06 August 2009

Letter from Lhasa, number 120. (Golumbia 2009): The Cultural Logic of Computation

Letter from Lhasa, number 120. (Golumbia 2009): The Cultural Logic of Computation

by Roberto Abraham Scaruffi

Golumbia, D., The Cultural Logic of Computation, Harvard University Press, 2009.

(Golumbia 2009).

David Golumbia

(Golumbia 2009) wants to emphasise that computers, computing, computation, as whatever other technology, serve the ruling classes. Computationalism is, for him, contrarily to its rhetoric, functional to the most pernicious effects of institutional power, without whatever democratisation effect somebody wrongly claims.

All that is asserted in name of human beings or of some humanity, even if his conception of human beings is, perhaps, equivocal or, eventually, uncertain or multifaceted:

“There is no essence to human nature, no particular set of traits or forms of life that make us human or make us inhuman. Human nature is highly malleable; the ability to affect what humans are and how they interact with their environment is one of my main concerns here, specifically along the lines that computerization of the world encourages computerization of human beings. There are nevertheless a set of capacities and concerns that characterize what we mean by human being: human beings typically have the capacity to think; they have the capacity to use one or more (human) languages; they define themselves in social relationship to each other; and they engage in political behavior.” (Golumbia 2009, p. 21)

From one side, he seems to deny the existence of whatever humanity. From the other side, he resolves humanity in the capability to think and to interact. In part, this is a contradiction of reality. Intellectual elites always cover behind large masses. In part, the author meets a contradiction between his desires and reality and, distractedly he just jumps over this gap. He belongs, de facto, to some intellectual aristocracy, as whatever intellectual de facto belongs. At the same time he has some truth [he wants] to reveal to disinterested masses. Actually, these are dialogues with oneself which [fortunately] find a publisher. The so-called humans are highly moldable. The capability to think is actually limited, limited in its different possible dimensions, and conditionable. Even the different forms of human interaction are easily governable.

Whatever may be told about computer, might be told about a pen or an abacus, even if it is evident that more complex a technology is, more there are power relations intertwined with it.

The book is built around an interesting polemical debate whether computers could completely emulate the human mind, specifically language. The author seem to give a negative answer.

What seems impossible, frequently becomes possible later, after scientific and technological leaps.

Cultural luddism, when informed and cultivate, may be anyway useful for denouncing dangers for human beings, or for certain human beings. Science and technology are never neutral, neither with compulsory unique paths. It is essential that intellectuals show, to who can listen and understand, political and power logics of scientific and technological choices and occurrences.

Golumbia, D., The Cultural Logic of Computation, Harvard University Press, 2009.