The video was very helpful, John, not because it made things absolutely clearer (I still think you did an admirable job of bringing across the complicatedness of her position), but because it helped to arrange some of her notionality more effectively. At bottom, however, the thought I kept having while watching, and which I haven’t been able to shake since is : word games.
Irrespective of our understanding of the notion of “agency” (and what you imply in your last response to Doug is much closer to what I’m thinking generally), machines don’t think, and as far as I’m concerned they don’t cognize either. The process algorithms and that’s that. It’s an insult to the crows to say machines cognize at all, even non-conscious (by which I think she actually means non-aware, or perhaps non-self-aware … or something along those lines) cognition is a mismomer, a misplaced descriptor.
To me: crows (and I’ll stick with them because (1) they are hands-down my favorite birds, (2) every day this week a murder of them has been gleaning the winter-wheat field across the road from our house and which I can see out my study window (today, they were joined by two storks who caused, I daresay, a proper disruption), and (3) they) are conscious and exhibit intelligence and can therefore be rightfully considered “cognizers”, IMNSHO.
Machines (or AI or so-called “smart” devices or what are deemed self-learning robots, etc.) don’t cognize, they process algorithms. What is more, they have been installed with routines (other algorithms) that permit, and even compel, the modification of initial algorithms based on input gathered from their interactions with what is not-their-system. Fair enough. But that is not cognition as I understand, nor want to understand, the term. Using the word “cognition” in that context is a projection of a human agent onto a device. That’s the slippery slope we’ve been sliding down since the 70s when someone was creative enough to analogize the human mind with information-processing-systems (i.e., computers). It’s a cute and effective analogy, but it is a poor descriptor of reality. In the meantime, we’ve turned the analogy into an equation and the original projection has become the only accepted method for examining the mind. Bad choice then, bad choice now, and too many up-and-coming, wanna-be experts start there without having thought much through. Consciousness, even in its most rudimentary forms, I think, involves what the Germans call Eigeninitative (pron. EYE-ghen-in-IT-ee-ah-TEE-vah), or own-initiative. There’s none of that in AI in any form.
What I think Hayles is trying to do is, literally, not go fall into their mode of discourse, but she doesn’t really know how to avoid it. If you force me to speak in your terms, how can I really ever say what I’m trying to express. That’s the difference between academics/scholars and poets, I suppose. Nevertheless, she’s trying to meet “them” on “their terms”, which is not going to work (and which is why I used the word “complicatedness” and not complexity in my first paragraph). For as much as I liked what she was saying, I was totally let down when she went down the “digital humanities” rabbit-hole. What the hell are “digital humanities”? (I always thought “military intelligence” was the epitome of oxymorons, but this one feels to me like it tops MI easily.)
What particularly spoke to me in the clip was the fact that she was willing to break a lance for “meaning”. It was not completely whole-hearted, and I understand that. Three decades of being beat about the head and shoulders by postmodernist meaninglessness has made me think twice about standing up for meaning again, but I find myself on my hind-legs again. I intuit, at any rate, that – in strictly Darwinian terms – meaning has survival value, which I’m not convinced that deconstructionism does. Even Latour admitted as much.
So maybe may question is really: why do we still give this nonsense a day in court? Can’t we just admit our mistakes and move on? Why not as accurately as possible describe phenomena for what they are, recognize the metaphorical impact of language and when the metaphors start getting in the way drop them or exchange them for more effective ones? Why are we still taking these people seriously? (Really, Mr. Metzinger, the self does not exist? The mere fact that I can speak of a “self” brings it into existence (this is the fiat-lux mode of argumentation BTW). Even if it were “merely” an illusion, the illusion exists and we talk about it. I don’t think he’s thought his own notion of reality through … or at least that’s the impression I’m getting. Why do these people even still get air-time?)
So … as the Germans (also) say, long story, short meaning: Hayle’s onto something worth digging into, but she’s being her own worst enemy in the process. I think she needs to start talking about it in her own idiom and we need to engage it so. There are too many word games going on and I think – at least what we’ve been up to here at IC is approaching it in a much more effective way – for all of the shortcomings and setbacks we experience. Let’s sift-and-sort, adapt-and-modify, and expose the eteon. We can just try and figure it out … unless, that is, any of you have academic ambitions … that’s a whole different ballgame.