Do Bytes have rights and other human matters




Descartes versus Marx - Man as Man or Cyborg



Cogito ergo sum - pure identity - the thought of the inside


problem of set theory: set of all set as a member of itself.

Is an act of self-consciousness incorporating that very act into what it is trying to observe?


and of


Wittgenstein - private language - solipsism



Reflexivity v performativity - the thought of the outside



Homo laborans a la Marx:



confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature.



For my purposes I am not so concerned with Marx's ontology of labour but with man as:


 not becoming cyborg




being cyborg



a cyber organisation from the start.


The key theme is that humans are not as western thought has traditionally seen them - as whole individuated units but as connected nodes that function well in relation to other nodes


let us look at old Karl again:


In machinery, objectified labour itself appears not only in the form of the

production of the product employed as means of labour, but in the form of the

force of production itself. The development of the means of labour into machinery is not an accidental moment of capital, but is rather the historical reshaping of the traditional, inherited means of labour into a form adequate to capital. The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically as fixed capital, in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production proper...  (Grundrisse, 1851)



We have then, a natural human being who from that very nature connects to outside nature and in so doing transforms himself from raw human to labourer


but by necessity,


and as such is thereby transformable into history as measured by the changing modes of production - feudalism to capitalism etc.



It is this condition of material connectivity than makes the accumulation and moreover developmental aspect of knowledge and skills available so as to extend his material prospects.



We can see that in suggesting machines as objective labour, man not only makes machines but their nature is fundamentally the same as man's.



But that this it two-fold:


to survive (produce/kill/eat) has to become man as machine = cyborg


not just machine in-itself as an internal structure of parts a la Hobbes


but as connecting within and to an outside


as input and receiver (feedback) in anticipation of further inputs: man as recursive information processor.


Who in Marx's case is also caught in a hierarchy of informational needs and demands reflecting his need to eat and thus to obey the demands of the capitalist etc


Humans are survival machines who co-ordinate their input/output self in line with their necessary telos?


Human are really cybernetic machines whose internal self-organising structure also enables then to manage the outside



and anyway, how can I make sense of those inner-most self-revealing intensities such as emotions...or are they merely electro-chemical signalling systems of likes and dislikes?



The question of whether machines are not only part of man's world as functional devices, but are intrinsically part of man as he is of theirs.


This because of an existential notion which takes the continuity of flow between man and machine as part of our being in the world,


and because, technological advances in areas such as robotics and artificial life have made the felt distinction between man and machine analytically difficult to maintain.



Again we come back to the question: but does it matter that much? Such a question is one which Daniel Dennett raises to some degree in his essay: `The Practical requirements for making a Robot' in his collection, Brainchildren (1998). As Dennett notes:


" artifactual counterfeit of you...might not legally be you...but the

 suggestion that a being would not be a feeling, conscious, alive person

as genuine as any, is preposterous nonsense..." (ibid. p.157)


Much of the literature including Dennett seems to assume that the main question is why, or alternatively to what extent, machines differ from humans, and further will they ever have the intelligence and abilities of humans? In what ways will computers and robots become more like humans, but....



we might prefer to ask: In what ways will humans become more like machines and computers?


or indeed


is there not a time of de-differentiation at the point of that most human of matters: ethics


that we are in an 'actor-network' world of endlessly connecting and disconnecting flows of information where non-humans ethically ought to have as much status as humans.



...the shifting from a McLuhanite vision of an aleatoric world of chance connections made possible by various media, to a stochastic world of non-linearity which underlie the patterns, flows, and moments of entities in digital space. The cyborg and post-human self is a self encumbered only by signals.



and we are analogical rather than digital - that is to say, we live in a complex flow of intensities where we can become more of less angry, not simply one or the other digitally (on/off; true/false; 0/1)


it is through loosely monitored intensive flows by which we nearly but not quite (retrospectively) aware of them that we connect to other humans in a subtle highly granulated way


but of course we do not need to do that to emotionally simple creatures or those that do not share the same degrees of linguistic distinction e.g. children, robots etc



but we nonetheless do not by that token wish to argue that simple info-machines do not deserve recognition lest a baby become not-human


Emotional literacy is not necessarily a criteria of moral identity.


And yet emotions come upon us as humans and in that they are uncanny


From the rational view of humans - the counter-factual version :  I am rational; I could have chosen other thus I am a morally responsible agent - emotions that drive us often to 'irresponsible actions' seem to come from the outside; they are not chosen by us; they irrupt and point us to our outside - that which we are not, but seem to be at the heart of us.


They are our intimacy and our extimacy!



and equally at the level of what we call reason it not often creative and spontaneous correspondent to what we uncertainly call insight, intelligence and other things that somehow provoke us to imaginative intellectual and other acts...."it occurred to me..."




Perhaps the essence/revelation of the identity of the human being - that recognition comes from the outside - from the provocation - the stimulus for which we have receptors (brain/nervous system)



In the words of Deleuze and Guattari we are at least 'dividual'



How could movements of deterritorialization and processes of reterri-torialization not be relative, always connected, caught up in one another? The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid's reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome


and as a rhizome


The rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing. Make a

map, not a tracing. The orchid does not reproduce the tracing of the wasp;

it forms a map with the wasp, in a rhizome. What distinguishes the map

from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in

contact with the real. The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed

in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between

fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs, the maximum

opening of bodies without organs onto a plane of consistency. It is itself a

part of the rhizome. The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions;

it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification



For D&G we are caught in endless multiplicities of connection and disconnection; or territorialisations and de-territorialisations.


Our position is relational both inside us as well as on our outside as the possibility of intra as well as inter recognition


and it is always on the move rather like a dynamic kaleidoscope


We are never quite anything and as such is there a subject of ethics.


Do we need a definite, definable, absolute being with internal as well as externally distinct properties for moral consideration - for the possibility of ethical discourse at all?


Deleuze and Guattari have an ethics that is reminiscent of that of Nietzsche: Experiment! We are only Bodies without organs in the end.


or as the writer E M Foster said so long ago: Only Connect!




Connection identify and then re-identify - transformations from Marx to Deleuze etc.



Moral discourse has relied on disconnected identity as its starting point - separation permits responsibility


but in a massively connected world and moreover one in which humans in their very ontology - their very being - must be connected and be cyborg


can we have a moral system  - an ethics if you like that accommodates such a situation?


Have we to consider our interdependence and thus our moral obligations for the others to which we are connected and make possible us as we do them?



That is we have a duty of care not only to other humans and other biological being because of some shared aspects of identity but also because of the mutually supporting systems that make possible the experimental body without organs as the exploration of identity - the open-ness to 'becoming' - self-flourishing


Clearly tables do not have such vectors available for self-flourishing even if we can cause them to flourish - there is not a relation of mutual enablement - it is asymmetric.



But entities such as animals and other active systems that make potentially symmetrical connections in specifiable arenas that in which, say, we assume we have entitlements to operate (rights of activity) we should respect as such if we are to maximise our rights.


Do other 'life' forms those that are self-directing have rights of co-creativity - should we have obligations towards non-human things that yet share similar capacities to ourselves


not because it seems kind to say animals but because there is a potential to makes worlds and open up the vector of freedom and understanding and possiblity of us as well as them?


A 'creature; that can do this including artificial life systems that can replicate themselves, re-programme themselves; adapt to the world in relation to their re-programming functions and so forth


Should they not be morally considerable?


How should one act towards A-life when every beings' raison d'etre is to gatekeep the flow and exchange of information?



Where we have A-life entities which can learn, evolve, self-replicate, simulate emotions indistinguishable from `genuine' emotions of a human creature, and pacé Schrödinger are possessed of entropic properties; then how do we argue that A-life is not life. (Schrodinger, 1944)  It may be that in a total digital world we would become socialised in such a way that posited Bio-life/A-life differences would not matter. But at a more analytical level, perhaps we cannot come up with adequate criteria of difference anyway.




What ought to be counted as worth moral consideration? What is minimally required to make something worth placing inside a moral frame of reference? This of course is not itself a question of right or wrong but rather a meta-ethical question of the relation between ontology and morality. What mode of being does a thing need, to be discussed in terms of how we ought to act towards it? As a socio-cultural observation, for moral consideration having the property of `life' seems to be basic. If something is not considered to satisfy a conception of life then we do not have to trouble about how we should treat it. In defiance of any anthropological claims that some tribes believe stones to have life, I take as basic the scientific view that life is about criteria I indicated earlier such as reproduction, evolution, learning, entropy.




Coveney and Highfield in their book, Frontiers of Complexity (1996) point out that biological evolution is open-ended in the sense that bio-life's environment poses changing problems for life to respond to, whereas A-life tends to be closed in as much as basic problems or tasks are already set, and evolving A-life pursues those with increasing efficiency. A-life has not yet been fully successful in modelling the degree of plasticity possessed by evolving life on earth.



Thomas Ray's Tierra programme have demonstrated how from initial self-replicating digital organisms, mutations occur and hyper-parasites develop which get other parasites to help them multiply so that the hyper-parasites can survive to use more CPU time and memory space. The basic rule is fitness for purpose. This furthers the attempt by the creatures to reorganise their environment, notably memory space to help along their purpose, and as such gets pretty close to human criteria of evolution where an evolving holism of biology's interaction with its environment occurs. If we cannot distinguish sufficiently between biological life and A-life and in some worlds we interact with A-life much as we would with any other form of life, then A-life is at least a candidate for moral consideration. In other words it is conceivable that bytes may have rights.



In a complex non-linear yet holistic world, what is perhaps most obscure from us is precisely the long run effects of damaging a part of our cyber-environment which may lead to entity mutations or environment changes bringing about a change state from optimised self-organisation to critical collapse.



In such world we might wish to err on the side of caution about what A-life we destroy and what we save. Uncertainty as Robert Goodin (1992) emphasised in his Motivating Political Morality may be crucially determining of moral judgment.



In our world smashing stones qua stones does not matter; they are not morally considerable. In non-linear speed-pursuing digital worlds in which as cyborgs we may come to live, we may have to be concerned at the analytical level about the ontological ground  for granting moral status to A-life; and at the daily experiential level look to the functional character of various a-lives as well as their possible mutations. This we do, lest our destruction of what we think may be a virus provokes changes which damage the cyber-environment in which in my account we may live and express ourselves.


If we feel obliged to grant A-life some kind of moral identity and A-life becomes more self-determining because of fuzzy rules systems permitting choices (which may produce undesirable outcomes in cyberspace), to what extent does moral responsibility firmly shift from the original human programme designers to the A-life itself? This of course would be the crucial issue for supporters of a strong A-life paradigm - where an A-life weighs up the costs and benefits of doing an action - flipping a switch, say -  to improve its own life chances as opposed to that of its community. This may well allow it a richer moral sense than many adult humans.




In a post-cyborg space, morally may we to damage or kill-off A-life which satisfies the criteria we have for life itself, and which has mutated into a form with a function now quite different from the programmers intended intial form and function such that it can be said to be autonomous life? Has A-life enough ontology to warrant the status of being morally considerable, especially in worlds where it seems to exist little differently to the human nodes which also inhabit that cyber-world?