Re: [-empyre-] nodes of transgression?

Hi Barbara,

Fascinating questions. Let me address them in-line.

On May 9, 2004, at 9:58 PM, Barbara Lattanzi wrote:

Why do computers get to have all the fun (of "forging new connections", of "acting" with a "mind of [its] own", of making "fascinating decisions")?

Ooh, they don't! In liken, it is a truly collaborative process. It's true, when a new comment is posted, liken uses pattern matching to suggest a few links. Of course, all of these seemingly-creative link suggestions are the pure result of a statistical analysis that I set up. But this is the only time that liken gets to "create" anything.

The more interesting aspects of liken are that these suggested links grow stronger or fade away based on use, which is a direct result of our users, not computers. Also, humans in liken have the ability to add new [paths/connections] at any time by clicking on a word within a text; if a path is not already established between the current node and the word you clicked on, a new path will transparently be set up. Those paths are actually the majority of liken's connections, so humans are directly responsible for most of the pathways in liken.

When you replied
liken was conceived of as a tool for performing exactly these tasks

But check out what I say after that sentence. I really do believe liken has a mind of its own, but I have to make a crucial distinction here; when I talk about liken, I'm not referring to a computer application, and I don't think it's fruitful for people to view it as such. Liken is an emergent biomechanical neural network in which 90% of the calculations are done by human brains during the course of [navigating/contributing to] a body of information. Liken is a metaorganism that draws on the minds of all of its users. This is what I mean when I say it has a mind of its own; not that the server it sits on is somehow intelligent and autonomous, but rather that our users form a kind of collective mind that sometimes seems to have its own personality. Which I think it downright common when groups of people get together.

this statement makes me wonder how can transgression possibly figure into liken? Is it accurate to say, instead, that liken aspires to be scalable enough to swallow in one gulp any critique necessary for "disruption"?

Absolutely not. Instead, think of liken as scalable enough to allow for almost any level of criticism. The ability to handle critique was actually a core goal of the system. Using the XML description of liken's resources, you can create an entirely new interface or representation of liken without any help whatsoever from us. criticalartware looks forward to the day when someone creates a critical liken interface as a way to express their concerns.

In addition, we decided early on to avoid any kind of peer-based "moderation," which in my view always creates a certain idea of what's "acceptable," and quickly extinguishes most dissenting views or creative critiques. So as a result, you're free to post your critique, "disruptive" or not, anywhere on liken.

However, we do take measures to make sure that the site remains usable. For example, recently a user created two nodes, "and" and "ing" which meant that any time the letters "and" or "ing" appeared anywhere in liken, they would link to those nodes. The nodes themselves were freely-editable likis contained dictionary entries for "and" and "ing." Clearly this was a sort of "test" and possibly critique of our linking/naming system. After thinking about it for a while, I left "and" because "and" is a binary logical operator that has at least some bearing on our discussion, and shortened the dictionary entry. I changed "ing" to "ing (suffix)" because for the time being, ing is just a word ending.

Isn't your desire to make liken "have its own unique creativity" problematic in relation to those who see software as ideologically-inflected as any human artifact? (I am thinking of Matt Fuller's writings about software, for example).

If software acts with a mind of its own and I am simply feeding it raw material for its generative state, is there any point beyond Ludditism to be made if I go and grab a hammer?

I think if you reexamine these sentiments with the idea of liken as a social computer rather than a silicon computer, you'll have different feelings about it. From my perspective, liken is not in any way generative; it operates only on material entered into it by humans, and its only output is a record of how humans interact with that material.

That being said, liken could operate as the foundation for any number of 3rd party generative applications; as Ken Fields demonstrated, its output can easily generate a soundscape. What makes these possibilities interesting to me is that rather than using random numbers or arbitrary data as their input, liken-aware generative programs would be using relevant critical discourse as their input. This conceptual shift -- from viewing generative apps as "working on their own" to the idea that generative apps could serve as both a topic of discussion and a novel lens through which to [view/comment on/critique] the discussion -- at least peaks my interest.

I have absolutely no personal interest in random numbers generating pretty [pictures/sounds]. It seems retro.

Dan Sandin's Image Processor was developed at a historical moment that made its politics as legible as its aesthetics to those who used it. Correspondingly, I would like to hear how you and the criticalartware team might characterise the contemporary political dimension of your project.

Absolutely! I don't want to become the spokesman for criticalartware, but I think we try to make our collective politics pretty clear -- if you look at our "ReadMe," I think our own particular politics come through. That being said, we stay fairly agnostic on a lot of technological politics to avoid coloring the discourse too heavily. I think in the current context, it's rather radical to tell [new media/artware] artists that what they're doing has precedent, history and existing discussion. A lot of artists are under the delusion that what they're doing is so groundbreaking and fundamentally different that we have to come up with new language to even talk about it, which gets us fighting mad.

jonCates is fond of the Lenin quote, "Everything is connected" (or the longer "Everything is connected to everything else"), and I think that describes perhaps the most radical political aspect of liken itself (and perhaps criticalartware as a whole). That may not sound very radical in those terms, but the implications that total and automatic interconnection has are astounding.

As an example, anyone who has spent any time in the United States can easily see how reality is warped in the news media (particularly TV news). Important stories go undiscussed in favor of sensationalist moments in less-important stories, certain questionable ways of [thinking/reasoning] are now codified as ideal, claims are made about being "unbiased" or "balanced" while clear opinions are taken and stated implicitly, and short-term memory always wins out over long-term memory of the larger context. If these organizations were subject to total and automatic interconnection, they would not be able to so easily bend the truth to fit an entertainment format. Incorrect or incomplete information is hard to get away with in a scenario like that.

Imagine I post a message to liken that says "Dan Sandin never published his plans for the Image Processor." False statements of this nature are often made by the press and individuals, and they're sometimes honest oversights due to insufficient research or outright mistakes. However, in liken, you can easily click on Dan Sandin, click on the link to the Image Processor, and go straight to his distribution philosophy (and maybe even the plans themselves) to see that he did indeed publish/distribute the plans. Seeing that, you can comment on the original message.

liken provides a hostile climate for [mis/dis]information, while simultaneously providing a fertile climate for informed [debate/discourse/expression], and that is truly radical.

- ben

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