S576: Technology and Contemporary Life
The Rhode Island School of Design, Wintersession 2003
Notes, January 31st -- Roger B. Blumberg

The Human and the Posthuman

Introduction: Two Views of Humans and Machines

The victory of IBM's Deep Blue over Kasparov raises questions well beyond the shock of the occasion. In one of the formally profoundest, most entrancing and inexhaustible of human pursuits, no living person can, henceforth, be rearded as supreme. In "the last analysis," a betraying phrase, the machine will prove stronger (and stronger). I find this at once mesmerising and deeply sad. George Steiner (from Grammars of Creation (Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 297-298)

.. the posthuman does not really mean the end of humanity. It signals instead the end of a certain conception of the human, a conception that may have applied, at best, to that fraction of humanity who had the wealth, power, and leisure to conceptualize themselves as autonomous beings exercising their will through individual agency and choice. N. Katherine Hayles (from How We Became Posthuman (University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 286)

Garry Kasparov lost to Deep Junior yesterday, and their match is now even at 1.5 games each. The reports of the event emphasize Kasparov's "very human" mistake, and even had he not "blundered" this way it seems the game would likely have ended in a draw. The quotations from Steiner and Hayles (above) suggest different reactions to this news, and before (finally) getting to Hayles' text perhaps we can distinguish the "human" and "posthuman" views of the Kasparov-Blue Junior event.

How Did We Become Posthuman?

We'll discuss the Prologue and first two chapters of Hayles book, led by Samantha's notes and questions.

For Next Time: Read chapters 10-11 in Hayles, the excerpt from Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition, Jean Baudrillard's short essay "Disneyworld Company", and, if you have the time, Bill Joy's essay "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us".

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© 2003 Roger B. Blumberg