Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

Blog and project archive about transdisciplinary design, media theory and creative coding

International Flusser Lecture, by Alan N. Shapiro

No Comments »
On July 10, 2012, I gave the International Flusser Lecture at the University of the Arts in Berlin.

Related to this lecture, a small book by me in German will be published in the International Flusser Lecture series by the Walther Koenig Verlag.


Fokus Medientheorie

UdK Berlin

Fakultät Gestaltung

Mit einem Festvortrag von Alan Shapiro

Software of the Future, or the Model precedes the Real
/ International Flusser Lecture

10. Juli 18 Uhr
Medienhaus (Aula)

Prof. Dr. Siegfried Zielinski & Eckhard Fürlus

Prof. Dr. Michael Bollé

Mit dem Auslaufen der Diplomstudiengänge Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftskommunikation und Visuelle Kommunikation an der UdK Berlin werden wir an diesem Abend diejenigen Studierenden feierlich verabschieden, die in den vergangenen zwei Jahren mit einem medientheoretischen Fokus ihr Diplom gemacht haben.

Zur Eröffnung der Veranstaltung wird der New Yorker Kultautor und Programmierer Alan Shapiro („Star Trek”, 2004) einen Festvortrag halten, worüber wir uns besonders freuen. Professor Shapiro ist insbesondere mit seinen herausragenden Veröffentlichungen zur technologisierten Gegenwart und Zukunft einem breiten Publikum bekannt geworden. Im Anschluss werden die Diplomarbeiten der anwesenden Graduierten vorgestellt.

Wir freuen uns auf zahlreiches Publikum!

Here are some brief excerpts from the English version of the book:

Software of the Future, or The Model Precedes the Real
by Alan N. Shapiro

Opening Remarks

I want to thank Professor Dr. Siegfried Zielinski, the Vilem Flusser Archive, and the Institute for Time-Based Media at the Department of Design of the Berlin University of the Arts here in Berlin, Germany for inviting me to speak about my work in futuristic design, specifically my work on the Software of the Future. For the last ten years, I have been coming to Berlin about 2 or 3 times a year, and being here makes me think about the heroic act of intercultural friendship of the Berlin Airlift from June 27, 1948 to May 12, 1949, when the United States Air Force and the British Royal Air Force, in response to the Berlin Blockade implemented by the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union, flew more than 270,000 flights over the territory of the former East Germany, bringing lifesaving supplies to the West Berliners after the Soviets blocked off goods transport and delivery access via roads, railways, and canals. Not only were the people of West Berlin threatened with possible starvation, but they were in danger of falling under the social-political-economic-cultural control of the totalitarian Stalinist system, which would have happened if the Berlin Airlift had not taken place, since the only remaining source of food and fuel would have been from the Russians.

Today I will speak about my ideas for “the Software of the Future.” An alternative title for this lecture is “the Model Precedes the Real.” I teach and write and research on many subjects. My methodology is transdisciplinary. Transdisciplinarity is not the same thing as interdisciplinarity. Recently I had a fruitful conversation with Horst Hörtner, the director of the Ars Electronica FUTURELAB in Linz, Austria, about the trans-disciplinary project of bringing together art, science, philosophy and fiction in creative projects to come. I think that interdisciplinarity in itself is insufficient, because interdisciplinarity implies that what is required to move knowledge forward is merely dialogue and cooperation among the existing disciplines or academic-scientific fields of knowledge. My position is rather that the knowledge of different disciplines should first be brought together, and then a project of deep rethinking of everything should take place, leading, among other things, to a new classification system of knowledge. When this rethinking happens, then the whole will be much greater than the sum of the parts. We will experience a “supernova explosion of new knowledge,” as I have called it in my book Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance. In other words, we will get to new knowledge far beyond what we would achieve merely by combining the knowledge of different fields in an additive way: in algebra, f(x + y) = f(x) + f(y), or in number theory,  f(ab) = f(a) + f(b).

But my most important project is the invention of a New Computer Science, the conceptualization and implementation of a more advanced kind of software than that which presently exists. This work is primarily about the connection between two fields of knowledge: the Semiotics of Objects and Software Development. In doing this research, I bring together my many years of studying Media-Theory-Slash-Cultural-Theory and my many years of experience as a practicing Software Developer. I am taking the kind of analysis that Jean Baudrillard made in his 1968 book The System of Objects (and in his theory of Objects in his later works), and that Gilbert Simondon made in his 1958 book On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, and bringing this kind of analysis into Computer Science.

The existing paradigm of software is “Subject-Centered” (the study of the philosophy of deconstruction of Jacques Derrida has prepared me to see this): the programmer is in control, and the program, passive-docile-and-machine-like, carries out his instructions. What we need is a new paradigm of software that focuses on “the Software Objects”, that gives “Power to the Objects.” In fact, this paradigm shift in the direction of Objects has already halfway taken place with the so-called “Object-Oriented Analysis, Design and Programming” (one might also call this “process-oriented”) that has prevailed in academic Computer Science and in the software industry since about 1990. But the shift towards the Objects needs to be radicalized much further. Ideas from media-theory-and-cultural-theory – more specifically, from the Semiotics of Objects and the Semiotics of Design – need to be brought to the table.

New Computer Science, New Mathematics

Where does the New Computer Science stand in relation to the prevailing Software Development paradigm of Object-Orientation (UML, C++, Java, etc.) ? The New Computer Science both respects and radicalizes Object-Orientation. Object-Orientation is an essential prerequisite to the New Computer Science. Yet Object-Orientation has the limitation that it has continued mainly to be a technical practice, stuck in the binary opposition between technique and culture. Yet in many important books on Object-Orientation, it becomes more and more evident that the Design Patterns that are formalized as technical patterns also describe contemporary cultural realities. We will build a cultural perspective directly into the design of the New Computer Science, which will be an extension of  Object-Orientation. For us, there is no wall between technique and culture.

The Software Instance or Software Object is the piece of executable code that is the primary entity of Computer Science, either in Object-Orientation or in the New Computer Science. Make a livelier and more powerful Software Instance. Change the Software Instance at its inception, and you will have a New Computer Science. Change the Software Instance at its inception, and you will have radically pragmatic Artificial Life, not some fanciful pie in the sky.

We need a new technique that augments the inheritance mechanism of Object-Orientation. In addition to inheritance, we will have analogies or resemblance between the Software Instance and the “blueprint” software classes which furnish the possibilities of what the Instance can do. The highest-order analogy, defining the base of operations of this subsystem, is the idea of the Software Instance having a choice, having existentialist freedom, rather than being determined by available template attributes and data. Choice is inaugurated by Incompleteness. Incompleteness is inaugurated by Choice. Choice is inaugurated by the Möbius Twist and the Aleph Operator. Incompleteness is at the foundation of the architecture of a radicalized Object-Oriented class inheritance hierarchy. Whereas Descartes and Leibniz (before Gilles Deleuze wrote about Leibniz) in the seventeenth century wanted to deduce a system of knowledge starting from a few certainties (an axiom-based system), WE WILL START WITH INCOMPLETENESS (integrated at an axiomatic level).

The Aleph Operator operates on a playing field where Choice is offered to the Instance. Create the Möbius Twist on the “50 Yard Line” (American Football) of the playing field. Create two types of Incompleteness: the Gap and the Jump. These are two potentials, both operated on by the Aleph Operator. The Gap and the Jump both cross the playing field on which Incompleteness becomes visible; they generate two collapsed waveforms. The energies of the potentials (the Gap and the Jump) relate to the energy of the event to be roused into awakeness, leaving the Epsilon Energy attributable only to the Aleph Operator. Plus a little bit of Epsilon Energy is required to keep the two events of the Gap and the Jump separate when they materialize into Euclidean space-time. The Möbius Twist is realized by unrealized Choice. In a given Quantum Potential Field, a semantic horizon can be drawn yielding an “up” or a “down.”

[The ideas expressed in the two preceding paragraphs owe a lot to my mathematician friend Alexis Clancy.]

The Object-Oriented way of programming software is already halfway the breakthrough that we need in AI – Software Objects that are free from the control of the programmer. This is what you see in the French philosophy that I’m interested in. Thinkers like Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze and Baudrillard, basically they are making a critique of Rene Descartes, who developed the Cartesian method that is subject-centered. And what the French postmodern philosophy is all about is that there’s something wrong with the subject being in control of the world. That’s why nature is being destroyed, that’s why men think they’re superior to women, that’s why humans think they’re superior to animals, that’s why Europe and America think they’re superior to the Third and Fourth Worlds and that’s why we took Africans as slaves and destroyed Native American cultures – because of this arrogance of the subject.

Leave a Reply