The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and the New AI (MIT Press)

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Emerging Technology Bibliography | The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity

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Symbiotic AI: Creating an AI with Human Level Experience - Thad Starner - MIT 2019

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Emerging Technology Bibliography

Essential Readings in Biosemiotics edited by Donald Favareau. Explaining the Computational Mind by Marcin Milkowksi. Dennett, Clarendon Press, Oxford, Interaktionistischer Konstruktivismus. Zur Systemtheorie der Sozialisation by Tilmann Sutter. Mathematics and Reality by Mary Leng.

The Allure of Machinic Life

Mind in life. Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind by Evan Thompson, Models as Make-Believe by Adam Toon. Music and Consciousness edited by David and Erik Clarke. Oxford University Press, Oxford, Neocybernetics and Narrative by Bruce Clarke. Non-dualistische Medientheorie.

Immersion Into Noise

Eine philosophische Grundlegung by Stefan Weber, Schmidt, The symbolic order begins with the circulation of speech and Lacan considers, according to cybernetics contribution, that symbolic realm has its own dynamic which has nothing to do with consciousness. Then " the machine is the structure detached from the activity of the subject.

The symbolic world is the world of the machine ". Thanks to cybernetics, Lacan managed to isolate what governs the operation and role of the symbolic order. By showing the possibility of encoding sequences of symbols articulating presence with absence, he could interpret the specific logic that regulates human existence. He showed that symbolic order always exists in tension with the imaginary order. He realized that since many human activities are computational, the cybernetic machine does not only exist outside of us, and human being assumes an in-mixing of many kinds of information processing machines.

He thus accepted the challenge that cybernetics posed to human boundaries. Even though providing a fruitful interpretation, Lacan theory is insufficient to analyze these boundaries disturbances.

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Johnston needs " to go beyond the concept of symbolic as an abstract machine, which comes from mathematics and formal science, in order to input universality and deep structure to phenomena that seem neither wholly universal nor historical, neither wholly natural, nor cultural ". In order to go beyond Lacan in-mixing, Johnston then refers to Deleuze and Guattari who relocate subjects and machines on an expansive surface the socius. Their theory of the assemblage links humans and machines in a concrete set-up of connections that ensures both the coding and decoding of flux of matter, energy and signs.

Assemblages are not simply historical constructions. They are guided by an abstract machine that DeLanda considers as equivalent to attractors or bifurcations. This leads Deleuze and Guattari to postulate the existence of a machinic phylum which cuts across the opposition between human and nonhuman, and suggests a conjunction between the organic and the nonorganic, a form of "life" that combines properties of both.


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The opening of the assemblage to non signifying flows of mater and energy leads Deleuze and Guattari to the notion of nonorganic life. In the machinic phylum, contrary to the hylomorphic model, matter appears to be active and exhibits this hidden kind of life. According to Johnston, computers and computational methods open a new window onto the machinic phylum. Deleuze and Guattari elaborated what Johnston calls a machinic philosophy and he shows that an articulation of the central concept of this philosophy assemblage with complexity theory provides the assemblage missing causal framework explaining assemblages' evolutions.

By interpreting Deleuze and Guattari theory in the light of computational assemblage, Johnston proposes " to define and situate different kinds of information machines and their discourses ".

New forms of Artificial Life ALife can then be interpreted in this extended vision of assemblage theory and nonorganic life. The second part Machinic Life is devoted to a broad vision of ALife. According to Kant, " A machine possesses only motive force, not formative force. A product of nature is an organized being that has within it formative force, and a formative force that this being imparts to the kinds of matter that lack it thereby organizing them. What all machines thus lack is natural purpose, machines exist only for the sake of the other ".

Works on cellular automata, the first steps of ALife notably with the underline of the importance of the recursive generation , the link between life, self-organization and the "edge of chaos", and the emergence of the concept of autopoiesis, all these evolutions contributed to the apparition of self-organized and self-reproducing machines.

In this context, ALife and autopoieis lead to a double inversion: non organic machines become quasi organic and organisms become autopoietic machines.

With this new extension of the machinic phylum, the opposition between machines and organisms has become " a nexus from which new conceptual possibilities and technologies are rapidly emerging ". The following chapter Digital Evolution and the Emergence of Complexity deals with those fascinating virtual universes populated with evolving creatures, like Tierra, Avida or Amoeba which were so impressive that Thomas Ray, the creator of Tierra, wrote a provocative paper entitled " How I Created Life in a Virtual Universe ".

Johnson shows in this chapter that despite real success, these universes proved to quickly reach their limits, notably because of their inability to embed open-ended evolution. The next generation of virtual universes, like Taylor's Cosmos, try to go further by unifying the universe content and the creature composition, attempting to obtain Pattee's semantic closure, but a lot of works remain to be done before obtaining significant results and new directions in ALife research like Ackley ccr or Rasmussen wet ALife are to be promoted.

Johnston - through a well built brief history and numerous examples - shows that in an evolving technical environment, AI with the jerky relations between "classical" symbolic AI and connectionism and cognitive science jointly evolved during the last 50 years, and that this co-evolution can be interpreted as the consequence of their belonging to a unique driving force: the computational assemblage.

This new AI gathers multi-agents systems, like ants colony or swarms, and the new robotics symbolized by Rodney Brook works. The new AI is first of all based on embodiment and situatedness, so joining Varela cognitive science concept of enaction.