Augmentation and the informational body of the post-internet subject
By: Victor Gabriel García
Demo of Me and My Facebook Data, artwork of the German artist Hang Do Thi Duc that allows to visualize geolocations and messages based on data collected from Facebook profiles.
The task of adapting man’s body to any environment he may choose will be made easier by increased knowledge of homeostatic functioning, the cybernetic aspects of which are just beginning to be understood and investigated. In the past evolution brought about the altering of bodily functions to suit different environments. Starting as of now, it will be possible to achieve this to some degree without alteration of heredity by suitable biochemical, physiological, and electronic modifications of man’s existing modus vivendi.
–Manfred E. Clynes y Nathan S. Kline
The epigraph which opens this text is a quote of the first paper in which the term cyborg was coined –the same term that would be later popularized by Donna Haraway in its seminal essay The Cyborg Manifesto– to refer to the deliberate adoption of "exogenous components" that allow to extend the self-regulatory functions of the human organism in order to adapt to different environments. As these authors predicted, in today's hyper-technologized age, the human body has exponentially increased its spatio-temporal limits to extend beyond its own skin towards virtual borders previously unexplored as graphical interfaces. Although prosthetic extensions of the human body are not something new –let's consider the primitive invention of hunting tools or even culture as an extension of consciousness– the digital augmentation of the post-internet subject has become in the present an essential part of its very nature.
First, it is important to discern between the concepts of "augmentation" and "extension." With extension I refer exclusively to the uses of technical and non-technical objects to expand our range towards reality. The extension happens as a result of a process of adoption and adaptation of external tools that amplify the physical and symbolic reaches of human activity. The augmentation, on the other hand, refers to a qualitative leap in the character of the human being, a <<dilatation>> of human reality, of its own hexis as a predisposed state, not only in its physical and biological character, but also as a virtual one in the digital sense. If extension appeals to an external character, the augmentation refers to a qualitatively enhanced internal state.
Human augmentation in the context of the hyper-technologized age unfolds in two dimensions. On one hand, the extension of our hardware, that is, technical objects that serve as tools to abbreviate and optimize processes, for example, our memory’s extension with data storage disks, our intelligence and processing capacity with RAM, our own senses with the camera and the experiences of virtual and mixed reality, or any artificial coupling in our organism. And all this in a single device that fits in the palm of our hands, an interface-membrane that divides –in an increasingly subtle way– our online and offline lives. This is the position defended by the transhumanists, who hold a vision of the human being that would physically resemble its current biological components, simply improved with to technology. It is the classic notion of the cyborg.
But augmentation does not end there. There is also a counterpart that points to the extensions of our software, for example, in the projection of our own Self, whether authentic or fictitious, through the multiple relationships we establish in the social platforms we use daily; the coexistence of our relationships with the algorithms of artificial intelligence, or, ultimately, in that accumulation of data that is detached from our bodies as an informational trail and that end up somewhere inside the diaspora of servers that support our passage through the web: cookies, cache, temporary files, history, as well as any other binary particle that is uploaded to the cloud.
For Éric Sadin, this dynamic responds to an impetus for making "encrypted copies" of our selves.
The fundamental basis that allows the increasing "understanding" acquired by the processors is constituted by data margins that proliferate everywhere following exponential treatments, and that are hosted in farms of data centers or more and more scattered on the surface of the planet. The will to make an "encrypted copy" of each fragment of the world does not cease to intensify, erecting a kind of duplication, virtually in the process of consummation, of all fragments of the real under the format of binary codes…
This is the posthumanist vision, which equates the importance of human agents with that of immaterial agents, such as the algorithms of artificial intelligence, surpassing humanism and the anthropocene. It is something that would closely resemble more the "cloud-consciousness" that operates in the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi of Masamune Shirow's cyberpunk work, Ghost in the Shell.
If the physical extensions of our hardware are a conquest over the extension of the space that surrounds us, the extensions of our software are a conquest of our durability over time. On the Internet, the Self becomes an <<archive>> that is updated in real time. True, a scattered and disorganized archive, hidden and encrypted (or so we hope) in server farms located in different parts of the world –after all, 2.5 quintillion bytes are generated on the Internet each day– but, ultimately, an archive.
This archive is not only a <<cluster>> of data –its informational order, datified, but disorganized– but also a <<cloister>> –its symbolic order, narratable once its data has been compiled–. The Self as a digital archive is the product of the "discovery" of the particles that detach as <<informational trails>> during our passage in the web. In this context, it is possible to imagine that, in the future, history will become a digital archeology.
All these ones and zeros that float in the cloud create a body made up of disintegrated and deterritorialized data: an <<informational body>>, or, as Haraway briefly characterized: "the twin mirror" of the biological body. The informational body can be understood as the discrete figure of the user, its virtual counterpart, or the immaterial Self that inhabits the other side of the screen. A Self that detached from our biological bodies and now coexists with other immaterial entities: the artificial intelligence algorithms that increasingly colonize our decision spaces.
The digital conversion of numerous segments of our reality, deployed at a rate that intensifies incessantly, has made possible the complete realization of a revolution, that is, a broad redefinition of certain fundamental conditions of existence [....] It is an interconnected universal architecture whose fundamental structures are now solidly anchored and destined to be added to other dimensions, signaling the advent of another era marked by the complex and entangling intertwining of the electronics industry, artificial intelligence, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies, an era that meets the conditions of an announced interference between organic and artificial bodies.
The consideration of the informational body as res extensa of the biological body has the implication of considering our informational trail, and its archive, as elements of our own sovereignty. It is in this context in which the concept of the informational body used by Carl Öhman and Luciano Floridi is framed, whom equate this term with the term of "inorganic body" that was used by Marx when he spoke of the live work and the dead work of the producer.
When Marx states that man “duplicates himself” through production, what exactly is it that is being duplicated? What is this essence of the self that can exist in two places; both in man himself and in the objects he produces? Floridi’s interpretation of personal identity provides a possible answer: information. That is, information constitutive of one’s personal identity to be more precise. If accepting that the essence of a human consists in her information, it follows that what Marx refers to as the inorganic body of man is to be seen as an informational body.
From the point of view of these authors, users have the duty to recover the sovereignty of their informational body in the same way that they fight for the privacy of their data. If what is offered as data to all those omniscient companies of the technological capitalism is part of our body, the struggle for privacy is also a struggle for the sovereignty of our own Self.
This also has strong implications over the practices of online identity construction. Given that in our current age our Self is projected towards the realm of the virtual, identity construction must also consider all the data of our informational trail as part of its configuration. And so it happens daily in practical terms. The Self is also what is uploaded into the cloud, the facets through which we present and represent ourselves in each and very photo or video we post on Instagram, each hyperlink we share, each video that we watch on Youtube.
Reclaiming the sovereignty of the informational body means having the ability to collect and collect data from our informational trail to move from the cluster to the cloister, making the puzzled informational body a constituent element in the construction of more finished and consistent on and offline identities.
The digital augmentation of the post-internet subject supposes the informational body as an element of its own Self, as an extension that allows us to reach new physical spaces and durations over time, as part of our identity and sovereign intersubjective individuality, as a decentralized substance. The augmentation of the post-internet subject is the augmentation of virtual bodies and consciousnesses.
Clynes, Manfred E. & Kline, Nathan S., Cyborgs and Space, Astronautics, September 1960. Retrieved from: http://web.mit.edu/digitalapollo/Documents/Chapter1/cyborgs.pdf.
Sadin, Éric La humanidad aumentada. La administración digital del mundo, Caja Negra: Buenos Aires: 2017.
Domo, Data never sleeps 5.0. Infographic retrieved from: https://www.domo.com/learn/data-never-sleeps-5?aid=ogsm072517_1&sf100871281=1.
Haraway, Donna, Testigo_Modesto. Segundo_Milenio. HombreHembra_Conoce_Oncoratón. Feminismo y tecnociencia, UOC: Barcelona, 2004.
Öhman, C. y Floridi, L., “The Political Economy of Death in the Age of Information: A Critical Approach to the Digital Afterlife Industry”, Minds and Machines, Vol. 17, No. 4, 2017, retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11023-017-9445-2.