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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  September 2004

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE September 2004

Subject:

Fwd: <nettime> NEW YORK PROPHECIES

From:

Michael H Goldhaber <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 23 Sep 2004 04:50:42 -0700

Content-Type:

multipart/alternative

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (687 lines) , text/enriched (1292 lines)

I think the following article might be of interest to members of this
list.
Best,
Michael

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Richard Barbrook <[log in to unmask]>
> Date: August 26, 2004 6:18:45 AM PDT
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: <nettime> NEW YORK PROPHECIES
> Reply-To: Richard Barbrook <[log in to unmask]>
>
>
> Mute, no. 28, 13/7/04 [see www.metamute.com]
>
> NEW YORK PROPHECIES
>
> The Future Is What It Used To Be
>
>
> At the beginning of the 21st century, the dream
> of artificial intelligence is deeply embedded
> within the modern imagination. We have grown up
> with images of loyal robot buddies like Data in
> Star Trek TNG and of pitiless machine monsters
> like the cyborg in The Terminator. These science
> fiction fantasies are encouraged by confident
> predictions from prominent computer scientists.
> Continual improvements in hardware and software
> must eventually lead to the Singularity: the
> creation of artificial intelligences more
> powerful than the human mind. Despite its
> cultural prominence, the meme of sentient
> machines is vulnerable to theoretical exorcism.
> Far from being a free-floating signifier, the
> dream of artificial intelligence is deeply rooted
> in time and space. Analysing the history of this
> prophecy is the precondition for understanding
> its contemporary manifestations. With this
> motivation in mind, let's go back to the second
> decade of the Cold War when the world's biggest
> computer company put on a show about the wonders
> of thinking machines in the financial capital of
> the most powerful and wealthiest country on the
> planet=8A
>
>
> A Millennium Of Progress
>
> On the 22nd April 1964, the New York World's Fair
> was opened to the general public. This exposition
> was held to demonstrate that the USA was the
> leader in everything: consumer goods, democratic
> politics, show business, modernist architecture,
> fine art, religious tolerance, domestic living
> and, above all else, new technology. Writers and
> film-makers had long fantasised about travelling
> to other worlds. Now, in NASA's Space Park,
> visitors could admire the huge rockets which had
> taken the first Americans into earth orbit.
> General Motors' Futurama looked forward to a
> future where space ships would take tourists to
> the moon. At its Progressland pavilion, General
> Electric predicted that nuclear fusion would soon
> make electricity 'too cheap to meter'. For many
> exhibitors, there was only one technology which
> could prove their modernity: a computer.
>
> Almost all the mainframes at the World's Fair
> were used as advertising gimmicks.  In contrast,
> IBM's pavilion celebrated computing as a distinct
> technology. For over a decade, this corporation
> had been America's leading mainframe
> manufacturer. Seizing the opportunity for
> self-promotion offered by the exposition, IBM
> commissioned a pavilion which would eclipse all
> others. Eero Saarinen - the renowned Finnish
> architect - constructed a white,
> corporate-logo-embossed, egg-shaped theatre
> suspended in the air by 45 metal trees.
> Underneath this striking feature, interactive
> exhibits celebrated IBM's contribution to the
> computer industry. For the theatre itself,
> Charles and Ray Eames - the couple who epitomised
> American modernist design - created 'The
> Information Machine': a multi-media show which
> explained that how IBM's mainframes were
> prototypes of the artificial intelligences of the
> future.
>
> For over a decade, prominent computer scientists
> in USA had been convinced that machines would
> sooner or later become indistinguishable from
> humans. Language was a set of rules which could
> be codified as software. Learning from new
> experiences could be programmed into computers.
> At the 1964 World's Fair, IBM proudly announced
> that the dream of artificial intelligence was
> about to be realised. In the near future, every
> American would own a devoted mechanical servant
> just like Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet.
>
> 'Duplicating the problem-solving and
> information-handling capabilities of the [human]
> brain is not far off [in 1960]; it would be
> surprising if it were not accomplished within the
> next decade.'
>
> Within at the IBM pavilion, computers existed in
> two time frames at once. On the one hand, the
> current models on display were prototypes of the
> sentient machines of the future. On the other
> hand, the dream of artificial intelligence showed
> the true potential of the mainframes exhibited in
> the IBM pavilion. At the New York World's Fair,
> new technology was the fulfilment of science
> fiction fantasy: the imaginary future.
>
>
> Exhibiting New Technology
>
> At the New York World's Fair, the rulers of
> America wanted to demonstrate that the USA not
> only owned the future, but also the past. For
> over a century, cities across the world had been
> holding international expositions. What united
> all of them was their common inspiration: the
> 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of
> All Nations. Flush with the wealth and power
> which flowed from owning the 'workshop of the
> world', the British elite had decided to
> celebrate the wonders of economic progress. The
> Crystal Palace - a futuristic iron and glass
> building - was erected in a central London park.
> Once inside, visitors were treated to a dazzling
> display of new products from the factories and
> exotic imports from the colonies. For most
> visitors, the stars of the show were the machines
> which were powering the world's first industrial
> revolution: cotton looms, telegraphy systems,
> printing presses and, best of all, steam engines.
> The message of these exhibits was clear. Britain
> was the richest and most powerful nation on the
> planet because the British invented the best
> machines.
>
> When wandering around the Crystal Palace,
> visitors were supposed to learn about the
> achievements of British industry. Yet, despite
> this pedagogical intent, the displays at the
> Great Exhibition systematically ignored the lives
> of the people who had created the products on
> show. For instance, the silk dresses betrayed no
> traces of the horrors of the sweatshops where
> they were made. With their labour hidden and
> their price irrelevant, their symbolic role of
> industrial products took centre stage. The
> commodity was transformed into an artwork. Use
> value and exchange value had been temporarily
> superseded by a more esoteric social phenomenon:
> exhibition value. Public display was -
> paradoxically - the most effective method of
> social concealment: 'World exhibitions were
> places of pilgrimage to the fetish Commodity'.
>
> Within the space of the Crystal Palace, new
> technologies easily won the competition for
> public attention. Yet, the organisers of the
> Great Exhibition had originally envisaged a very
> different focus for their event: the promotion of
> high-quality British design. The prime location
> in the middle of the main hall was allocated to
> an exhibit of Gothic Revival furniture and
> religious items. This faux-medieval style already
> shaped the politics of Victorian England. The
> ruling elite took delight in disguising their
> hi-tech commercial republic as a romantic
> medieval monarchy. In the most modern nation in
> the world, the latest industrial innovation
> masqueraded as an archaic feudal custom: the
> invented tradition.
>
> Like the railway stations of Victorian England,
> new products in the Crystal Palace were supposed
> to be disguised as ancient artefacts. Yet,
> despite the best efforts of the organisers, it
> was the machinery hall which became the most
> popular section of the Crystal Palace. Gothic
> Revival furniture couldn't match the emotional
> impact of the noise and energy of working steam
> engines. More importantly, the machinery hall
> proudly celebrated the new technologies which had
> turned England into an economic and military
> superpower. Invented tradition had lost out to
> the imaginary future.
>
> Inside the Crystal Palace, new technology became
> the icon of modernity. Separated twice from its
> origins in human labour first through the market
> and then through the exposition, machinery was
> materialised ideology. Both bourgeois liberals
> and working class socialists found confirmation
> of their political beliefs in the steam engines
> of the Great Exhibition. Despite their deep
> differences about the ideological meaning of new
> technologies, the two sides agreed on one thing:
> defining the symbolism of machinery meant owning
> the imaginary future.
>
> This political imperative also provided the
> impetus behind the world exposition movement.
> After the triumph of the Great Exhibition, other
> countries quickly organised their own industrial
> festivals to break the British ideological
> monopoly over the future. As in the Crystal
> Palace, demonstrations of new technologies were a
> big draw. The 1889 Paris Universal Exposition was
> immortalised by the superb engineering
> achievement of the Eiffel Tower. However, by the
> time that this exhibition opened, the European
> powers were already falling behind the rapid pace
> of innovation taking place in the USA. Only a few
> years after the Eiffel Tower was built, the
> Palace of Electricity at the Chicago Columbian
> Exposition provided spectacular proof of the
> technological superiority of US industry over its
> European rivals. America was taking ownership of
> the future.
>
> During the first half of the twentieth century,
> the disparity between the two continents became
> ever more obvious. Visitors to the 1937 Paris
> International Exhibition were confronted with a
> sombre image of the world: the two massive
> pavilions of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.
> The political and ideological divisions driving
> Europe towards catastrophe were starkly
> symbolised in brick and concrete. In complete
> contrast, the icons of the 1939 New York World's
> Fair were Democracity - the main attraction of
> the organisers' Perisphere building - and
> Futurama - a diorama inside the General Motors'
> pavilion. Both exhibits promoted a utopian vision
> of an affluent and hi-tech America of the 1960s.
> In this imaginary future, the majority of
> population lived in family homes in the suburbs
> and commuted to work in their own motor cars.
>
> Facing such strong competition for the attention
> of visitors, other corporations resorted to
> displaying sci-fi fantasy machines. The star
> exhibit of the Westinghouse pavilion was Electro:
> a robot which could walk, talk, and puff a
> cigarette. This gimmick provided the inspiration
> for the imaginary future of artificial
> intelligence. Until the 1939 World's Fair, robots
> in science fiction stories were usually portrayed
> as emotionless monsters intent on destroying
> their human masters. But, in 1941, Isaac Asimov
> changed this negative image. Just like Electro in
> the Westinghouse pavilion, his fictional robots
> were safe and friendly products of a large
> corporation. During the 1950s, this change of
> image led to artificial intelligence becoming one
> of the USA's most popular imaginary futures.
>
> Cold War Computing
>
> For most visitors to the 1939 New York World's
> Fair, its imaginary future of consumer prosperity
> must have seemed like a utopian dream. The
> American economy was still recovering from the
> worst recession in the nation's history and
> Europe was on the brink of another devastating
> war. Yet, by the time that the 1964 World's Fair
> opened, the most famous prediction of the
> Democracity and Futurama dioramas had been
> realised. America was now a suburban-dwelling,
> car-owning consumer society. Exhibition value had
> become everyday reality.
>
> Since the most famous prophecy of the 1939
> exposition had largely come true, visitors to the
> 1964 New York World's Fair could have confidence
> that its three main imaginary futures would also
> be realised. Who could doubt that - by 1989 at
> the latest - the majority of Americans would be
> enjoying the delights of space tourism and
> unmetered electricity? Best of all, they would be
> living in a world where sentient machines were
> their devoted servants. The American public's
> confidence in these imaginary futures was founded
> upon a mistaken sense of continuity. At the 1939
> World's Fair, the public display of new products
> had intensified the effects of commodity
> fetishism. Exhibition value added another degree
> of separation between creation and consumption.
> Inside its 1939 pavilion, General Motors' latest
> products played a supporting role to the Futurama
> diorama which portrayed the corporation's
> ambition to turn the majority of the US
> population into suburban-dwelling, car-owning
> consumers. But, despite its prioritisation of
> exhibition value, this exposition couldn't
> totally ignore the use value of new technology.
> Almost everyone had at some point travelled in a
> motor car. Although it might obscure the social
> origins of products, the imaginary future
> expressed the potential of a really-existing
> present.
>
> The 1964 New York World's Fair needed a much
> higher level of fetishisation. For the first
> time, exhibition value had to deny the principle
> use value of new technologies. Whatever their
> drawbacks, motor cars provided many benefits for
> the general public. In contrast, the primary
> motivation for developing space rockets, atomic
> reactors and mainframe computers was to create
> weapons which were powerful enough to destroy
> entire cities. Although the superpowers' imperial
> hegemony depended upon nuclear weapons, the
> threat of global annihilation made their
> possession increasingly problematic. Two years
> earlier, the USA and Russia had almost blundered
> into a catastrophic war over Cuba. In the bizarre
> logic of the Cold War, the prevention of an
> all-out confrontation between the two blocs
> depended upon the continual growth in the number
> of nuclear weapons held by both sides. In a rare
> moment of lucidity, American analysts invented an
> ironic acronym for this high-risk strategy of
> 'mutually assured destruction': MAD.
>
> Not surprisingly, the propagandists of both sides
> justified the enormous waste of resources on the
> arms race by promoting the peaceful applications
> of the leading Cold War technologies. By the time
> that the 1964 New York World's Fair opened, the
> weaponry of genocide had been successfully
> repackaged into people-friendly products. Nuclear
> power would soon be providing unmetered energy
> for everyone. Space rockets would shortly be
> taking tourists for holidays on the moon. Almost
> all traces of the military origins of these
> technologies had disappeared. Exhibition value
> completely covered up use value.
>
> Like nuclear reactors and space rockets,
> computers had also been developed as Cold War
> weaponry. Using IBM mainframes, the US military
> prepared for nuclear war, organised invasions of
> 'unfriendly' countries, directed the bombing of
> enemy targets, paid the wages of its troops, ran
> complex war games and managed its supply chain.
> Thanks to American taxpayers, IBM became the
> technological leader of the computer industry.
> Despite the corporation's dependence upon
> military contracts, its pavilion was dedicated to
> promoting the sci-fi fantasy of thinking
> machines. Like the predictions of unmetered
> energy and space tourism, the imaginary future of
> artificial intelligence distracted visitors at
> the World's Fair from discovering the original
> motivation for developing IBM's mainframes:
> killing millions of people. The horrors of the
> Cold War present had to be hidden by the marvels
> of the imaginary futures.
>
>
> Cybernetic Supremacy
>
> At the 1964 World's Fair, imaginary futures
> temporarily succeeded in concealing the primary
> purpose of its three iconic technologies from the
> American public. But, as the decades passed, none
> of these predictions were realised. Energy
> remained metered, tourists didn't visit the moon
> and computers never became intelligent. Unlike
> the prescient vision of motoring for the masses
> at the 1939 World's Fair, the prophecies about
> the star technologies of the 1964 exposition
> seemed almost absurd twenty-five years later.
> Hyper-reality had collided with reality - and
> lost.
>
> Like the displays of nuclear reactors and space
> rockets, the computer exhibits at the 1964
> World's Fair also misread the direction of
> technological progress. Yet, there was one
> crucial difference between the collapse of the
> first two prophecies and that of the last one.
> What eventually discredited the predictions of
> unmetered electricity and holidays on the moon
> was their failure to appear over time. In
> contrast, scepticism about the imaginary future
> of artificial intelligence was encouraged by
> exactly the opposite phenomenon: the increased
> likelihood of people having personal experience
> of computers. After using these imperfect tools
> for manipulating information, it was much more
> difficult for them to believe that calculating
> machines could evolve into sentient superbeings.
>
> Despite the failure of its prophecy, IBM suffered
> no damage. In stark contrast with nuclear power
> and space travel, computing was the Cold War
> technology which successfully escaped from the
> Cold War. Right from the beginning, machines made
> for the US military were also sold to commercial
> clients. By the time that IBM built its pavilion
> for the 1964 World's Fair, the imaginary future
> of artificial intelligence had to hide more than
> the unsavoury military applications of computing.
> Exhibition value also performed its classic
> function of concealing the role of human labour
> within production. The invention of computers
> came at an opportune moment for big business.
> During the first half of the twentieth century,
> large corporations had become the dominant
> institutions of the American economy. Henry
> Ford's giant car factory became the eponymous
> symbol of the new social paradigm: Fordism.
>
> Long before the invention of the computer,
> corporations were running an information economy
> with tabulators, typewriters and other types of
> office equipment. However, by the beginning of
> the 1950s, the mechanisation of clerical labour
> had stalled. Increases in productivity in the
> office were lagging well behind those in the
> factory. When the first computers appeared on the
> market, corporate managers quickly realised that
> the new technology offered a solution to this
> pressing problem. The work of large numbers of
> tabulator operators could now be done by a much
> smaller group of people using a mainframe. Even
> better, much more information about many more
> topics could now be collected and processed in
> increasingly complex ways. Managers were masters
> of all that they surveyed.
>
> In Asimov's sci-fi stories, Mr and Mrs Average
> were the owners of robot servants. Yet, when the
> first computers arrived in America's factories
> and offices, this new technology was controlled
> by the bosses not the workers. In 1952, Kurt
> Vonnegut published Player Piano: a sci-fi novel
> which satirised the authoritarian ambitions of
> corporate computing. In his dystopian future, the
> ruling elite had delegated the management of
> society to an omniscient artificial intelligence.
>
> For business executives, this nightmare was their
> daydream. According to the prophets of artificial
> intelligence, the computerisation of clerical
> work was only the first step. When thinking
> machines were developed, mainframes would
> completely replace most forms of administrative
> and technical labour within manufacturing. The
> ultimate goal was the creation of the
> fully-automated workplace. In the imaginary
> future of artificial intelligence, the
> corporation and the computer would be one and the
> same thing. As the US military had already
> fortuitously discovered, machinery could operate
> much more efficiently without any human
> intervention. By building predetermined responses
> into the design, an inanimate weapon acted
> according to 'feed-back' from its environment.
> According to Norbert Wiener, the advent of
> mainframe heralded the remoulding of the whole of
> society in the image of a new technological
> paradigm: cybernetics.
>
> The corporate vision of cybernetic Fordism meant
> forgetting the history of Fordism itself.
> Ironically, since their exhibition value was more
> closely connected to social reality, Democracity
> and Futurama in 1939 provided a much more
> accurate prediction of the development path of
> computing than the IBM pavilion did in 1964. Just
> like motor cars twenty-five years earlier, this
> new technology was also slowly being transformed
> from a rare, hand-made machine into a ubiquitous,
> factory-produced commodity. Like Ford's motor
> cars before them, IBM's mainframes were
> manufactured on assembly-lines. These opening
> moves towards the mass production of computers
> anticipated what would be most important advance
> in this sector twenty-five years later: the mass
> consumption of computers. The imaginary future of
> artificial intelligence was a way of avoiding
> thinking about the likely social consequences of
> this development. As Norbert Wiener himself had
> pointed out, increasing ownership of computers
> was likely to disrupt the existing social order.
> The 'feedback' of information within human
> institutions was most effective when it was
> two-way.
>
> At the 1964 World's Fair, this possibility was
> definitely not part of IBM's imaginary future.
> Rather than aiming to produce large numbers of
> ever smaller and cheaper machines, the
> corporation was convinced that computers would
> always be large and expensive mainframes. If this
> path of technological progress was extrapolated,
> artificial intelligence must surely result. This
> conservative recuperation of cybernetics implied
> that sentient machines would inevitably evolve
> into lifeforms which were more advanced than mere
> humans. The Fordist separation between conception
> and execution would have achieved its
> technological apotheosis.
>
> Not surprisingly, IBM was determined to counter
> this unsettling interpretation of its own
> futurist propaganda. At the 1964 World's Fair,
> the corporation's pavilion emphasised the utopian
> possibilities of computing. Above all, IBM
> promoted a single vision of the imaginary future
> which combined two incompatible interpretations
> of artificial intelligence. If only at the level
> of ideology, the corporations had reconciled the
> class divisions of 1960s America. In the
> imaginary future, workers would no longer need to
> work and employers would no longer need
> employees. The sci-fi fantasy of artificial
> intelligence had successfully distracted people
> from questioning the impact of computing within
> the workplace. After visiting IBM's pavilion at
> the 1964 World's Far, it was all too easy to
> believe that everyone would win when the machines
> acquired consciousness.
>
>
> Inventing New Futures
>
> Forty years later, we're still waiting for the
> imaginary future of artificial intelligence.
> Despite continual advances in hardware and
> software, machines are still incapable of
> 'thinking'. Instead of evolving into thinking
> machines, computers have become consumer goods.
> Room-sized mainframes have shrunk into desktops,
> laptops and mobile phones. Computers are
> everywhere in the modern world - and their users
> are all too aware that they're dumb.
>
> Repeated failure should have discredited the
> imaginary future of artificial intelligence for
> good. The persistence of this fantasy
> demonstrates the continuing importance of
> exhibition value within the computer industry. As
> in the early-1960s, artificial intelligence still
> provides a great cover story for the development
> of new military technologies. Bringing on the
> Singularity seems much more friendly than
> collaborating with American imperialism. Even
> more importantly, this imaginary future continues
> to disguise the impact of computing within the
> workplace. Both managers and workers are still
> being promised technological fixes for
> socio-economic problems. The dream of sentient
> machines makes better media copy than the reality
> of cybernetic Fordism.
>
> Looking back at how earlier versions of the
> prophecy were repeatedly discredited should
> encourage deep scepticism about its contemporary
> iterations. Forty years after the New York
> World's Fair, artificial intelligence has become
> an imaginary future from the distant past. What
> is needed instead is a much more sophisticated
> analysis of the potential of computing. The study
> of history should inform the reinvention of the
> future. Above all, this new image of the future
> should celebrate computers as tools for
> augmenting human intelligence and creativity.
> Exhibition value must give way to use value.
> Praise for top-down hierarchies of control must
> be superseded by the advocacy of two-way sharing
> of information. Let's be inspired and passionate
> about imagining new visions of the better times
> to come.
>
>   Websites
>
> Richard Barbrook and Pit Schultz, 'The Digital
> Artisans Manifesto',
> <www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/theory-digitalartisansmanifesto.html>.
>
> James Bell, 'Exploring the 'Singularity'',
> <www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=3D/articles/art0584.html?
> m%3D1>.
>
> Urso Chappell, 'Expomuseum: World's Fair history,
> architecture and memorabilia', <expomuseum.com>.
>
> Marvin Minsky, 'Steps Towards Artificial
> Intelligence',
> <web.media.edu/~minsky/papers/steps.html>.
>
> Jeffrey Stanton, 'Showcasing Technology at the
> 1964-1965 New York World's Fair',
> <naid.sppsr.ucla.edu/ny64fair/map-docs/technology.htm>.
>
> Books
>
> Isaac Asimov, I, Robot.
>
> Jeffrey Auerbach, The Great Exhibition of 1851: a nation on display.
>
> James Beniger, The Control Revolution:
> technological and economic origins of the
> information society.
>
> Walter Benjamin, 'Paris - the capital of the
> nineteenth century' in Charles Baudelaire: a
> lyric poet in the era of high capitalism.
>
> Richard Thomas DeLamarter, Big Blue: IBM's use and abuse of power.
>
> Editors of Time-Life Books, Official Guide New York World's Fair
> 1964/5.
>
> Exposition Publications, Official Guide Book of the New York World's
> Fair 19=
> 39,
>
> Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition.
>
> Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Dowling, Cold War: for
> 45 years the world held its breath.
>
> Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1: a critique of political economy.
>
> Emerson Pugh, Building IBM: shaping an industry and its technology,.
>
> Herbert Simon, The Shape of Automation for Men  and Management,.
>
> Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano.
>
> Norbert Wiener, The Human Uses of Human Beings: cybernetics and
> society.
>
> Films
>
> Stanley Kubrick, 2001: a space odyssey.
>
> Fred Wilcox, Forbidden Planet.
>
>
> --
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
> Dr. Richard Barbrook,
> School of Media, Arts & Design,
> University of Westminster,
> Watford Road,
> Northwick Park,
> HARROW HA1 3TP.
>
> <www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk>
>
> landline: +44 (0)20 7911 5000 x 4590
>
> mobile: 07879-441873
>
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
> "The future is what it used to be."
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> The HRC is involved in running regular cybersalons in London. If
> you would like to be informed about forthcoming events, you can
> subscribe to a listserver on our website: <www.cybersalon.org>.
>
> #  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
> #  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
> #  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
> #  more info: [log in to unmask] and "info nettime-l" in the msg
> body
> #  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: [log in to unmask]
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