Citizens of the Cognisphere

  • 2017-02-24
  • Public Seminar

The cognisphere, a concept coined by Thomas Whalen (1994) is a critical resource for this article, defined by Katherine Hayles in her excellent elaboration of Haraway’s cyborg as “the globally interconnected cognitive systems in which humans are increasingly connected” and “not the only actors within the system: machine cognizers are crucial players as well” (2006, p. 161). Hayles sets the stage for this analysis in her seminal book My mother was a computer: Digital subjects and literary texts (2005) where she demonstrates the inherent linguistic properties of code as a form of natural language, its ability to form multi-order systems of emergences, and relationship to ideology—critical notions on which I rely heavily.

Networked things already outnumber humanity, and sightings of autonomous vehicles have become commonplace. Not only in the skies over conflict areas (Singer, 2009), but also domestically—hauling shipping containers and cargo (“Freightliner.,” 2015), driving cautiously (Gibbs, 2015), crashing ski races (Willemsen, 2015) and presidential lawns (Schmidt & Shear, 2015). Instead of autonomous vehicles and networked things, let’s focus instead on less tangible and able-bodied descendants of the DARPA family tree — artificial organisms constituted solely based on electric differences reverberating through data networks.

To fathom the cognisphere, we first need to come to terms with our own posthuman condition and not succumb to an oversimplified technophile or technophobe dichotomy. That would leave us with the old and unsavory dilemma: resist the information stack and its implications while becoming increasingly disenfranchised and less competitive, or, concede our quantified selves to the “inverse-panopticon”, trading “cognitive capital … in exchange for global infrastructural services” (Bratton, 2014). It’s a choice we’ve already made. Under the cloak of convenience and the spell of access, we exchange cognitive feedback for doses of dopamine (Berridge, 1998) in a transaction that adds urgency to the idea of cogninode’ agency and accountability, closing some ethical and thermodynamic loopholes currently afforded to them.