hol'n wir uns den Himmel auf Erden.
Alles soll besser werden,
hol'n wir uns den Himmel auf Erden.
Alles wird besser werden,
wir holen uns den Himmel auf Erden.
a glimpse of the FIS 2013 (International Conference on the Foundations of Information Science) in Moscow, 21 – 24 May. it was the first conference organised in the framework of ISIS (International Society for Information Studies). its topic was education for the new millennium.
a small present from Austria to the parting president of ISIS, Konstantin Kolin, Institute of Informatics Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences (left), from the new president.
there must be fun: from Beijing to Moscow. the FIS conference in Beijing 2010 (“Towards a new science of information“) paved the way for the establishment of ISIS. in the middle, Robert Jahn, ISIS Secretary General, flanked by Kang Ouyang, Social Information Science Institute in Wuhan, on the left, who organised the Beijing conference with the help of Zong-Rong Li, now professor at the department of psychology at te same university, on the right; sitting on the floor: Nick Zakharov, Shakespeare connoisseur, in charge of the Moscow Local Organizing Committee.
the serious side of life: from Beijing to Moscow to Vienna 2015. ISIS officers and Secretary General from left to right: Kang Ouyang, Past President; Konstantin Kolin, Immediate Past President; myself, President; Pedro C. Marijuán (Bioinformation Group, Zaragoza; FIS – Foundations of Information Science), Vice-President for Protocol; and Robert Jahn.
during a visit to the Neue Synagoge in Berlin – at least, to what is left. second from the right, physicist Werner Ebeling whom i had the pleasure to meet since long. he was one of the reviewers of my habilitation (photo: Peter Kühn).
on the occasion of the 150th birthday of Vladimir I. Vernadsky, the Leibniz-Sozietät der Wissenschaften convoked a conference together with several other scientific societies (see the programme and the abstracts). it took place in Berlin on 15th march 2013.
the title was programmatic: in english, “from the mineral to the noosphere”. by that it was an attempt to bridge the divide between natural and social sciences. this is exactly what Vernadsky tried. his idea was that humankind is a geological force as the biosphere is with regard to our planet. that’s why for him a noosphere is in the making which penetrates the biosphere (and the geosphere). interestingly, though he was a naturalist by education and profession, he did not commit the so-called naturalistic fallacy. that is, he did not reduce the noogenesis to, say, biological factors as many of today’s materialistic scientists are still used to doing. the noogenesis is rather due to human labour and human science and human technology, all of which are not ideational factors appearing like deus ex machina either – the culturalistic fallacy. in systems language of today, they pertain to the organisational relations humans produce through interaction and which, in turn, channel their actions when doing their metabolism via the detour of society. Vernadsky was not a a system theorist. however, his idea is implicitly system theoretical.
anyway, given this great idea, one question mark remains: is noogenesis already irreversible? does it not mean that societies have to reorganise such that they develop along a sustainable path? aren’t we still in a transition phase? is it not the case that despite all achievements of civilisation we might face exterminism as the majority of prehuman species did?
(my slides are available under “presentations“.)
yesterday it was in the news. two out of six initiatives won the qualification of a “future emerging technologies flagship” by the european union. one billion of euros are to be expected for each. congrats to those who won, including austrian participants in both.
however, i’m rather concerned about one proposal being not elected: the “futurict” proposal. it’s about icts (information and communication technologies) supporting cognition, communication and co-operation for a better future of humanity – at least, that proposal would have been open for that. for me, it’s clear that the possible impact of research in those fields that won the competition (modelling the human brain activity and the nano material project graphen) will be punctual only, whereas icts will nolens volens change our lives on a much larger scale.
the question is: will icts do the change by economy-driven innovations only that you never needed or by thoughtful deliberations on how to create meaningful technologies for making earth a better place to live in?
a kammeroper in 17 bildern by Kristine Tornquist and Gernot Schedlberger. the premiere of the chamber opera was performed in Vienna. (see, e.g., here.)
this piece of art is a wonderful trigger to think about the world we want to live in. the story reads like an allegory of the history of humanity. MarieLuise is a pair of conjoined twins. they are specialists of the “we”. they live in symbiosis. they share their body and are regardful to each other. it’s the best world they can think of. when confronted with single-bodied humans in the here and now – a world that is governed by farcical self-regarding individuals – they fail to mainatin their unity. Kristine Torquist calls it “the big bang of human history: the parting with symbiosis” (my translation). the dissociation is carried out by the surgical dissection of the twins. Luise can live autonomously only at the cost of Marie’s death. “how deaf and silent is the night”, says Luise then, “whom shall i tell”. “if it is only me now, it is not me anymore” (my translations).
the story plays with math and theory of swarms (not always in a correct way) to deal with an emergent whole. the whole is not the sum of parts, it can thus be broken into pieces only.
it’s true: humanity lives in one, single spaceshuttle. for good or for evil the parts have grown dependent on each other like in the case of the siamese twins. parochialism can lead to exterminism. what is needed now, however, is not a u-turn to siamese fusion, to pre-civilisational tribalism, but a transformation of civilisation into an emergent world society that takes the state of self-regardedness we have reached so far as point of departure. we need to make the most of it in that we take for granted the true and best interests of any compartment of the whole. what these true and best interests are has to be deliberated freely. and for sure, it will not work without cuts. cuts need to be made where short-sighted interests can’t be pursued in the long run because the whole is at stake and with it each single part.
i’m not sure whether or not that’s the message that the author intended. at least, that’s what came to my mind.
hurrah. it is out now. just finding its way to the book sellers will take some more time, the publisher said. that’s why the book’s official publishing date is 2013. though, except, substantially, for the definition of the term “system”, the manuscript dates back to march 2011. it’s also available as ebook (see here).
podium on the special issue of the Zeitschrift für Semiotik dedicated to Georg Klaus. on the left Roland Posner, TU Berlin (photo: Arne Fellien)
the Leibniz-Sozietät der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Kybernetik and the University of Applied Sciences (Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft) Berlin invited in the beginning of december to a two-days scientific meeting on the occasion of the 100th birthday of Georg Klaus. Georg Klaus, in the german-speaking west known as co-editor of the 3 volumes rororo-paperback “marxistisch-leninistisches wörterbiuch der philosophie”, was philosopher in the GDR. he had tried to introduce cybernetics in his country. Ulbricht supported his ideas, but Honecker did not. interestingly, it came to my mind that at the very same time when Klaus seemed to propagate a use of cybernetics like Lenin had done regarding modern capitalist production methods in the early Soviet Union, Ludwig von Bertalanffy was a critic of the contemporary inhumane use of cybernetics in western countries.
Klaus also worked in the field of semiotics as well as informatics (about the information concept and about computers) besides logic.
here a link to a well-informed article to which Sebastian Sevignani drew my attention, a link to an article by Karl-Heinz Bernhardt, and a link to an article by Michael Eckardt; here the programme of the meeting (all in german).
attendees of the meeting ” Kybernetik, Informatik, Logik und Semiotik” on the second day (photo: Arne Fellien)
an argument for german reading people only. follow that link.
the austrian computer society OCG celebrated the 100th birthday of Alan Turing with a discussion between Reinhard Posch, among many functions “chief information officer” of the Austrian government, and philosopher Herbert Hrachovec, moderated by professor emeritus Günter Haring, both University of Vienna. the event did neither shed light on Turing’s ideas (Haring said what Turing really wanted will remain an enigma) nor on the importance of those ideas for today. Hrachovec eventually closed the gap to technology-accepter Posch when concluding that once you have no means to make distinctions the object collapses to one and only one. nobody recalled Joseph Weizenbaum’s concern about ELIZA. it was Peter Paul Sint whose intervention offered a solution to the Turing test: move your body and have a look at the room next door: there you will see whether you communicated to a computer or a person.
when flying back from Uppsala i had the pleasure to read in the newspaper Robert Menasse’s polemics against restrictions of universal access to university education. here’s the link. Menasse is a well-known writer in Austria. he belongs to my generation and he speaks, so to say, from the bottom of my heart. those restrictions applied and planned are just another step towards the total subsumption of the commons under capitalist rule.
the ICTs-and-Society Network flourishes. 500 colleagues from different fields have signed up since Christian Fuchs and me founded the network in 2008. the conference in Uppsala had about 200 submissions (only 100 could be accepted for presentation), several keynotes and more than 150 attendees, mostly young researchers. the conference was significantly supported by the Swedish Research Council. Christian has done a good job.
Christian Fuchs (photo: CDP21)
the conference was focused in a double respect: first, thematically, on social media; and, second, on the perspective taken – social critique was encouraged.
the discussions proved that social media are ambiguous. they have, as some like to pretend, an “angelic” or a “demonic” side (Andrew Feenberg). they exploit users for the sake of commerce or they foster self-organisation of civil society groups. the conclusion? because of their ambivalence it needs a discourse on how to design them.
Mark Andrejevic and Andrew Feenberg in the closing panel (photo: CDP21)
a glimpse on various topics, research questions and messages i had the chance to listen to:
the use of social media poses a variety of problems to activism, said Thomas Poell who carries out studies on that at the University of Amsterdam. Sebastian Sevignani, a former student of mine in Salzburg, dissected the liberal ideology as foundation of “privacy” and pleaded for a re-definition of the term.
Sebastian Sevignani among his Salzburg phd colleagues Verena Kreilinger (left) and Thomas Allmer (right), all members of the UTI Research Group (photo: CDP21)
Pieter Verdegem, Ghent University, contrasted Facebook with diaspora and asked whether or not the latter manifests communist principles. Alistair Duff’s new book applied Rawls’s idea of justice as fairness to the realm of information, whereas Anthony Hoffmann who does his phd at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee critiqued Rawls’s basic notions as idealistc abstractions that are not apt to deal with ICTs. László Ropolyi, Eötvös University in Budapest, saw current postmodernity as transitional phase towards a fundamental change of social life through the internet and its successors.
László Ropolyi (photo: CDP21)
Oman Sultan Quaboos University department of mass communication staff member Hosni Mohamed Nasr who made his phd at Cairo University assessed FaceBook as proper instrument for the articulation of long-standing protests of urban youth in Egypt. Lorenzo Coretti from UK analysed the reasons why the Facebook supported anti-Berlusconi movement could not sustain.
not to forget Marisol Sandoval, another student from Salzburg, a stipendiate of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who presented her dissertation work i am supervising. it’s about corporate social responsibility in the new media industry.
Marisol Sandoval, another member of the UTI Research Group, talking with Christian (photo: CDP21)
a considerable number of keynote speakers are known as proponents of critical theory rooted in Marx. though many marxist analysts bemoan the loss of the revolutionary subject – the proletariat – through processes of differentiation, Nick Dyer-Witheford convincingly argued that on the global level, driven by the search for cheap labour, the transnational corporations have been evolving a “Weltgesamtarbeiter”, a planetary general worker who serves as body of Marx’s general intellect.
Nick Dyer-Witheford at the wine reception (left: Christian Christensen, professor in the same department as Christian Fuchs) (photo: CDP21)
for me Marx is back because the digital enclosure (Mark Andrejevic) addresses the question of information as commons (Graham Murdock). it was Slavoj Zizek who, some years ago, inspired me to rethink the enclosure of the commons. Zizek talks about the information commons, about the environment, about the human body as commons which are endangered and about a number of social dislocations that exclude members of society from commons. i would prefer another categorisation. isn’t commons everything that is commonly produced by the members of society? isn’t commons the ultimate reason of society? isn’t it the synergetic effects human agents seek when socialising in a social system? accordingly, i would suggest to speak of commons with regard to the following systems:
– the commons of science and technology (“productive forces”), needed as instrument for intervening in the world, with regard to the technological infrastructure system;
– the commons of human nature and the natural “environment”, both needed for life-support, with regard to the eco-system;
– the commons of economic resources, needed for preserving oneself as member of society, with regard to the economic system;
– the commons of the public sphere, needed to participate in decision-making on the circumstances of social life, with regard to the political system;
– the commons of the pool of values, shared by the community, needed to be accepted as member of the community, with regard to the cultural system;
each system being a system of praxis more general than the one before such that a kind of specification hierarchy is formed. aren’t we sort of excluded from each of these commons? aren’t there struggles going on in any of the systems for recapturing the commons and for fighting the alienation that ensues from the exclusion?
however, the most important point i want to make is the following – and, unfortunately, it was not sufficently stressed at that conference –: isn’t there a connection between the need to design social media, the need to recapture the commons and the need to provide conditions for civilisation to be able to go on? this is my ceterum censeo: the discussion about designing social media is meaningless unless we understand that civilisation requires another regime of accessing and using the commons not just for ensuring progress in humanity but first and foremost in order to guarantee the continuation of civilised life on earth at all! (and it seems that systems thinking should not be underestimated for the task to understand that!)
the plenary session entitled “towards a Global Sustainable Information Society: Information Society Studies and Digital Media Ethics Today”, chaired by Christian Christensen (left), where i presented my talk: Gunilla Bradley, me and Charles Ess (photo: CDP21)