Technomancy and the Conjuring of Virtual Worlds: The Utilization of ‘Digital Magical Practice’ as Organizational Strategy

Technomancy and the Conjuring of Virtual Worlds

The 3rd DELab UW International Conference: Ongoing Digitalisation of Economies and Societies • Digital Economy Lab, Uniwersytet Warszawski, Warszawa • September 29, 2017

ABSTRACT: Efforts to formally define ‘magic’ and to identify the aspects that distinguish magical practice from other human pursuits have been made from both a theological perspective (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas) and, more recently, an anthropological perspective (e.g., Frazer, Mauss, Durkheim, Malinowski, and Tambiah). Frequently cited elements of magic include its use of esoteric symbols, gestures, and speech that are only understood only by a small, elite group of initiated practitioners; its use of specially prepared ritual instruments; its attempt to harness the power of invisible, intelligent, nonhuman entities (such as demons or nature deities) to produce specific physical effects; and its attempt to manipulate hidden (or ‘occult’) forms of causality rather than obviously explicable physical causality.

As early as the 1970s, scholars noted that the practice of computer programming reflects several such aspects of magic as it is traditionally defined. For example, conventional computer programming requires mastery of an esoteric body of knowledge passed down between generations of programmers; it employs arcane symbols arranged in elaborate sequential scripts structurally similar to magical incantations; and it allows computers to perform highly complex, seemingly ‘intelligent’ behaviors by means of causal processes that may be comprehensible to programmers but which to ordinary computer users appear quite mystifying.

In this presentation, we argue that it can be expected that the ‘magical’ aspects of computing technology will be transformed and enhanced over the coming years through the development of increasingly sophisticated technologies for virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and ubiquitous computing (UC) that converge to create ‘magically responsive’ digital-physical ecosystems and ‘enchanted’ cyber-physical societies.

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Cyborgization and Virtual Worlds: Portals to Altered Reality

Volume 02 in the Posthuman Cyberware Sourcebook series • ISBN 978-1-944373-20-7 • Mnemoclave, 2017 • 36 pages

SUMMARY: Whether it’s adding a night-vision cybereye or acquiring a full cyborg body, the process of cyborgization reshapes the way in which an individual relates to the physical environment around her. But how does it transform her ability to dive – or to be pulled – into virtual worlds?

Cyborgization and Virtual Worlds: Portals to Altered Reality is a resource for designing campaigns grounded in near-future hard-SF settings in which synthetic bodies and VR cyberware offer characters entirely new ways of perceiving, interpreting, and manipulating the analog and digital worlds…

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Posthuman Management: Creating Effective Organizations in an Age of Social Robotics, Ubiquitous AI, Human Augmentation, and Virtual Worlds

ISBN 978-1-944373-05-4 • Second edition • Defragmenter Media, 2016 • 442 pages

What are the best practices for leading a workforce in which human employees have merged cognitively and physically with electronic information systems and work alongside social robots, artificial life-forms, and self-aware networks that are ‘colleagues’ rather than simply ‘tools’? How does one manage organizational structures and activities that span both actual and virtual worlds? How are the forces of technological posthumanization transforming the theory and practice of management?

This volume explores the reality that an organization’s workers, managers, customers, and other stakeholders increasingly comprise a complex network of human agents, artificial agents, and hybrid human-synthetic entities. The first part of the book develops the theoretical foundations of an emerging ‘organizational posthumanism’ and presents conceptual frameworks for understanding and managing the evolving workplace relationship between human and synthetic beings. Subsequent chapters investigate concrete management topics such as the likelihood that social robots might utilize charismatic authority to inspire and lead human workers; potential roles of AIs as managers of cross-cultural virtual teams; the ethics and legality of entrusting organizational decision-making to spatially diffuse robots that have no discernible identity or physical form; quantitative approaches to comparing the managerial capabilities of human and artificial agents; the creation of artificial life-forms that function as autonomous enterprises which evolve by competing against human businesses; neural implants as gateways that allow their human users to participate in new forms of organizational life; and the implications of advanced neuroprosthetics for information security and business model design.

As the first comprehensive application of posthumanist methodologies to the field of management, this volume will be of use to scholars and students of contemporary management and to management practitioners who must increasingly understand and guide the forces of technologization that are rapidly reshaping organizations’ form, dynamics, and societal roles.

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Neural Implants as Gateways to Digital-Physical Ecosystems and Posthuman Socioeconomic Interaction

In Digital Ecosystems: Society in the Digital Age, edited by Łukasz Jonak, Natalia Juchniewicz, and Renata Włoch, pp. 85-98 • Warsaw: Digital Economy Lab, University of Warsaw, 2016

ABSTRACT: For many employees, ‘work’ is no longer something performed while sitting at a computer in an office. Employees in a growing number of industries are expected to carry mobile devices and be available for work-related interactions even when beyond the workplace and outside of normal business hours. In this article it is argued that a future step will increasingly be to move work-related information and communication technology (ICT) inside the human body through the use of neuroprosthetics, to create employees who are always ‘online’ and connected to their workplace’s digital ecosystems. At present, neural implants are used primarily to restore abilities lost through injury or illness, however their use for augmentative purposes is expected to grow, resulting in populations of human beings who possess technologically altered capacities for perception, memory, imagination, and the manipulation of physical environments and virtual cyberspace. Such workers may exchange thoughts and share knowledge within posthuman cybernetic networks that are inaccessible to unaugmented human beings. Scholars note that despite their potential benefits, such neuroprosthetic devices may create numerous problems for their users, including a sense of alienation, the threat of computer viruses and hacking, financial burdens, and legal questions surrounding ownership of intellectual property produced while using such implants. Moreover, different populations of human beings may eventually come to occupy irreconcilable digital ecosystems as some persons embrace neuroprosthetic technology, others feel coerced into augmenting their brains to compete within the economy, others might reject such technology, and still others will simply be unable to afford it.

In this text we propose a model for analyzing how particular neuroprosthetic devices will either facilitate human beings’ participation in new forms of socioeconomic interaction and digital workplace ecosystems – or undermine their mental and physical health, privacy, autonomy, and authenticity. We then show how such a model can be used to create device ontologies and typologies that help us classify and understand different kinds of advanced neuroprosthetic devices according to the impact that they will have on individual human beings.

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From Stand Alone Complexes to Memetic Warfare: Cultural Cybernetics and the Engineering of Posthuman Popular Culture

50 Shades of Popular Culture International Conference • Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • February 19, 2016

ABSTRACT: Here we argue that five emerging social and technological trends are creating new possibilities for the instrumentalization (or even “weaponization”) of popular culture for commercial, ideological, political, or military ends and for the development of a posthuman popular culture that is no longer solely produced by or for “humanity” as presently understood. These five trends are the: 1) decentralization of the sources of popular culture, as reflected in the ability of ordinary users to create and upload content that “goes viral” within popular culture, as well as the use of “astroturfing” and paid “troll armies” by corporate or state actors to create the appearance of broad-based grassroots support for particular products, services, actions, or ideologies; 2) centralization of the mechanisms for accessing popular culture, as seen in the role of instruments like Google’s search engine, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Wikipedia in concentrating the distribution channels for cultural products, as well as efforts by state actors to censor social media content perceived as threatening or disruptive; 3) personalization of popular culture, as manifested in the growth of cultural products like computer games that dynamically reconfigure themselves in response to a player’s behavior, thereby creating a different product for each individual that is adapted to a user’s unique experiences, desires, and psychological characteristics; 4) automatization of the creation of products of popular culture, as seen in the automated high-speed generation of webpages, artwork, music, memes, and computer game content by AI systems that could potentially allow venues of popular culture (such as the Internet) to be flooded with content designed to influence a social group in particular ways; and 5) virtualization of the technological systems and mechanisms for creating, transmitting, and experiencing the products of popular culture, as witnessed in the development of all-purpose nodes (such as smartphones) that are capable of handling a full range of cultural products in the form of still images, video, audio, text, and interactive experiences, and the growing digitalization of cultural products that allows them to be more easily manipulated and injected into the popular culture of other states or social groups, bypassing physical and political barriers.

While these trends are expected to yield a broad range of positive and negative impacts, we focus on a particular subset of these impacts. Namely, we argue that the convergence of these five trends opens the door for the creation of popular culture that: 1) does not exist in any permanent, tangible physical artifacts but only as a collection of continuously transforming digital data that that is stored on the servers of a few powerful corporate or state actors and is subject to manipulation or degradation as a result of computer viruses, hacking, power outages, or other factors; 2) can be purposefully and effectively engineered using techniques commonly employed within IT management, electronics engineering, marketing, and other disciplines; 3) can become a new kind of weapon and battleground in struggles for military, political, ideological, and commercial superiority on the part of corporate, state, and other actors.

In order to stimulate thinking about ways in which these trends might develop, we conclude by considering two fictional near-future worlds – those depicted in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Transhuman Space: Toxic Memes – in which the further evolution of these five trends is shown as leading to the neurocybernetically facilitated manipulation of popular culture, “memetic warfare,” and related phenomena. We suggest that these fictional works represent examples of self-reflexive futurology: i.e., elements of contemporary popular culture that attempt to anticipate and explore the ways in which future popular culture could be purposefully engineered, instrumentalized, and even weaponized in the service of a diverse array of ends.

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Cryptocurrency with a Conscience: Using Artificial Intelligence to Develop Money that Advances Human Ethical Values

Annales. Etyka w Życiu Gospodarczym / Annales: Ethics in Economic Life 18, no. 4 (2015), pp. 85-98; MNiSW 2015 List B: 10 points

ABSTRACT: Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are offering new avenues for economic empowerment to individuals around the world. However, they also provide a powerful tool that facilitates criminal activities such as human trafficking and illegal weapons sales that cause great harm to individuals and communities. Cryptocurrency advocates have argued that the ethical dimensions of cryptocurrency are not qualitatively new, insofar as money has always been understood as a passive instrument that lacks ethical values and can be used for good or ill purposes. In this paper, we challenge such a presumption that money must be “value-neutral.” Building on advances in artificial intelligence, cryptography, and machine ethics, we argue that it is possible to design artificially intelligent cryptocurrencies that are not ethically neutral but which autonomously regulate their own use in a way that reflects the ethical values of particular human beings – or even entire human societies. We propose a technological framework for such cryptocurrencies and then analyze the legal, ethical, and economic implications of their use. Finally, we suggest that the development of cryptocurrencies possessing ethical as well as monetary value can provide human beings with a new economic means of positively influencing the ethos and values of their societies.

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Utopias and Dystopias as Cybernetic Information Systems: Envisioning the Posthuman Neuropolity

Creatio Fantastica no. 3(50) (2015)

ABSTRACT: While it is possible to understand utopias and dystopias as particular kinds of sociopolitical systems, in this text we argue that utopias and dystopias can also be understood as particular kinds of information systems in which data is received, stored, generated, processed, and transmitted by the minds of human beings that constitute the system’s ‘nodes’ and which are connected according to specific network topologies. We begin by formulating a model of cybernetic information-processing properties that characterize utopias and dystopias. It is then shown that the growing use of neuroprosthetic technologies for human enhancement is expected to radically reshape the ways in which human minds access, manipulate, and share information with one another; for example, such technologies may give rise to posthuman ‘neuropolities’ in which human minds can interact with their environment using new sensorimotor capacities, dwell within shared virtual cyberworlds, and link with one another to form new kinds of social organizations , including hive minds that utilize communal memory and decision-making. Drawing on our model, we argue that the dynamics of such neuropolities will allow (or perhaps even impel) the creation of new kinds of utopias and dystopias that were previously impossible to realize. Finally, we suggest that it is important that humanity begin thoughtfully exploring the ethical, social, and political implications of realizing such technologically enabled societies by studying neuropolities in a place where they have already been ‘pre-engineered’ and provisionally exist: in works of audiovisual science fiction such as films, television series, and role-playing games.

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Tachikomatic Domains: Utopian Cyberspace as a ‘Contingent Heaven’ for Humans, Robots, and Hybrid Intelligences

Tachikomatic Domains

His Master’s Voice: Utopias and Dystopias in Audiovisual Culture • Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • March 24, 2015

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The Social Robot as ‘Charismatic Leader’: A Phenomenology of Human Submission to Nonhuman Power

In Sociable Robots and the Future of Social Relations: Proceedings of Robo-Philosophy 2014, edited by Johanna Seibt, Raul Hakli, and Marco Nørskov, pp. 329-39 • Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications 273 • IOS Press, 2014

ABSTRACT: Much has been written about the possibility of human trust in robots. In this article we consider a more specific relationship: that of a human follower’s obedience to a social robot who leads through the exercise of referent power and what Weber described as ‘charismatic authority.’ By studying robotic design efforts and literary depictions of robots, we suggest that human beings are striving to create charismatic robot leaders that will either (1) inspire us through their display of superior morality; (2) enthrall us through their possession of superhuman knowledge; or (3) seduce us with their romantic allure. Rejecting a contractarian-individualist approach which presumes that human beings will be able to consciously ‘choose’ particular robot leaders, we build on the phenomenological-social approach to trust in robots to argue that charismatic robot leaders will emerge naturally from our world’s social fabric, without any rational decision on our part. Finally, we argue that the stability of these leader-follower relations will hinge on a fundamental, unresolved question of robotic intelligence: is it possible for synthetic intelligences to exist that are morally, intellectually, and emotionally sophisticated enough to exercise charismatic authority over human beings—but not so sophisticated that they lose the desire to do so?

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