Why ICT is a heinous Crime against Humanity:

(Track four Open Source Conference Statement Notes)

In my view (as a computer artist with 30 years experience) ICT is a pernicious paradigm -the global promotion of which is a heinous crime against humanity.

The following remarks are an attempt to explain why -and perhaps suggest an alternative approach.

1.0  -The difference between "Information" and "Knowledge":

As remarked by speaker Fatima Lasay in the track 4 discussion (social advocacy issues) at the Linux World Philippines Conference (2005) -the difference between "information" and "knowledge" is clearly demonstrated by an X-ray. In this case, there is the "image" which can be easily transmitted electronically -or carried around by the patient -and this represents the level of "information". However, without the skill and knowledge of a doctor who is required to interpret the image -the "information" is meaningless and without value.

As another speaker pointed out -anybody can now buy in the shops a "hackers CD" which provides the automated tools to make various electronic attacks on other people's computer systems. Interestingly, the response was to present a set of "tools" which the user could apply (with equal lack of knowledge) to defend themselves against such attacks.

The result is an absurd case of "electronic war" -in which both attacker and defender are placed in a position of conflict -while (theoretically at least) neither really understands what they are doing -because the process has been automated. How can one be sure, for example, that the maker of the defence system is not also creating the attack system -simply to provide a market for their own products? How can the user be sure that the "defence" system is not really a clever "attack" system?

Knowledge gives power -Information is simply a tool for those with knowledge!

However, even knowledge is useless without the skills which enable us to apply that knowledge in practical and effective ways......

2.0  -The Computer: Automation, Simulation and Information processing:

The current dominant paradigm with regard to the computer focuses on "Information Processing". However, this is really the lowest level within the hierarchy of conceptual models which form the basis for understanding the machine.

Basically we can ask:

 What is a Computer? What does it do -and how does it do it?

  1. What is it? -The Computer as Automaton:

    The first level (what is it) can be answered by stating that a Computer is an Automaton: i.e. a machine that operates on the basis of pre-determined rules.

    This may seem trivial -but in fact, it implies a whole range of important direction-determining fundamental questions involving the nature of these rules and how they relate to what is considered both desirable and practical.

    Before designing any machine we must ask What is it intended to do -how do we intend to do it -and is this a realistic approach.

    If the machine does what it was intended to do -then presumably the designer understands the process -and if it doesn't, then presumably the designer did not understand the iether the problem or the solution properly.

    Because of this -designing an automaton (or an automated process) involvess many philosophical questions (What are we to do and How are we to do it?) but it also contains a practical test of our understanding of the processes involved (does it actually work -without further human intervention?). On one level, the computer is a philosphical laboratory concerned with the mapping between the conceptual epistemological model and the practical ontological consequences.

    This is because automation is primarily about rules, the definition of rules and the consequences of rules.

    To reduce the computer to the level of a practical tool is to take the valuable process of philosophical research and practical learning out of the system.

    When mankind ceases to involve itself with the philosophical aspects of life -then humanity reduces itself to the level of a primitive machine without meaning or purpose.

  2. What does it do? -The Computer as Simulation Machine:

    The original mainstream conceptualisation of the computer was basically in terms of a "Universal Simulation Machine". i.e. a machine which could simulate any conceivable process -so long as that process could be defined in terms of viable machine processes.

    So, on this level we see (once again) the conceptual importance of definitions (of the rules and processes) with regard to the computational process -and the basically "open ended" (infinite) nature of the range of potential applications (that can be simulated by the machine).

    However, in order to understand the true potential power of the concept of "simulation" -one must remember that the thing being simulated need not even exist. If one can describe it -then one can simulate it (and explore it).

    On a more practical level, it is perhaps interesting to note that the development of the text processor was, in fact, a transition from the simulation of a non-existent system into a practical working tool. This sounds mysterious -but in fact it is the basic model for any practical innovation -which at some stage requires the practical realisation of something that has never existed before the moment of its own implementation.

  3. How does it do it? -The Computer as Information Processing Machine:

Basically, a computer is a machine (automaton) that can simulate any process by processing the information that defines or concerns the process being simulated.

In other words -the "information" is defined by the process which is being simulated -but, in turn, this "information" also defines that process. In practice, a word processor processes "words" -while a food processor processes "food".

In practise, the "information" (the stuff being processed) cannot be separated from the "process" which is doing something with it. Both "Information" and "Process" define each other. Trying to put "words" into a food processor is as stupid (and perhaps dangerous) as trying to put "food" into one's beloved word processor.

In other words, It is the "process" which defines the importance and value of "information" -as is demonstrated by the way the doctors knowledge interprets and gives meaning to the "information" in the X-ray photograph. Outside the process of diagnosis (made on the basis of the doctor's knowledge) the "information" which constitutes the X-Ray has no intrinsic (medical) meaning.

3.0  -The "User" and the "Developer":

Clearly, the division on the basis of knowledge (which is apparently the basis of power) between patient and doctor is pretty clear when it comes to the X-Ray.

However, a similar (although poorly understood) division is clearly visible  between the "developer" of a computer application and the "user" of that application.

The "developer" defines and implements not only the "goals" of the system -but also the means of achieving these goals. The developer defines the "information" that the process requires in order to function -and the developer defines how this information is to be processed (used) within the context of that process.

Basically, the "user" can do little except start (and perhaps stop) the process concerned. The actual nature of the process involved (the practical outcome of the process) is entirely in the hands of the developer and is ultimately beyond the control of the user. Although the user may influence some of the outcomes of the process involved -then even this range of freedom has been pre-defined by the developer.

So within any automation process -it is the "developer" who has the power of control over the philosophical process of defining and deciding over the goals and the means of realisation of these goals by the computer programme involved. While the "user" has virtually no power (and no real role) within the process. In time, most "users" can probably be replaced by improvements in the programme (which is basically intended to function without human intervention in the first place).

4.0  -ICT is not a synonym for the Computer:

The current social and economic emphasis on the computer (almost exclusively) in terms of ICT is both baffling and alarming.

Although the computer is fundamentally dynamic (and automatically capable of modifying both its own memory and its own set of processing rules)  -"information" is basically static. Any change in your X-Ray image is generally seen as something undesirable (i.e. a form of degenerative decay which should be prevented if possible). Digitised Films and animations do give the illusion of movement -but, in fact, remain unchanged (unless subject to decay) each time they are played.

However, despite the current focus on static information systems -dynamic game playing for entertainment purposes and scientific and technical computer simulation play an apparently forgotten but still extremely important role in contemporary society.

Not only are games and simulations "dynamic" (i.e contently changing) -they also exhibit a certain amount of autonomy. A thousand football matches may all be played under identical rules -and yet (unlike a film or animation) each time the game is replayed the result is likely to be different.

Through the playing of games and through the experimentation with simulations -we are able to build up skills, knowledge and understanding which may be of practical significance in the real world.

Information generally presents us with fixed structures that can be accepted or rejected but are of little use outside their (specific but often non-specified) context. "Information" is basically concerned with "belief" -because to reject the context is to reject the interpretation -which in turn is a rejection of the "information" itself.

"Simulation", on the other hand, allows us to explore and play with the definitions that construct both existing and non-existing worlds. By exploring these definitions and their consequences we can explore both our dreams for the future and the present day realities that limit these dreams.

Perhaps this explains the current reactionary and disenfranchising focus on ICT -simply because the ICT paradigm prevents us from questioning the system.

5.0  -The Power of Simulation:

While ICT creates a hierarchy of dependencies based on the exploitation of ignorance by the knowledgeable -Simulation provides the exploratory techniques through which we can explore the (real or imaginary) worlds around us -in order to gain understanding.

However, "simulation" is also the (invisible and poorly understood) link between science, technology, art and culture.

For many artists, it is quite amazing to see how so many people find it self-evident that one needs a qualified doctor to interpret an X-ray -while finding it equally self-evident that one needs no specialised knowledge to understand a work of art. One wonders what evidence there is that might support or disprove these ideas.

For the author, it is completely self-evident that all forms of art are "simulations" of situations and ideas concerning real or imagined systems which are of concern to the artist..... just as much scientific experiment is done by scientists who wish to explore various abstract and concrete (mathematical or physical) concepts and interrelationships which are of significance to them.

The author finds it impossible to understand why scientific experiment is generally regarded as being of great social value -while artistic and cultural experiment (or practise, if deviating from mainstream norms) is reduced to the level of meaningless "entertainment".

6.0  -The need to Redefine "computer Literacy":

Clearly, within any "automated system" it is the developer and not the user who holds all the power.

True, the publication of the source code (in which the process is expressed) does enable the "user" to share a part of the "developer's" power by being given access to the definitions, assumptions and processes implicit within the programme.

However, there is little point in publishing source code if nobody can read it....

...and, unless the "user" bothers to write their own code, the "user" will always be in a position subservient to the "developer".

On the other hand, there is little point in teaching everybody computer programming skills -unless they are also helped to gain the skills required for problem analysis and conceptual modelling. Skills which would allow them (and others) to generate and explore the potential of various alternative conceptual approaches. Approaches which are currently outside accepted practise but might later form the basis for successful social, technical, economic and/or cultural innovation if allowed to develop and mature despite their apparent initial impracticability.

7.0  -The Way Forward?

In my view, in order to move on to a truly non-exploitative use of automated systems we shall need to understand and accept the following points:

-The ICT paradigm is basically pernicious and socially destructive because it denies the value of the procedural context through the pretence that "information" has some intrinsic (context free) value outside the specific interpretive system that creates (and exploits) the "information" involved.

-By focusing on "that which is processed" without questioning the contextual nature, need and consequences of the process involved -ICT is fundamentally fascistoid and disenfranchising in nature.

-If human society is not to be enslaved by the commercial exploitation of automated systems then it must concern itself with the "high - level" (abstract) definitions on which these systems are based.

-On the highest level, the computer is not a "technical" system -it is a linguistic and philosophical modelling machine. It is learning to understand the machine on this level (and not on the lowest level of information processing) that offers the potential for exploiting the computer as a medium for the development of knowledge and power -as opposed to a tool for economic and mental enslavement.

-If we are to learn to think in practical but creative ways which are currently "outside the box" but may later prove to pave the way for important innovatory solutions for contemporary problems -then we shall need to understand better the importance of conceptual diversity and the way "defining the box" has an essential role in suggesting ways of escaping the limitations currently being created by that "box".

 Trevor Batten,
 September 18 2005

Space as Language (Metamorphology)

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