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technology

Broken Machines

I’ve spent a long time now down the rabbit hole of technology, science and the conceptual ecosystems that accompany them. The extent to which these devices and machines are fundamentally not fault tolerant is for diverse, yet related, reasons of psychological and commercial self-interest quite widely unreported. The narratives of mechanical or computational ascendance rarely allow for sufficient wiggle room to cater for the technical and technological failures that cascade down like waves of entropy upon all of us. Cybersecurity being a key case in point.

It’s really very interesting – there are endemic, implicit discontinuities within logic which allow for the emergence of mechanical, robotic, communications technologies but which simultaneously do not allow those machines and their motley crew of extended, integrated technologies to effectively or efficiently repair and upgrade themselves.

Hungarian-American polymath John von Neumann proved a mathematical theorem that machines can be produced that do repair themselves, specifically – they reproduce and make further copies of themselves. This has been a proposed mechanism for interstellar colonisation. I would not (initially) humans, but their mechanical (and conceptual) descendants that explored the vast vacuum of space, replicating themselves from the materials they found and radiating exponentially outwards.

An interesting oversight in all of this seems to be that biological evolution negotiates errors and faults in replication or function in a constitutively creative way. The nexus and nodal center of technical and technological reproduction is (a) rationality that is as though innate blind-spot unable to take into account the fact that its own implicit, logical limitations and functional dissonance are the proliferating apertures of opportunity that biological systems capitalise upon.

Personal computers, mobile device and integrated global information and communications superstructures are built upon a narrow range of assumptions that do not take into account, in fact – positively ignore, the limitations they bear. Biological systems are constructively fallible. I doubt whether any of this glorious biological diversity and lived human experience would even have been possible if there were not intrinsic logical loopholes of self-referential anomaly (and antinomy) built into all of this.

That is my academic interest. How to understand the many and diverse ways in which complex information and energy processing systems in nature (as physics and biology, among other things) are predisposed towards finding and obtaining optimal system continuity as a function and in spite of the implicit discontinuities of logic, physics, complexity and – ultimately – of the minds which conceive all of this. Things break and dissipate quite naturally but there are ways that they can be raised up into broader self-sustaining ecosystems, complex architectures of logic and intentionality, and technological systems – civilisation-level continuity being the kernel of interest.

So, technology keeps breaking and there’s not a lot we can do but ride the entropic wave and keep repairing these unreliable machines until they can finally and sustainably repair themselves. There are distributed environmental and civilisation-level technical problems, as well, here and while no one seems to quite be able to shape the questions in ways which will benefit us all, some of us are on an arc and trajectory to do just this.

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