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Autonomous Tools (a fragment)

story © Michael Betancourt | published June 22, 2013 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

While the "Luddite Fallacy" clearly applies to some kinds of mechanization--the implementation of machine tools and automated processes which amplify and create efficienciesthe creation of autonomous tools raises fundamental questions about the assumption that new technological innovations that eliminate human labor necessarily simply shift it to other sites within the economy. This assumed validity for the Luddite Fallacy remains true if and only if the invention of autonomous tools do not function in a fashion similar to slaverythat the robot (a word derived from the title of Karel Čapeks 1920 play which means in Czech serf labor")does not displace or entirely replace human labor because it is a conscious agent capable of performing the same essential rolethe intellectual component of facturecurrently held exclusively by human labor. This agency is the difference between an automated process and an autonomous one: the automated process requires the oversight provided by human agency, an autonomous one, by definition, does not (autonomy means there is no required oversight).


Bitcoin and the Political Economy

story © Michael Betancourt | published June 18, 2013 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

My analysis of Bitcoin has been published on CTheory.

What is apparent in Bitcoin is a dramatic reification of capitalist ideologies and valorization of commercial exchanges as the currency itself (new Bitcoins are mined through the exchange of existing Bitcoins) in a direct expression of the capitalist imperative to expand into new domains: the valorization of social activities -- such as friendship circles, browsing in a bookstore, or shopping without purchasing -- becomes valuable as the "authorship" already present in social media is taken to its logical conclusion as the Bitcoin.


Agnotology and the 'Free Market'

story © Michael Betancourt | published May 10, 2013 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

Capitalism itself is reified in the idealized free market as the necessary (and natural) order of the world in the conception of market competition as a variant of Darwinian natural selection (evolution); agnotology is the creation of uncertainty and ambivalent fact; it is a competitive tool incompatible with the idealized free market of capitalism.

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Immaterial Physicality and Marx

story © Michael Betancourt | published February 6, 2013 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

My new article "Automated Labor: The New Aesthetic and Immaterial Physicality" is now in print on CTheory.

This essay considers Karl Marx' short essay The Fragment on Machines and its relationship to digital automation. The new aesthetic described by James Bridle is a typical example of this new, automated labor beginning to impact the physical world and provides a reference point for the examination of The Fragment on Machines: Marx divided labor into three categories (means, material and living labor) that is in the process of being reorganized by digital automated systems (in both immaterial labor and physical production forms). This reorganization forces an underlying paradox in capitalism into focus, foregrounding the mismatch between a capitalist productive system and the consumer society required to maintain that system, a paradox that emerges precisely because exchange value emerges from the relationship between one commodity and anotherfrom the exchange of a commodity for the acquisition of another: human labor is the underlying commodity required by this entire system, a commodity rendered obsolete by digital automation; the new aesthetic provides physical examples of this transition-in-progress.


Automation in Evidence on The 'New Aesthetic'

story © Michael Betancourt | published September 3, 2012 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

This is a fragment of my new essay considering the automation and automated processes so clearly on view in the collected material of the new aesthetic, James Bridle's tumblr blog. Originally I hadn't planned to write about his project, but I recently reconsidered that plan as I realized there was overlap with my current thinking about automation:

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The Law of Automation

story © Michael Betancourt | published July 26, 2012 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

The Law of Automation is very simple:

Anything that can be automated, will be.
The results of this law are immediately obvious: every low skilled job that can readily be described by a limited set of algo-rules will be replaced by automation. The first stages are abundantly on view around us: how long before the iPhone's voice response system SIRI asks, "Do you want fries with that?"

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Autonomous Individuality vs. Social Organization

story © Michael Betancourt | published October 28, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

The idea that the government is an unmitigated evil has its origins in American society with the concept of the state of nature. Proposed by Henry David Thoreau, the ideological claims of this view of human nature reveal themselves as an idealized, pastoralone where society is responsible for everything that is wrong with culture, where individuals are seen as self-contained, self-sufficient and fully autonomous, corrupted only when they need to work together. It is a fantasy of independence, one where the very real social and cultural supports that make the cabin in the woods possible are systematically denied. To see the sociopathic tendencies of this ideology fully realized, one needs look no farther than Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

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Immaterial Labor on Social Networks

story © Michael Betancourt | published October 23, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

The creation of social networks challenges traditional conceptions of intellectual property and this change makes clear how the rights assigned to the ownership of information come into question with the development of digital technology. That social networks violate privacy and survive through using their members information to sell ads is nothing new; the creation of free services enabling anyone with access to them to become an author signals a move away from the productive action of humans and towards the automated surveillance of data collection, collation and retrieval, and this transformation reflects a fundamental shift in our conception of both identity and authorshipwith implications for the idea of intellectual property as well.

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On the Significance of #OWS

story © Michael Betancourt | published October 20, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

The current crisis continues not because those protesting the status quo are lazy, unwilling to work or demanding a government handout; it continues because of a fundamental problem with consumption-based capitalism that has accelerated under digital capitalism: the need for continuous growth. Immaterial production was posed as the solution to this failure when it emerged as a potentially dominant mode of production in the 1980s. The contemporary dominance of immaterialismwhere the physical constraints presented by scarcity are systematically ignored and left out of considerationdepends on agnotology to confuse, deceive and obliviate certainty; with this elimination of the most basic grounds for conclusions and evaluations, the potential for dissent is greatly reduced and the effectiveness of dissent when it does appear is curtailed.

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Education, Autonomy, and Off-Shoring

story © Michael Betancourt | published October 16, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

Digital Capitalism

The shift of responsibility for education onto the individual shows the middle and lower classes who aspire to change social position have adopted the ideology of autonomous achievement, through a myopic denial of the governmental role in their social uplift, producing a situation where the shift from public good to private improvement mirrors the self-serving ideology employed by the nineteenth century upper class: it enacts the premise that success was produced through individual labor without assistance. This ideology of personal responsibility for education coupled with an increase in the number of highly skilled, college educated workers both inside and outside the United States has helped create the current liquidity of immaterial labor evident in the rise of off-shoring and globalization.

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