Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Sociological Imagination

Those seeking more information about Steve Fuller's upcoming Humanity 2.0 should check out this entry on The Sociological Imagination; incidentally, it has a few kind things to say about Acheron LV-426.

Friday, 22 July 2011

When Sociologists Met the Robots

Steve Fuller has recently completed an ESRC-funded research project on mimetic factors and individual behaviour and, as part of this, took a team of researchers to the Bristol Robotics Lab, where they examined first-hand how robots imitate each other’s behaviour:

I agree with Fuller's comment about robotics remaining largely unexplored by social scientists. Indeed, it's been some years since I last looked at the final chapter of Randall Collins's Sociological Insight: An Introduction to Non-Obvious Sociology, entitled "Can Sociology Create an Artificial Intelligence?" His theory of interaction ritual chains is still occasionally being taken up though to come to terms with the possible differences between "social robots" and other robots and social interaction systems (if the link doesn't work, google "Romancing the Robots" + "Randall Collins").

Not clear to me yet if Fuller will be considering these issues in the upcoming Humanity 2.0; I'm curious as well about whether he'll be debating David Noble's The Religion of Technology or attempting to contextualize his arguments by referring to the so-called "democratic transhumanist" movement.

I am of the opinion that there is also scope for social scientists to become more involved in the relatively new field of space medicine- which has been referred to as "medical sociology in space" by astrosociologists. Within the confines of a space station or other vessels, it would appear that the researcher is afforded a unique opportunity, given the lack of outside distractions, to focus on the intense interaction of astronauts with a limited range of artificial systems, as well as with their fellow crew-members. Another theoretical perspective of possible relevance in this context, albeit in need of supplementation, might be the "post social", as developed by Karin Knorr Cetina and others. Furthermore, Giddens's work on "critical situations" could prove valuable when considering alternative social structures in a vacuum. The relevant questions in such instances are the following: what kind of learning processes do they facilitate? How do they go wrong? Can they be generalized across different settings, and if so, what are the implications?

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Trouble With Being Human These Days

Values in flux, job insecurity, no strings attached relationships…Sounds familiar? A slight consolation lies in the fact that it has already been researched. This film is a Zeitgeist journey through Europe, life and work of Zygmunt Bauman, and the root of it all – liquid modernity.

The Trouble with Being Human These Days (official trailer) - Documentary about Zygmunt Bauman from photogl on Vimeo.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Robots of Brixton

Robots of Brixton from Kibwe Tavares on Vimeo.

Brixton has degenerated into a disregarded area inhabited by London's new robot workforce - robots built and designed to carry out all of the tasks which humans are no longer inclined to do. The mechanical population of Brixton has rocketed, resulting in unplanned, cheap and quick additions to the skyline.

The film follows the trials and tribulations of young robots surviving at the sharp end of inner city life, living the predictable existence of a populous hemmed in by poverty, disillusionment and mass unemployment. When the Police invade the one space which the robots can call their own, the fierce and strained relationship between the two sides explodes into an outbreak of violence echoing that of 1981.

With Support from

Kibwe Tavares - Direction, animation, modeling, lighting, texturingetc...
David Hoffman - Photographer Brixton riots​
Mourad Bennacer - Sound Designer​
DJ Hiatus "The Great Insurrection"

For more supercool projects

What is Austerity?

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

© Copyright 1967 by Richard Brautigan

And this is really all I'm saying, in all these films, to go back to what you were talking about -- the disappointment you shared, is that I'm very sympathetic to a lot of the protest movements and to challenging power in society. But you're not going to do it through self-organizing networks where you all sit 'round and there are no leaders and there is no sort of guiding vision except self-organization. It's a retreat, I think. And in many respects I think it's a cowardly retreat on the part of the Left from confronting the fact that power is getting more and more and more concentrated in our society, but they don't have an alternative. And they retreat, like bureaucrats, like librarians, into process. Processes of organization. Without actually inspiring me with a vision of another kind of way of organizing the world.

I'm really sympathetic to anyone who challenges the vested interests of power, because I think we live in an age where that's increasingly going to have to happen. But self-organizing systems, on their own, are what they say: they're organizing systems. They're managerialism. And managerialism isn't about changing the world. It's a retreat into bureaucracy or is a sort of rearranging things. It is managerialism which is really the prevalent ideology of our time, is that we're all systems. We hold things stable. And what I argue in ALL those revolutions, which if you look at them now have gone backwards, they were incredibly noble, brave... hundreds of thousands of people poured into those squares in places like the Ukraine, challenged those in power and got rid of them. But then, what next? Because it was a brilliant piece of organization. But what next? And they've actually gone backwards. And I just think that what I'm trying to point out in that is not that they're wrong, it's just that this ideology, of systems of which we are all parts and somehow that system stabilizes itself and that's it... is limiting or actually useless when you actually want to really change the world. You have to have a vision of a different way of organization.

Adam Curtis

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

We Are Capsules of Energy

When Hubert Humphrey made his famous speech—where he said that the same techniques that got us to the moon would also solve the problems of American cities—he wasn’t operating by analogy. He was actually talking very explicitly about a direct transfer of techniques and ideas. You had this historical moment where there was a perceived crisis in the American city; you had the heroic victory of Apollo; and, of course, you then had the radical defunding of the space program. After all, the space program was only ever designed to produce a single TV image of an American man on the moon. In 1968, once they’d succeeded in doing that, you had all of the original engineers losing their jobs.

For instance, at Berkeley, where I teach, and also at MIT, there was a summer school in 1968 explicitly organized to train engineers who had been let go from NASA for new jobs in urban administration—for NASA engineers to become city managers. You can’t underestimate the extent to which this attempt to transfer the techniques of systems management from the national space program to cities was very self-conscious.

Nicholas de Monchaux