Planetary-scale computation is an example of what may be called, after the great Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem, an “epistemological technology.” The most important social impact of some technologies is not just in what they allow people to do, but in what they reveal about how the world works. This can lead to trouble. While anxiety about technology is expressed in accounts of its pernicious effects, that unease is sometimes rooted in what technology uncovers that was always there all along. Microscopes did not conjure microbes into being, but once we knew they were there, we could never see surfaces the same way again.
For example, Ibn Tufayl’s twelfth century philosophical tale, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, is a reflection on God, humans and animals that clearly articulates an ontological divide but which does not authorize a relation of absolute domination (Goodman 1972).
Crucially, these initiatives should be a functioning component of or intervention into the systems of the world at large—not a representation of an idea or a speculative proposal, but the direct implementation of that idea itself. Instead of the prevailing mode of art that comments “about” a state of the world from within an exhibition, it should be an art that is materially and functionally of the world and actively situated in the world.
‘The atom... is nothing more than a relation’ -- Frederick Engels (Dialectics of Nature notebooks, 1870s) --