Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Festivus, For All the Rest of Us

With each passing year of the Bush Administration the relevance of the "Airing of Grievances" grows more conspicuous. Perhaps next year we can file Impeachment under "Feats of Strength"? Or would that just be another Festivus Miracle? More Festivus here and here.

PS. I had a brainstorm last night after about three mugs of Safeway instant coffee spiked with Cointreau (one does what one can with what one has on hand)... Festivus as High Holiday and/or Bacchanal in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Anyone? Anyone?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tidying Up

You will have noticed a flurry of Pancryptics posts this morning. I have finally finished the blasted dissertation and am now scrambling to get the signatures of my committee members from the four corners of the earth so that the administrivial Eye of Power will finally confer the "PhD." that has felt a foregone but nonetheless endlessly delayed conclusion for months and months by now. Anyway, as of now the whole dissertation is more or less available on the blog. The truth is that the blog version differs from the official dissertation at this point because in quite a lot of places I've responded to substantial and editorial suggestions from so many readers that it has gotten too difficult to track everything and update the electronic version. When and if bits and pieces of the argument get published elsewhere, or possibly the whole thing as a book, I'm sure the writing will mutate further still. I have gone back into the blog and updated the chapter on David Brin, Markets With Eyes, since the comments I received produced some really substantial changes and I think the writing that remains is the best and most useful in the whole diss. As always, comments, questions, and especially criticisms are very welcome.

Chapter Three: Markets With Eyes

I’ve never looked through a keyhole without finding someone was looking back. –- Judy Garland

I don't think there's much distinction between surveillance and media in general. -– Bruce Sterling

One: Two Cheers for the Surveillance Society

I. Either/Or

II. Eye Infinitum

Two: Too Many Truths

III. Truths to Power

IV. Neither/Nor

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Pancryptics: Acknowledgements

For their patience, provocations, and general unflappability I am indebted to the members of my Committee, Mark Poster, Pamela Samuelson, and especially Linda Williams. To the Chair of my Committee, Judith Butler, I register a deeper debt, not just for her comments on the text and support for this writing, but for her ongoing support throughout my time at Berkeley, through all my many perplexing, histrionic twists and turns.

My friend, colleague, and comrade James Hughes has been a constant intellectual, moral, and emotional touchstone, helping me connect up my philosophical preoccupations with the demands of technoprogressive advocacy. My friends Gillian Harkins, Colleen Pearl, James Salazar, and Catherine Zimmer have suffered bravely through my endless ranting about the psychic devastations of the dissertating process as well as my endless raving about weird technological topics. Who knows what I would have done without them!

I cannot begin to register all the marvelous conversations and arguments in which I have unfairly managed to give myself the last word in this text, but I can name at least some of the conversational partners to whom I am variously indebted: Russell Blackford, Nick Bostrom, Richard Glen Boire, Damien Broderick, Jamais Cascio, George Dvorsky, James Fehlinger, Tom Fitzgerald, Felipe Gutterriez, Eric Hughes, Paul Hughes, Gee Gee Lang, Annalee Newitz, Litia Perta, Masha Raskolnikov, Wrye Sententia, Erik Schneider, Simon Smith, Martin Striz, Charis Thompson, Kathleen Toma, Mike Treder, Matthew Turner, Jules Tuyes, Linda Wallace, Robin Ward, and Robin Zebrowksi, among many others.

I also want to thank David Bates, Michael Mascuch, Marcus Norman, Jane Taylorson, and Elizabeth Wadell for countless acts of help, support, generosity, and elbow grease. As for Maxine Fredericksen, she is nothing short of a divine personage walking upon this debased earth, and I will say no more.

I thank all those who have commented either in e-mails or on my blog, pseudonymously and otherwise, to my ramifying online writings, as well as to my wonderful students in the Department of Rhetoric at Berkeley and at the San Francisco Art Institute, especially in the courses “Deliberation about Technological Change” from the Summer of 2004, “Network Politics and ‘New’ Media” in the Spring of 2005, and “Varieties of Technoethical Discourse” later that Summer.

Finally, I thank my partner Eric Kingsley, to whom I also dedicate this dissertation, who inspired me to pursue a radical change of subject when it didn’t seem possible, who supported the writing through countless times it didn’t seem possible, and who has stuck around to see the thing through, which scarcely seems possible.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cackles from the Balcony: Heckuva Job Edition

[via Think Progress] In response to a question from Fox News anchor Brit Hume concerning how he feels about the performance of his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush frankly flabbergastingly offered up the assessment that Rumsfeld is "Doing a Heckuva Good Job."

Yes, that's right.

Just as he said of FEMA Director Michael Brown in the midst of that laughably unqualified crony's catastrophically incompetent and immoral non-response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, incompetence that assured the destruction -- which is ongoing, mind you -- of one of America's greatest cities (and no, by the way, the theme park for fat midwestern evangelical whites with which Republicans mean to replace New Orleans doesn't actually count as "reconstruction"), Bush has now said the very same thing of the smug word-salad-spewing Rumsfeld while corpses and debts and anti-American hostility all balloon across the globe under the direction of his manic baton.

Eric and I must admit to being dumbfounded.

Unprecedented devastation all around, domestic and foreign. Really, truly, it's impossible to parody. You try, and then yet again they blithely surpass you. A Heckuva Job, that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Conclusion: Markets Without Materiality

The Machinery of Freedom: [A] Guide to Radical Capitalism, a book first published in 1973 and reprinted many times since, has a unique status among the advocates of the “anarcho-capitalist” viewpoint championed by a number of American technology enthusiasts. Its author is the economist and professor of law David Friedman. With chapters like “Sell the Schools,” “Sell the Streets,” and “Police, Courts, and Laws -– on the Market,” The Machinery of Freedom manages somewhat extraordinarily to make Milton Friedman -– the enormously influential Nobel Prize winning economist, Reagan Administration economic policy advisor, quintessential exemplar of the Chicago School, and the author’s father –- appear to be merely moderate in his own advocacy of “free market” ideology. A number of key figures for my dissertation, like Vernor Vinge, Tim May, and Max More (founder of the “Extropian” movement of market libertarian technophiles discussed by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron in their essay “California Ideology,” as well as by Paulina Borsook in her book Cyberselfish) all have repeatedly named Friedman’s book as a key inspiration for their own work. In a more recent work of his published online, a book entitled Future Imperfect, Friedman has responded in kind, dedicating the volume to Tim May and Vernor Vinge.

Among other things, David Friedman stages a confrontation in Future Imperfect rather like the one that has preoccupied so much of my own dissertation, between advocates of “Strong Privacy” like the Cypherpunks I discuss in Chapter Two and advocates of “transparency” like David Brin, who I discuss in Chapter Three. In terms that strongly evoke those of the “Cypherpunk’s Manifesto” by Eric Hughes, Friedman writes: “If I communicate online… using encryption, I can be betrayed only by the person I am communicating with. If I do it using an online persona… with no link to my realspace identity, not even the people I communicate with can betray me.” Therefore, he concludes that the “strong privacy” made possible by ubiquitous unbreakable digital encryption “creates a world which is, in important ways, safer than the one we now live in.” He characterizes what he means by “safety” here more specifically as “a world where you can say things other people disapprove of without the risk of punishment, legal or otherwise.”

But Friedman begins to fret in a rather Brinian vein that “[i]t does no good to use strong encryption for my email if a video mosquito is sitting on the wall watching me type and recording every keystroke.” Contemplating this scenario yields the perplexing prediction for Friedman that “cyberspace” might emerge as a realm “with more privacy than we have today,” as distinguished from a “realspace with less,” or, as he goes on to put the point, the arrival of “a world where physical actions are entirely public, [and] information transactions entirely private.” Later, he frames this starkly as “[t]he conflict between realspace transparency and cyberspace privacy.”

Friedman then proceeds from assumptions that will have become all too familiar to us by now: Freedom is identified with private voluntary transactions, voluntary transactions are identified with explicit contracts and radically privatized market relations, and the primary threats to the free play of this edifying market order are identified as the public depredations of Big Brotherly governments. Or, as Friedman puts these points: “Although private parties occasionally engage in involuntary transactions such as burglary, most of our interactions with each other are voluntary ones.” On the other hand, “[g]overnments engage in involuntary transactions on an enormously larger scale.” If “government is merely a particularly large and well organized criminal gang, stealing as much as it can from the rest of us” then “individual privacy against government is an unambiguously good thing.” He then assures us that, “[M]ost Americans appear, judging by expressed views on privacy… to consider privacy against government as on the whole desirable, with an exception for cases where they believe that privacy might be used to conceal crimes substantially more serious than tax evasion.” That tax evasion is an unserious crime clearly goes without saying...

And so, the dilemma for the market libertarian is that “strong privacy in a transparent society requires some way of guarding the interface between my realspace body and cyberspace. This is no problem… where the walls of my house are still opaque. It is a serious problem [where] every place is, in fact if not in law, public.” Since Friedman has connected the traditional distinction of the public from the private so insistently to a further distinction of the materiality of what he calls “realspace” from an apparently dematerialized, informational “cyberspace” it is perhaps not so surprising as it might initially seem to find that he conjures up the cyberspatial here through an image of domesticity in particular.

It is intriguing to observe the lengths to which Friedman then goes to defend against the imagined penetration of this private domestic space by transparency. He writes: “If we are sufficiently worried” -– what, me worry? -– “about other people hearing what we say, one solution is to encrypt face to face conversation.” He continues on, and with considerable detail:
With suitable wireless gadgets, I talk into a throat mike or type on a virtual keyboard (keeping my hands in my pockets). My pocket computer encrypts my message with your public key and transmits it to your pocket computer, which decrypts the message and displays it through your V[irtual] R[eality] glasses. To make sure nothing is reading the glasses over your shoulder, the goggles get the image to you not by displaying it on a screen but by using a tiny laser to write it on your retina. With any luck, the inside of your eyeball is still private space.

Here the private realm has retreated into the body’s inner precincts, come to rest in that most delicate and vulnerable of organs (apart, of course, from the privates themselves), presumed proscenium to the inner theater of the mind, presumed window on the soul -– the human eye. And with this retreat into the eerily immaterial eye, Friedman retraces the disembodiment and dematerialization through which he would otherwise formulate the privacy he valorizes.

“[S]ince most of us live most of our lives in realspace,” the material world, the world menaced by the prospect of Brin’s technoconstituted transparency, we live in what threatens to be “a very public world.” But cyberspace, conceived by Friedman as a dematerialized “virtual reality,” promises the preservation and, better, the radical augmentation through strong encryption techniques of a private (and privatized) world. As Friedman rather breathtakingly goes on to put the point: “[I]f deep V[irtual]R[ealty]… giv[es] us a world where all the interesting stuff happens in cyberspace and realspace activity consist[s] of little more than keeping our bodies alive, it will be a very private world.”

To grasp the extent to which Friedman’s privatized virtuality relies for its force on a denigration of bodily life and of materiality as such, notice that he disdains even the “realspace” paraphernalia of goggles, gloves, earphones, and the like that typically accompany futurist representations of virtual reality technologies. “[I]f we can… figure out how our nervous system encodes the data that reaches our minds as sensory perceptions, goggles and headphones will no longer be necessary.” Note the dematerialization performed by the formulation in which “sense” (“sensory perceptions”) is treated merely as the form in which “data” is “encode[d]” by a “system.” We have in fact already arrived at the virtual reality conjured up explicitly in the next sentence, in which one could, Friedman proposes, simply “[p]lug a cable into a socket at the back of [the] neck for full sense perception of a reality observed by mechanical sensors, generated by a computer, or recorded from another brain.” In such a world, writes Friedman, “most of the important stuff” –- again that curious phrase –- “consists of signals moving from one brain to another over a network, with physical acts by physical bodies playing only a minor role. To visit a friend in England there is no need to move either his body or mine -– being there is as easy as dialing the phone.”

Strictly speaking, of course, dialing a telephone is scarcely a disembodied experience, England geographically exists whether or not we happen to be there, a socket at the back of the neck might be expected at the very least to tickle occasionally, the computers and electrons on which cyberspaces are variously instantiated are in fact material, information is, indeed, always and indispensably instantiated on a material carrier of some kind, and the electrochemical dispositions of the physical organ we call the brain are likewise physical.

Even if we sensibly defer discussion of the poetical and spiritual places some readers might be inclined to go on to from here, the curiosity of the spectacle Friedman’s argument is making of itself here is surely available to us all. Robert Heilbroner has famously described economists as “the worldly philosophers,” as collaborators in the most relentlessly materialist humanist tradition on offer. And here, to preserve the norms and assumptions of political economy an heir to that tradition, one who has described as his chief contribution to it simply that he takes some of that tradition’s commonplace assertions to “their natural conclusions,” finds that he must denigrate the very material and bodily foundations on the basis of which that tradition has always defined itself and distinguished itself from all others. To retain what he takes to be a political economist’s conception of worldliness, a political economist finds he must disdain the world.

For Katherine Hayles, information theory from its inauguration in the early twentieth century has rested definitively on the forceful distinction of information from materiality, and on the subsequent denigration of the material term of that distinction. Hayles proposes that we characterize as “virtuality” the condition that prevails in a culture such as our own, in which the assumptions of classical information theory have penetrated into conceptual domains, public practices, and forms of knowledge far more generally. Hayles has noted any number of expressions of what she takes to be the foundational gesture of information science.

First, she notes the distinction posited as early as 1948 by Claude Shannon, between message and signal. “A message has an information content specified by a probability function that has no dimensions, no materiality, and no necessary connection with meaning. It is a pattern, not a presence. Only when the message is encoded in a signal for transmission through a medium,” she goes on, “does it assume material form. The very definition of information, then, encodes the distinction between materiality and information.”

In the altogether different register of molecular biology, Hayles points to the contemporary view that “the body is said to ‘express’ information encoded in the genes. The content is provided by the genetic pattern; the body’s materiality articulates a preexisting semantic structure. Control resides in the pattern, which is regarded as bringing the material object into being.” Again, pattern is valorized while materiality, which Hayles repeatedly figures as “presence,” is denigrated.

On Hayles’ compelling account, the cultural condition of virtuality continually reiterates the gesture of an erasure of the body, continually makes recourse to reductive accounts of communication as information flows or a play of patterns which disavow the definitive embodiment of these experiences. It will probably be clear by now that I share Hayles’ concern about these denials of materiality in so much information theory. It is no accident that in choosing privacy as the site for my own intervention I have foregrounded a discursive site no less freighted with the urgencies and troubles of bodily life. Nevertheless, I think it is important to emphasize that there are more ways to be material than just the ways in which biological bodies are, and so that we should be careful not to treat such embodiment as synonymous with materiality as such. Nor, more crucially, should we describe dematerialization always through the language of disembodiment –- as sometimes Hayles seems to do. I worry for example that a comment such as that “[b]ecause they both have bodies, books and humans have something to lose if they are regarded solely as informational patterns” in fact re-enacts in its parallelism some of the very evacuation of embodied subjectivity that elsewhere Hayles takes such pains to resist.

I am also troubled by what seems to me an occasional drift into a curious conservatism that likely inheres in her singular focus on the materiality of bodies as always a presencing and hence, possibly, less an open futurity. This “conservatism” can be a matter as simple as the occasional argumentatively key reference to “the body,” as though there were only one kind of body to be had (all the more conspicuous since elsewhere Hayles is careful in her effort to trouble such a reduction). But it can play out in even quite central programmatic formulations as well. As witness: “Central to the construction of the cyborg are informational pathways connecting the organic body to its prosthetic extensions. This presumes,” Hayles presumes, “a conception of information as a (disembodied) entity that can flow between carbon-based organic components to make protein and silicon operate as a single system.”

From this, Hayles draws the moral that “[w]hen information loses its body, equating humans and computers is especially easy, for the materiality in which the thinking mind is instantiated appears incidental to its essential nature.” It is not clear to me why it is better to describe as a kind of disembodiment what might look instead like a prosthetic proliferation of the ways in which material bodies can be in the world. Just why would the prosthetic troubling of “the” normative body be analogized to information’s loss of its “body”? Again, I share Hayles’ concern that it is too commonplace for information theory to deny that information is always instantiated in a material carrier, or at any rate to insist naively that its material “form” is immaterial to information’s “content,” but I wonder about appeals to emphatically nostalgic intuitions of normative bodily materiality in particular in fortifying this claim. It seems to me especially perplexing to suggest that something about the recognition of a variety of viable material bodies (including cyborg bodies) would contribute to what seems to me the different and deeper confusion of a human with a computer.

While the socially intelligible body registers the force of normative constraints, it seems to me to be crucially open to variation and subversion. Further, I insist that along with a concern about the materialities of various embodied subjectivities, we should be likewise compelled to register the material realities of the public worlds in which these material bodies find themselves. If Hayles rightly calls attention to the dematerialization of subjectivity in information theory, I will insist that there is a complementary and no less momentous dematerialization and dismissal of political realities (like heterogeneity and unpredictability) in information theory as well. And this is a tendency that looks to me to facilitate often disastrously reductive analyses of political phenomena in an informational mode – from economism to game theory to “memetics” to evolutionary sociology.

In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt describes the “living together of people” as the “indispensable material factor in the generation of [political] power” [emphasis added]. I read this in light of Judith Butler’s reading of Marx’s first Thesis on Feuerbach, in which she suggests: “If materialism were to take account of praxis as that which constitutes the very matter of objects, and praxis is understood as socially transformative activity, then such activity is understood as constitutive of materiality itself…. [T]he object materializes to the extent that it is a site of temporal transformation. The materiality of objects, then, is in no sense static, spatial, or given, but is constituted in and as transformative activity.” Here I find a helpfully nonspatializing conjuration of what Arendt would describe as the “public realm” and of the action it incubates and consists of (Arendt’s phrase, remember, is a significant one for a dissertation about the politics of agency in an era of digital networks: “the web of relations”). It is, then, to this double evacuation of the materiality both of subjectivity and of “publicity” that I recur in my own view of the ways in which information theory likely frustrates or confuses our efforts to accommodate, say, democratic values and intuitions about public goods to the transformed circumstances of a newly emerging “information age” of digital networked media.

For Katherine Hayles the essential gesture of virtuality is the privileging of information over a materiality from which it has already first been decisively but profoundly problematically distinguished. And the quintessential figure through which she illustrates what she takes be “wildly implausible… wrongheaded and dangerous” in this gesture tends to be the roboticist Hans Moravec who, in his book Mind Children, proposes a certain “fantastic scenario.” According to Moravec, writes Hayles, “human beings are essentially informational patterns rather than bodily presences. If a technology can replicate the pattern, it has captured all that really matters in a human being.” For Moravec, replicating this pattern while at once destroying the brain of a human being so “replicated” constitutes a kind of “transfer” of that human being from one material instantiation to another. As Hayles rather vividly summarizes the proposal, “[a]s ‘you’ are transferred into a computer, the trashed body is left behind, an empty husk. Once ‘you’ are comfortably inside your shiny new body, ‘you’ effectively become immortal. For when that body wears out or becomes obsolete, ‘you’ can simply transfer your consciousness to a new model.”

I agree with Hayles that such a proposal appears to rely on a number of questionable and disturbing assumptions. Among these: that science has a clear sense of what consciousness is in the first place, that what amounts to a sloppy wet gland can be treated as indistinguishable from what passes for a computer in our contemporary understanding of these things, that technologies can in fact be counted upon to function smoothly, that metaphors of reproduction map seamlessly onto metaphors of travel, and so on. I even agree to a point that for some, including possibly Hans Moravec himself, “the information/matter dichotomy maps onto the older and more traditional dichotomy of spirit/matter” with the consequence that “the contemporary privileging of information is reinforced by [certain] religious yearnings and beliefs that have been around for a long time and that are resonant with meaning for many people.”

But it seems to me no less significant that in Moravec’s scenario the “replication” of a pattern is to be treated as the “transfer” of a person from one kind of a body to another rather than her destruction and then replacement by some sort of copy only because there presumably exists some “objective” perspective from which the original and the copy are taken to be in some significant sense indistinguishable from one another. Presumably, the testimony from this “objective” perspective might fail to confer the status of “transfer” rather than “destruction and replacement” should the copy herself testify to a subjective discontinuity in her own experience of the process or sense of identification in its aftermath. But whether or not a host of separate “subjective” and “objective” perspectives testified to the sufficient similarity of the patterns discerned before and after the procedure to interpret its outcome as a “transfer” of identity from one bodily substrate to some other body or medium, it is rarely discussed and incomparably more difficult to imagine that the public or intersubjective negotiation of all these many different perspectives and their testaments would likewise issue out in the compelling sense of a continuous identity over the course of its worldly travels.

For me, Moravec’s informational construal of the self paradoxically privileges as material an objectivity over both a subjectivity and intersubjectivity that are then dematerialized and denigrated. I offer up this proposal simply as a complement to Hayles’ thesis, rather than an objection to it. And, likewise, as a complement to her characteristic figure of Hans Moravec’s fantastic scenario of a surgeon uploading a somehow disembodied consciousness into an imperishable digital form, I offer up by way of conclusion the tableau of David Friedman’s no less fantastic uploading of homo economicus into a somehow depoliticized privacy to shore up the market order as my own curious and characteristic figure.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Of Course You Know, This Means War!

The Official Declaration of the War on Christmas.

Let me add, by the way, that as a cheerful atheist I find the relentless monologic drumbeat of "Happy Holidays" -- an obvious variation, after all, on the phrase Happy Holy Days -- scarcely less objectionable and pernicious from the perspective of sensible secular democracy than other judeochrislamic genuflections fashionable among the rubes, loons, and thugs in this joylessly joyous season.

Pancryptics: Introduction

"Pancryptics" is a word that evokes all at once for me the sense of an all-encompassing concealment, of an endless provocation to decipherment, and of a universe susceptible in its totality to coding.

Consider Alan Turing, a British mathematician, logician, and cryptographer whose life spanned the first half of the twentieth century. Turing is invariably credited today as one of the founders of both computer science and modern information science. In 1948 he published a paper entitled “Intelligent Machinery” in which he proposed that “[t]here is a remarkably close parallel between the problems of the physicist and those of the cryptographer.” He went on to “flesh out” this analogy considerably, suggesting that “[t]he system on which a message is enciphered corresponds to the laws of the universe,” and “intercepted messages to the evidence available,” and so on. At the time he published this paper Turing had devoted nearly a decade of his life, the years of World War II, to devising techniques for breaking enemy codes for the Allies, and so it is likely that this curious analogy reflected the preoccupations of this moment in his life as much as anything else. But I propose that whatever its origins in the biographical specificity of his circumstances Turing’s analogy reveals and complements assumptions that have come to freight information science more generally throughout its history as well as any number of other technocentric discourses into the present day.

On Turing’s analogy the universe is invested with a kind of personality that is assumed to have preferences in the matter of the way it is described. Arriving at scientifically warranted descriptions of the world is, for us, a matter of managing to discern these preferences. But because the universe is imagined as a secretive and even rather hostile antagonist to the humans who would strive to understand and cope with it these preferences are not conveyed to us outright so much as mysteriously intimated in the disposition of the furniture of the world itself.

With whom did Turing imagine the universe to be conversing in the first place in this analogy, one wonders, with its secret messages, laying out its scarcely scrutable evidences? Is the scientist as metacryptographer listening in on the voice of the world as it talks endlessly and forlornly to itself? Or did Turing imagine the coder as a kind of pilgrim, penitent, or, possibly, priest, becoming the proper recipient of the message of the cosmos simply by virtue of learning finally the language in which it speaks itself?

Whatever entailments rendered the analogy a compelling one for Turing, it intrigues me that his is a vision of scientific knowledge that threatens to deprive it of any avowable political life. Against an understanding of scientific inquiry and conviction as public practices, as the collaborative interrogation of a shared environment arising out of shared interests by means of shared protocols and eventuating in a shared, if imperfect and contingent, consensus of belief, Turing’s analogy locates the meaningfulness and significance of warranted scientific conviction squarely on the side of the universe itself. Turing stages in his analogy what amounts to an essentially private confrontation between the universe and anyone who would know it.

In 1985, in her “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” Donna Haraway pointed out that “communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move –- the translation of the world into a problem of coding.” But for Haraway this move registers not so much the search for the true language in which to describe at last the world as the world would prefer to be described itself, the essentially theological vision at the heart of Turing’s analogy. She describes the projects of contemporary informational construals of biological and communications sciences as searches, instead, “for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment, and exchange.” The ambition to discern or to craft the “common language” that would translate the world into a “problem of coding” is for Haraway the ambition to rewrite the dynamic heterogeneity of our environment in the image of a constellation of interchangeable terms without remainders, a world without intractable plurality or history, an open terrain in which an efficacious will can play out without inevitable friction or frustration.

Such a search should not be confused with the modest proposal of pragmatic philosophy that humans describe as “true” simply those convictions which seem best to facilitate their ends for now, whatever these may be. Pragmatism offers no reassurances that particular human ends will be achievable at last, nor even the diversity of human ends reconciled. But in its insistent depoliticization of scientific practice and knowledge, the faith that underlies the informational construal of biology and communication Haraway is talking about is curiously continuous with the vision of science animating Turing’s analogy as well.

While Turing’s analogy invests the universe with a kind of superlative subjecthood, the informational construals Haraway describes reduce the universe instead to an utter objecthood awaiting mastery and use. But both of these understandings impoverish or altogether refuse the intersubjectivity that is surely the condition of whatever confidence we might actually have in our scientifically warranted convictions such as they are, as well as the condition of the interminable contingency of such warrants for any practice of knowledge answerable to a changeable plurality of human ends.

I have used the term pancryptics in the title of this dissertation to conjure up and then to criticize three animating and interdependent images at the heart of such an informational construal of the human world: First, there is an image of social order construed as an object which can be described exhaustively in terms of transactions susceptible to encryption techniques, the model of sociality as a congeries of contracts. Second, there is an image of the material universe construed as an object which can be described exhaustively in numerical terms, the model of the cosmos of classic information science. And third, there is the curiously vacuous and apolitical image of the individual subject complementarily implied by each of these models.

Technological development is an ongoing provocation on our many private and public lives. Indeed, continual developmental interventions into "given" norms, laws, trading conventions, and the customary limits of public architectures and personal morphologies constitute a definitive and abiding crisis of cultural life in this historical moment. And the same is true no less of the fraught technocultural practices through which we struggle individually and collectively to re-weave these disruptions into unprecedented, provisionally meaningful relations with our histories and our hopes.

And as contemporary societies variously confront the bewildering ongoing and upcoming technological transformations of human capacities, assumptions, and legible limits it is interesting to notice just how often legal, theoretical, and popular contests over the meaning and force of human agency caught up in this developmental storm-surge turn specifically again and again to the subject of privacy as the lens through which to articulate many of the most urgent hopes and fears in play.

I focus my attention in what follows on these technocultural discourses of privacy and on the publicity that these discourses of privacy inevitably evoke and in which they are implicated. There are of course any number of vocabularies through which we make various and separate recourse in our efforts to negotiate a workable sense of individual dignity and agency amid the vicissitudes of the world. Subjecthood, citizenship, continence, authorship, property, and rationality are all examples of such vocabularies. But I argue in what follows that the language of privacy in particular stands in a unique relationship to technological development as an ongoing source of threats to and hopes for augmentations of such agency.

Practices of publication and collaboration facilitated by new digital networked information and communication technologies and social software, the practices on which I focus most of my attention here, are palpably reconstituting the lived demarcation of public from private life in this historical moment, and so are reconstituting much of our lived experience of the political as such. The same could be said of medical practices facilitated by new and emerging genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive therapies, like assisted reproductive technologies and neuroceutical medicines that radically intervene in mood and memory: As experimental subjects we have come to inhabit and even incarnate nodes in bioremedial networks of genetic information, intellectual property, administrative scrutiny, and informed consent. And so, I discuss ways in which prosthetic practices not only reflect and respond to but constitute and produce our sense of private life, and how they inspire the various claims we make in the name of privacy. I am keen to think through some of the ways in which the constellation of interrelated discourses and customary intuitions that have long been woven tightly together through the figure of privacy –- concerning bodily integrity, personal security, legitimate possessiveness, legible consent, and, perhaps most profoundly of all, secrecy -– might now be unraveling somewhat under pressure of contemporary technological change, thereby changing what we mean by privacy and what we demand of it in significant ways.

But as I have proceeded to sketch out some of the technological transformations of the subject of privacy, I find that I collide again and again against a related but importantly different discourse of privacy, freighted with its own assumptions about and quandaries for agency.

Contemporary American technocultural, technofuturist, technophiliac rhetorics sometimes seem fantastically fixated with what are described as “markets.” In the final section of the Epilogue to the dissertation I provide an extended critique of an anarcho-capitalist libertarian viewpoint for which many technophiles, especially American ones, seem to have a nearly unshakable ardor. I encourage readers who are unfamiliar with the contours of this viewpoint to skip ahead to that general discussion before delving into the proper subject of the dissertation, my account of the fraught relations between contemporary discourses of technology and privacy. In a nutshell, according to the libertarian viewpoint contemporary market relations are uniquely expressive of human nature, the sum of these relations is taken to constitute a space of freedom figured as a spontaneous order, and the principal emancipatory demand is for the elimination of state regulations that are imagined to restrain this order from its otherwise inevitable crystallization. This deregulatory demand is figured precisely as a radical privatization of the institutions of civic life hitherto associated with the public sphere.

The key contribution of specifically technophiliac free-marketeers to American market libertarian discourse would appear to be the regularly reiterated proposal that some particularly disruptive emerging technology or other is about to arrive on the scene. This technology might be digital networks, or encryption technologies, or surveillance devices, or virtual reality systems, or nanotechnologies, or some vague, shifting combination of these. The sudden ubiquity of this disruptive technology will, or so say these technophiliac free-marketeers, introduce a profound and creative destabilization that will break the crust of convention, bypass the intractable knot of pluralist stakeholder politics, overcome the regulatory impasse and thereby facilitate the emergence of a “stateless” and spontaneous market order in due course. So suggestive, insistent, and incessant are these extraordinary claims that three of my chapters have come to bear the imprint of my confrontations with variations on this argument: Chapter Two, “Markets From Math,” which discusses encryption and the “crypto-anarchy” of a coterie of technophiliac privacy activists called the Cypherpunks; Chapter Three, “Markets With Eyes,” which discusses video and biometric surveillance and author David Brin's vision of a “transparent society”; and the Conclusion, “Markets Without Matter,” which briefly discusses the frustrated hopes that animate the discourse of virtual reality.

In 1958, the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote in the “Prologue” to her book The Human Condition of what she called “the highly non-respectable literature of science fiction,” that “nobody yet has paid [it] the attention it deserves as a vehicle of mass sentiments and mass desires.” Over the nearly half century that has elapsed since the publication of Arendt’s book, of course, a whole cottage industry of scholarship has emerged devoted to the redress of this deficiency, studying science fiction in popular film, in literature, in the imagery of television commercials, in passionate subcultures of fandom, and elsewhere. But despite all that it still seems to me that it is just as true as ever that few have paid anything like enough attention to the vital topical and tropological life of “science fiction” beyond fiction, in the presumably nonfictional discourses of corporate futurology, management literature, legal analysis, and policy language.

Futurity is an openness so radical we seem to demand its domestication from the start, and so we speak of “the future” instead. As if there were a road we’re on, as if there were a destination we’re on our way to. Policy-makers, bioethicists, technocritical theorists all take their own measures of distance from the whirlwind, and talk about contemporary quandaries through recourse to narratives from centuries past, Icarus, Eden, Babel, Faust, Frankenstein, 1984, Brave New World, while all around them, right now, today, unexpected unprecedented uncannily powerful devices vanish before our eyes into the nanoscale, digital networks proliferate and girdle the globe, biomedical interventions derange the customary limits, capacities, morphology, and span of bodily lives, and the very climate of the planet itself complains of the recklessness of crudely extractive industrial civilization in a tantrum of Greenhouse storms.

In the readings that follow I found that I too was drawn again and again to the writings of contemporary science fiction authors to delineate my account –- from pieces by David Brin, Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, to Vernor Vinge, among others. But the works on which I have concentrated my attention here are not at all the fictions to which these writers have devoted the better part of their own attention, but certain curious and curiously influential forays they have made into technology polemics and public policy discourse. These writings of theirs (as well as those of technology critics and enthusiasts that reverberate conspicuously with the influence of these writings) have yet to attract as much as you would expect in the way of scholarly attention, especially readings attentive to what seems to me their unexpectedly shared recourse to certain basic assumptions, characteristic images, idiosyncratic cultural frames, and habitual rhetorical gestures; that is to say, precisely those aspects of their writing that would almost certainly be the ones foregrounded in serious readings of their various fictions. And so, part of what I am documenting here is an episode in an ongoing conversation about technology and privacy within a particular milieu, by means of which I mean to evoke a characteristic strain of technology discourse more generally, and even, I hope, to contribute something to (and somewhat against the grain of) that conversation myself. But first, I will want to survey the historical and conceptual terms of this conversation about technology and privacy in a more general way and so clarify its stakes, both for them and for me.

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