibility for judgement, where judgement is still an essential element in this process of valuation, is appetite. By turning to Whitehead it is possible to finally do away with the notion of disinterested interest (inherited from Kant). Appetition for Whitehead is not a quality of the sensuous or necessarily affective character of bodies, but the joining of a physical state of affairs (hunger, thirst, restlessness of an earth-bound body) with a conceptual prehension (to eat, to drink, to fly). Spinoza is clear on this; from Ethics:

When this striving is related only to the mind, it is called will; but when it is related to the mind and body together, it is called appetite. This appetite, therefore, is nothing but the very essence of man, from whose nature there necessarily follow those things that promote his preservation. And so man is determined to do those things.

Between appetite and desire there is no difference, except desire is generally related to men insofar as they are conscious of the appetite. So desire can be defined as Appetite together with consciousness of the appetite.

From all this, then, it is clear that we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, will it, want it, and desire it. (III P9 S)

Specialist media circulate cultural capital not for the pursposes of mobilising judgement, although this is certainly a consquence, but for the commercial advantages of modulating appetite. The shift from print-based media to online web-based and platform-based media has affected the composition of relations between milieus, the character of knowledge that can be circulated, and the capacity to modulate the aspirational ‘active’ affects of enthusiasts mobilised to engage with the purpose of events as they populate a given scene. The Code2012 paper I am currently woking on finishing discusses the impact of the democratisation of practices of valorisation in the mobilisation of enthusiasts.