Cybernetics and “la ruine de l’âme”

by Ana Bazac

The new industrial revolution is a two-edged sword.
It may be used for the benefit of humanity, but only if
humanity survives long enough to enter a period in which
such benefit is possible. It may also be used to destroy
humanity, and if it is not used intelligently it can go very
far in that direction. [1]

0.1. Many ancient ideas were later formalized and synthesized in rigorous and elegant theories which gave to the old wisdom the proofs and challenges of a more and more complex environment.

0.2. The discovery of the post-modern exact sciences – the development of communication and information, control and system theories, the chaos theory, the catastrophe theory, with all theirs paradigms, all of them after the Second World War thus in the second half of the 20th century where the conscience of post-modernity appeared – led to a more efficient control over nature and society.

0.3. Commensurately with the growth of Information Technologies (IT) – these ones being the result but also the ground of the late modern type of research [2] within the post-modern exact sciences – the control over nature and society raised too. If in the bygone times of the first discoveries of the post-modern exact sciences, the consequences of the new technological discoveries were rather unpredictable and unexpected, today many issues are well known (but not all, of course).

0.4. From this viewpoint, the discovery of IT was a bifurcation moment in the kybernein process of the human order [3], inside and outside the limits of certain communities and Weltanschauungs. IT challenged the understanding and realisation of the world social order as such.

0.5. Wiener has underlined that the more the technological means develop the more a broader population could take part in the decision-making, but also that the more the decision-making could be restricted to those who control the means of communication.

0.6. The first aspect follows from the fact that machines – concretely, IT –, by becoming more complex, need more direction and intelligence on behalf of the human partner, the labour force [4].

0.7. The second aspect results from the social relations, the power relations.

0.8. Wiener’s inference showed that from the IT bifurcation different ways open up, in a quite large variety of knits. And, as we all know, there are some scientific-technological, but also social innovations, which are the moments of departures of new, lesser or bigger bifurcations.

0.9. Even if IT develop in a spectacular manner, until machines will make their own software, repair and control, IT as such are and will be the result, and not the replacement of which already Marx called “the collective worker” [5]: until that moment, the high technique acts as partner within the symbiosis with the human being [6].

0.10. IT do not develop autonomously [7] from the human society, thus from the social relations, representations, interests.

0.10. Concomitantly with the development of much complex programmes for computers and machines, the thinkers thought to some limitative laws for IT. In an accessible register, the most famous are, as we all know, the laws of robots, written by Isaac Asimov.

0.11. Chronologically, the limits of IT were and are given by the level of the scientific research directly related to the productivity of IT: the saving of time, space, resources, efforts, so capital, used in each work, technology, team, unit and domain.

0.12. But even in this particular framework, the thinkers have warned that: Science sans conscience c’est la ruine de l’âme [8]. Later on, in the course of discovery of the compulsion of various “post-modern” interdependences, the concept of system of systems highlighted that the above-mentioned warning is suitable for the totality of social relations: more, the effectiveness of discoveries in science and technology is depending on this totality on world scale.

0.13. Until the post-modern development of information sciences and technologies, sciences and technologies only suggested that they could be the catalyst for a more human society [9]. Generally they made the human labour at the same time easier and more compelled, emphasizing the old division between intellectual and physical labour. “To live effectively is to live with adequate information. (thus) communication and control belong to the essence of man’s inner life, even as they belong to his life in society” [10], was the focus of information theory and IT. They showed the historical source of power and that there are means to make all the human beings to live a decent and creative life.

0.14. The present science and IT lead to the minimisation of the division between physical and intellectual labour: from this standpoint, society could become more human. Worldwide, automation could lead not to mass unemployment [11] but to much more resources and time for the development of the creativity of all. But the use of IT is not only technical, based on the post-modern sciences: it is politically directed [12].

0.15. The logic of IT is thus to enter into collusion with the present social relations. The tendency of IT towards free communication [13] is the most devastating of this logic. Thus IT press to dislocate the private property rights, and to show the importance and meaning of the common goods.

0.16. The above-mentioned collusion is the most important feature of the ceaselessly developing IT. The researchers who observe the attack of IT over the time and space that enclosed until now individuals and communities [14], are sensitive to the idea of this collusion, even if they are, or not, interested about the social problem emphasized here.

0.17. As we all know, the responsibility [16] of IT is outside them. But just because politics has nowadays so many problems – more than in Wiener’s time [17] – some ideologists think that these problems could be compensated by a non-rationalist worldview.

0.18. If the essence of life is communication, then the essence of life has to exceed “the intrinsic limitations of the commodity nature of communication…the fate of information in the typically American world …to become something which can be bought and sold”. “Entropy is the most important fact of the universe. Its increase is the greatest challenge. Information is its opposite. Computation and communication can produce islands of order in a chaotic universe.” [18]

0.19. Communication does not reduce humans to machines (although it seems that people tend to function as machines), just because people have the purpose of a human life, which lead to principles of justice (of freedom, equality, benevolence) [19]. Before the ethics for robots, people need a human ethics, the only one which supports a human life for all, so a social organization which allow the creativity of all[20]. The first purpose of human life – actually of any kind of life – is to learn, but to learn in such a way that the issue be invention, creativity, the refuse of conformism. Thus, it’s nonsense to keep away the information from people [21] and to not create conditions for learning.

0.20. Could the IT and sciences annul la ruine of the present world society? Could they counteract the difficulties of the responsibility of scientists for a democratic society?

[1] Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950, 1954), second edition revised, Garden City, N. Y., Doubleday Anchor, p. 162.

[2] This type of research is collective, taking place in big laboratories, using much money, relationships with the researchers all over the world. It is complex and puts the imperative of human responsibility, see The Human Use of Human Beings…, pp. 126, 127, 131.

[3] The term kybernetes, pilot, steerman, governor, at Plato, Aristotle, Ampère, a Polish scientist (“both uses dating from the earlier part of the nineteenth century”), as Wiener himself found later, after he coined the term, see The Human Use of Human Beings…, p. 15. Ampère, like Plato and Aristotle, used the word with reference to the political science.

[4] See Ana Bazac, “Aristotle and the labour force. Aristotle’s tradition in the present-day industrial revolution ideology”, in Revue roumaine de philosophie, 1-2, 2004, pp. 87-106.

[5] Karl Marx, ”An increasing number of types of labor are included in the immediate concept of productive labor, and those who perform in it are classed as productive workers, workers directly exploited by capital and subordinated to its process of production and expansion. If we consider the collective worker, i.e. if we take all the members comprising the workshop together, then we see that their combined activity results materially in a collective product which is at the same time a quantity of goods. And here it is quite immaterial whether the job of a particular worker, who is merely a limb of this collective worker, is at a greater or smaller distance from the actual manual labor” , Karl Marx, Results of the Immediate Process of Production, Appendix to Capital, Vol.1, Penguin Edition, p. 1040 (My underlines, AB).

[6] “The dominance of the machine presupposes a society in the last stages of increasing entropy, where probability is negligible and where the statistical differences among individuals are nil. Fortunately we have not yet reached such a state.”, Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Being…, p. 120.

[7] Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings…: „the simple coexistence of two items of information is of relatively small value, unless these two items can be effectively combined in some mind or organ which is able to fertilize one by the means of the other”, p.126.

[8] François Rabelais, Gargantua et Pantagruel, II, VIII.

[9] See the famous J.J Rousseau’s Discours qui a remporté le prix de l’Académie de Dijon; en l’année 1750; sur cette question, imposée par la même Académie: Si le rétablissement des sciences et des arts a contribué a épurer les moeurs, in J.J.Rousseau, Oeuvres complètes, tome I, Paris, Firmin Didot frères, libraires, imprimeurs de l’Institut de France, 1866.

[10] Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Being…, p. 18.

[11] As Wiener thought.

[12] „If the human being is condemned and restricted to perform the same functions over and over again, he will not even be a good ant, not to mention a good human being. Those who would organize us according to permanent individual functions and permanent individual restrictions condemn the human race to move at much less than half-steam”, Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings,p. 52.

[13] See “ Information is more a matter of process than of storage”, Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings…in Leon Tabak, cited below; GNU (Free Documentation License), http://www.gnu.org/philosophy ; http://www.april.org ; http://www.linux-france.org/article…; http://www.editions-oreilly.fr/cata…; http://www.samizdat.net.biblioweb ; or Creative Commons License; or http://www.isoc.org/net98/proceedings/5c/5c?2htm (Free Access to Regional Internet); http://www.ala.org/ala/acrlpubs/acadlibrarystats/academiclibrary.htm (Academic Library Statistics); http://www.snaponline.org/public/articles/details.cfm?id=261; Health Global Access Project, at http://www.healthgap.org/, Michelle Levesque, ”Fundamental issues with open source software development”, First Monday, volume 9, number 4 (April 2004), http://www.informatik.uni-trier.de/ley/db/indices/a-tree/l/Levesque:Michelle.html
„To see and give commands to the whole world is almost the same as being everywhere”, Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings…
But researchers in IT are preoccupied for their own responsibility. See the organisation Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, http://www.cpsr.org/prevsite/index.html, Centre of Palo Alto.

[14] „To see and give commands to the whole world is almost the same as being everywhere”, Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings…

[15] But researchers in IT are preoccupied for their own responsibility. See the organisation Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, http://www.cpsr.org/prevsite/index.html, Centre of Palo Alto.

[16] Let’s remember his God & Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion (1964).

[17] Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings…

[18] See Leon Tabak, The Human Use of Human Beings. Norbert Wiener’s Ideas at the Dawn of the Age of Computing, http://people.cornellcollege.edu/ltabak/articles/wiener.shtml
(quoting Wiener).

[19] See Terrell Ward Bynum, Norbert Wiener’s foundation of computer ethics, http://www.southernct.edu/organizations/rccs/resources/research/introduction/bynum_wiener.html.

[20] “As we have said, nature’s statistical tendency to disorder, the tendency for entropy to increase in isolated systems, is expressed in the second law of thermodynamics. We as human beings, are not isolated systems…Organism is opposed to chaos, to disintegration, to death, as message is to noise”, Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings…

[21] “There is no Maginot Line of the brain”, Wiener, The Human Use of Human Being…, cited in Felix Geyer and Johannes van der Zouwen, “Norbert Wiener and the Social Sciences”, Kybernetes, Volume 23, issue 6/7, 1994, p. 47.

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