essay research

precollection essay research

possible themes





start: themes

cyborg / man-machine

(from: wikipedia) A cyborg (short for "cybernetic organism") is a being with both organic and biomechatronic body parts. The term was coined in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline. The term cyborg is not the same thing as bionic, biorobot or android; it applies to an organism that has restored function or enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology that relies on some sort of feedback. While cyborgs are commonly thought of as mammals, including humans, they might also conceivably be any kind of organism. D. S. Halacy's Cyborg: Evolution of the Superman in 1965 featured an introduction which spoke of a "new frontier" that was "not merely space, but more profoundly the relationship between 'inner space' to 'outer space' – a bridge...between mind and matter." In popular culture, some cyborgs may be represented as visibly mechanical (e.g., Cyborg from DC Comics, the Cybermen in the Doctor Who franchise or The Borg from Star Trek or Darth Vader from Star Wars) or as almost indistinguishable from humans (e.g., the "Human" Cylons from the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, etc.). Cyborgs in fiction often play up a human contempt for over-dependence on technology, particularly when used for war, and when used in ways that seem to threaten free will. Cyborgs are also often portrayed with physical or mental abilities far exceeding a human counterpart (military forms may have inbuilt weapons, among other things), such as Robocop.


  1. The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
  2. The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies.

(from: wikipedia) Haraway begins the Manifesto by explaining three boundary breakdowns since the 20th Century that have allowed for her hybrid, cyborg myth: the breakdown of boundaries between human and animal, animal-human and machine, and physical and non-physical. Evolution has blurred the lines between human and animal; 20th Century machines have made ambiguous the lines between natural and artificial; and microelectronics and the political invisibility of cyborgs have confused the lines of physicality.


  • as compensation of disability (glasses, wheelchair, prosthesis, hearing aid)
  • fiction/design fiction (sci fi etc.)
  • art/aesthetics/performance arts (britney spears with shooting bra, light emitting suits, stelarc)
  • enhancing human skills (pen, calculator, gun)
  • adding human skills (phone, headset)
  • restricting human capabilities (electronic ankle strap)

(from: In this workshop we focus on the radical and, as of now, underestimated potential of AI to change human bodily experience. It is a critical thinking workshop where we begin with the question “Would you live with an autonomous prosthesis?” Using speculative methods and critical conversations, we discuss the ethics of AI in relation to future intelligent machines that do not only live with us, but on and within us. What forms of bodily experience will emerge? Who will own the algorithms and the data driving these new prosthesis? Will prosthetic devices become more appealing to those who do not necessarily need one? Will they become more useful for those in real need?

interesting links:

Neil Harbisson implanted an antenna to 'see' color

Neil Harbisson implanted an antenna to 'see' color

Hearing aid -> compensation of disability; but also made to look pretty so it's also a fashion statement

Hearing aid (design fiction in this case)

Hearing aid for children

Disabled people are often the coolest cyborgs, living in harmony with technology but also depending on it

Blade runner, human enhancement/comensation of disability (but quicker than regular athletes I think)


Britney Spears wearing shooting bra, probably Austin Powers reference

Restricting human capabilities (electronic ankle strap)




Picking up a spoon using a magnet implant

ghost in the machine

Fascination for the ghost in the machine started with the Chaos machine. Can machines have personalities? Can they be artists?

(from: grammarist) The ghost in the machine means the consciousness or mind carried in a physical entity. Gilbert Ryle coined the term in his 1949 work The Concept of Mind as a criticism of René Descartes. Descartes believed in dualism, the idea that the human mind is not physical, that it exists independently of the human brain. Ryle referred to this idea as the ghost in the machine. He believed that human consciousness and mind are very dependent on the human brain. The term ghost in the machine has come to also describe the supposed consciousness in a device that behaves as if it has a will that is independent of what the human operator wants the device to do. Computer programmers have appropriated the term ghost in the machine to explain when a programs runs contrary to their expectations. The idiom ghost in the machine is a metaphor, which is a comparison that is made figuratively.

(from: wikipedia) popular culture

  • Author Stephen King used the concept of the ghost in the machine to refer to his character Blaine the Mono, the train with a split mind that runs the town of Lud in his 1991 novel The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands from his series The Dark Tower.
  • The Japanese manga and anime Ghost in the Shell takes place in a future where computer technology has evolved to be able to interface with the human brain making artificial intelligence and cyber-brains indistinguishable from organic brains. The main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi has a body that is completely cybernetic, her brain being the only part of her that is still human. The manga's creator Masamune Shirow adapted the title from the 1967 Arthur Koestler book The Ghost in the Machine.
  • A Season 3 episode of The Transformers (TV series) (1986) is titled Ghost In The Machine, where the ghost of Starscream possesses Scourge, Astrotrain, and Trypticon in a scheme to get Unicron to recreate his body. In this case it's a literal ghost in literal machines (robots).
  • Dr. Alfred Lanning, a central character of I, Robot (film), uses the phrase "ghosts in the machine" to refer to the process of artificial intelligence unexpectedly evolving past its original intended purpose.

(from: glitch is a short-lived digital or analog error. Such errors mostly occur when there is some sort of mistranslation in the transmission of data between different domains in a computational system. A visual glitch is not the error itself, but its visual manifestation of it. They appear as a malfunction (a voltage-change or signal of the wrong duration) in an electrical circuit. In software a glitch is something unpredictable, something that changes the desired or expected output of the system. Things go wrong. I think Olga Goriunova and Alexei Shulgin describe what a glitch is all about in a nice way in their contribution to the Software Studies lexicon: “A glitch is a mess that is a moment, a possibility to glance at software’s inner structure…it shows the ghostly conventionality of the forms by which digital spaces are organized”.

(from: In this film, a soul is referred to as a “ghost” and the plot is propelled forward by a myth concerning an entirely robotic being containing its own “ghost”. This ultimately brings forth questions as to what a “ghost” is and whether artificial lifeforms can possess these “ghosts”. Similarly, it also pushes forward the question of what is inherently unique to humans if robotic beings can mimic something such as a “ghost”. It is immediately apparent that this film presents the idea of dualism; the mind and body are presented as different entities.

interesting links:

Security camera getting a punk personality


Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) in the wild

Ghost in the Shell

Simone Giertz shitty robot

Simone Giertz shitty robot

Silly robot

Robots crawling like helpless insects, makes them look adorable

Glitched image

Jose Irion Neto, glitch artist; kind of art nouveau vibes

Jose Irion Neto, glitch artist

research into subject: ghost in the machine

Ghosts in the Machine

Eliezer Yudkowsky
Jun 18, 2008

People hear about Friendly AI and say - this is one of the top three initial reactions:

"Oh, you can try to tell the AI to be Friendly, but if the AI can modify its own source code, it'll just remove any constraints you try to place on it."

And where does that decision come from?

Does it enter from outside causality, rather than being an effect of a lawful chain of causes which started with the source code as originally written?  Is the AI the Author* source of its own free will?

A Friendly AI is not a selfish AI constrained by a special extra conscience module that overrides the AI's natural impulses and tells it what to do.  You just build the conscience, and that is the AI.  If you have a program that computes which decision the AI should make, you're done.  The buck stops immediately.

At this point, I shall take a moment to quote some case studies from the Computer Stupidities site and Programming subtopic.  (I am not linking to this, because it is a fearsome time-trap; you can Google if you dare.)

I tutored college students who were taking a computer programming course. A few of them didn't understand that computers are not sentient.  More than one person used comments in their Pascal programs to put detailed explanations such as, "Now I need you to put these letters on the screen."  I asked one of them what the deal was with those comments. The reply:  "How else is the computer going to understand what I want it to do?"  Apparently they would assume that since they couldn't make sense of Pascal, neither could the computer.

While in college, I used to tutor in the school's math lab.  A student came in because his BASIC program would not run. He was taking a beginner course, and his assignment was to write a program that would calculate the recipe for oatmeal cookies, depending upon the number of people you're baking for.  I looked at his program, and it went something like this:

10   Preheat oven to 350
20   Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl
30   Mix until smooth

An introductory programming student once asked me to look at his program and figure out why it was always churning out zeroes as the result of a simple computation.  I looked at the program, and it was pretty obvious:

    read("Number of Apples", apples)
    read("Number of Carrots", carrots)
    read("Price for 1 Apple", a_price)
    read("Price for 1 Carrot", c_price)
    write("Total for Apples", a_total)
    write("Total for Carrots", c_total)
    write("Total", total)
    total = a_total + c_total
    a_total = apples * a_price
    c_total = carrots * c_price

Me: "Well, your program can't print correct results before they're computed."
Him: "Huh?  It's logical what the right solution is, and the computer should reorder the instructions the right way."

There's an instinctive way of imagining the scenario of "programming an AI".  It maps onto a similar-seeming human endeavor:  Telling a human being what to do.  Like the "program" is giving instructions to a little ghost that sits inside the machine, which will look over your instructions and decide whether it likes them or not.

There is no ghost who looks over the instructions and decides how to follow them.  The program is the AI.

That doesn't mean the ghost does anything you wish for, like a genie.  It doesn't mean the ghost does everything you want the way you want it, like a slave of exceeding docility.  It means your instruction is the only ghost that's there, at least at boot time.

AI is much harder than people instinctively imagined, exactly because you can't just tell the ghost what to do.  You have to build the ghost from scratch, and everything that seems obvious to you, the ghost will not see unless you know how to make the ghost see it.  You can't just tell the ghost to see it.  You have to create that-which-sees from scratch.

If you don't know how to build something that seems to have some strange ineffable elements like, say, "decision-making", then you can't just shrug your shoulders and let the ghost's free will do the job. You're left forlorn and ghostless.

There's more to building a chess-playing program than building a really fast processor - so the AI will be really smart - and then typing at the command prompt "Make whatever chess moves you think are best."  You might think that, since the programmers themselves are not very good chess-players, any advice they tried to give the electronic superbrain would just slow the ghost down.  But there is no ghost.  You see the problem.

And there isn't a simple spell you can perform to - poof! - summon a complete ghost into the machine.  You can't say, "I summoned the ghost, and it appeared; that's cause and effect for you."  (It doesn't work if you use the notion of "emergence" or "complexity" as a substitute for "summon", either.)  You can't give an instruction to the CPU, "Be a good chessplayer!"  You have to see inside the mystery of chess-playing thoughts, and structure the whole ghost from scratch.

No matter how common-sensical, no matter how logical, no matter how "obvious" or "right" or "self-evident" or "intelligent" something seems to you, it will not happen inside the ghost.  Unless it happens at the end of a chain of cause and effect that began with the instructions that you had to decide on, plus any causal dependencies on sensory data that you built into the starting instructions.

This doesn't mean you program in every decision explicitly. Deep Blue was a far superior chessplayer than its programmers.  Deep Blue made better chess moves than anything its makers could have explicitly programmed - but not because the programmers shrugged and left it up to the ghost.  Deep Blue moved better than its programmers... at the end of a chain of cause and effect that began in the programmers' code and proceeded lawfully from there.  Nothing happened justbecause it was so obviously a good move that Deep Blue's ghostly free will took over, without the code and its lawful consequences being involved.

If you try to wash your hands of constraining the AI, you aren't left with a free ghost like an emancipated slave.  You are left with a heap of sand that no one has purified into silicon, shaped into a CPU and programmed to think.

Go ahead, try telling a computer chip "Do whatever you want!"  See what happens?  Nothing.  Because you haven't constrained it to understand freedom.

All it takes is one single step that is so obvious, so logical, so self-evident that your mind just skips right over it, and you've left the path of the AI programmer.  It takes an effort like the one I showed in Grasping Slippery Things to prevent your mind from doing this.

Loving the Ghost in the Machine

Aesthetics of Interruption

Janne Vanhanen


In science fiction, ghosts in machines always appear as malfunctions, glitches, interruptions in the normal flow of things. Something unexpected appears seemingly out of nothing and from nowhere. Through a malfunction, a glitch, we get a fleeting glimpse of an alien intelligence at work. As electricity has become the basic element of the world we live in, the steady hum of power grids and their flowing immaterial essences slowly replacing the cogs and cranks of everyday machinery, the ghostly rapport has also relocated into the domain of current fluctuations, radio interference and misread data.

Early telegraph experimenters heard strange raps and clicks issuing from disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field, seemingly communication from some other side; Thomas Edison tried to put together a radio device to address denizens of other worlds; Constantin Raudive, Raymond Cass and Friedrich J¸rgenson spent hours and hours attempting to capture voices of the dead onto magnetic tape; radio antennas at Arecibo Observatory are pointed skywards, waiting for extraterrestrial signals. The presence of some outside force has always been supposed to be apparent through interference and interruption.

Actual facts about these manifestations are not really important. The interesting thing is that every new medium seems to open up a new kind of outside, every new mode of perception leaving out, or even creating, something imperceptible, and on the other hand bringing out something previously out of reach. Erik Davis has named the outside boundary of electronic media as the “electromagnetic imaginary,” meaning that many animistic or alchemistic notions of essential energies and life spirits have been translated into the concept of electricity, and remaining in the “technological unconscious.” Machines seem to be inhabiting some kind of life, even as it is an extension of ourselves. The sheer uncanniness of a disembodied voice transmitting via telephone line, as experienced by early telephone users, is quite hard to imagine now, but think of hearing a voice of a recently departed person on an answering machine.

We can remember Marshall McLuhan’s words about electronic media having outered the central nervous system itself, thus making the world into a smooth plateau of perception. This rings true when considering digital media, which is characterized by its transparency, its smoothness. Any type of information is de- and recodable into another format. This kind of flux and mutability of digital media makes it into an immersive enviroment, rather like sound.

So far, however, our conception of electronic media seems to have been very visually dominated and tied up to the more general link between the visual and the rational, which has been prominent in Western thought. However, many thinkers have also heard something new coming from the explosion of new media since the 19th Century. McLuhan wrote about the acoustic quality of the electronic global village he saw coming. German philosopher Wolfgang Welsch, in his essay “On the Way to an Auditive Culture?” addresses the problem of oculacentrism of the Western philosophical tradition and tries to create a conception of an auditive form of thinking. How to think of sound itself when the epistemological focus of our thinking and our concepts is located in a seeing subject? With its temporality and immersiveness, sound seems to avoid clarity, categorization and objectivity. Light and sight reveal objects, sound is the result of processes, of something happening and of mistakes: there can’t be glitches without processes. The whole notion of glitch is tied up to an “auditive” thoughtform, which approaches the world as a multiplicity of processes rather than a pre-set field of objects.


The scratches and glitches of contemporary electronic music, its aesthetics of interruption and misuse, should be considered in relation to the ontology of the Outside, or its hauntology (to quote Derrida writing about hauntings and returnings). Contemporary thought has painstakingly strived to approach this outside of thought and perception. The subject and the world, if such separation can be made, are seen to be formed in complex interrations between both. The subject emerges from the processes of the world. Deleuze and Guattari give these processes a name: machines. Machines are defined as “a system of interruptions or breaks” (AO 36), cutting and redirecting the energetic flows of preconscious world, which can be thought of as an infinitely complex assemblage of machines acting upon other machines acting upon others etc. A subjectivity is emergent and residual, having only a limited perspective upon the underlying world of forces it inhabits. Looking at our surroundings we recognize things, we are creatures of habit and conventions. Thinking, ultimately a creative act, is not recognition but an encounter, violence to thought. Something comes from the outside that interrupts and grabs us and forces us outside of our habitual territory.

By introducing the refrain Deleuze and Guattari have created a concept that illustrates the constantly shifting nature of relations between territorialized or habitual milieu and the chaos of the outside forces. A refrain, in the domain of music, can be described very vaguely as a rhythmic element, something marking out a territory amidst chaos: a nursery rhyme, a child’s song to comfort oneself, a birdsong to stake out a territory? Refrain doesn’t, however, have just a reactionary function against chaos; it is situated in the middle and has a potential to both reterritorialize and deterritorialize sound, constantly on the border of a territory. Art has posited itself onto this border. Or, to paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari, all creative activity, whether it’s art, philosophy or science, has to approach the outside of thought. To be able to create new ways to feel the world, new percepts and affects, one has to court the chaos and worship the glitch.


Contemporary electronic music has approached this outside of thought, or outside of music, by distancing itself from the hierarchy of Western classical music tradition, which has valuated certain musical structures (such as melody/harmony) over another qualities (rhythm, timbre) and posited the score as a transcendent compositional principle. Deleuze and Guattari observe the deterritorializing tendency of refrain in music:

Certain modern musicians oppose the transcendental plan(e) of organization, which is said to have dominated all of Western classical music, to the immanent sound plane, which is always given along with that to which it gives rise, brings the imperceptible to perception, and carries only differential speeds and slownesses in a kind of molecular lapping: the work of art must mark seconds, tenths and hundredths of seconds. (MP 267)

If art’s quest is to bring the imperceptible to perception, music seeks to make audible the inaudible forces of time and duration, to bring out an immanent sound plane, a pure sound block, in which “forms are replaced by pure modifications of speed.” (MP 267) How does one manage to get away from the grip of musical forms while being still able to retain a plane of consistency; to not regress into undifferentiated chaos which couldn’t hold any consistency? This is the question of the refrain.

In order to become-other, one has to align with some outerior forces and create new machinic assemblages. That’s why Deleuze and Guattari write that refrain isn’t the origin of music but rather a means of preventing it, warding it off (MP 300). Becoming is an alliance. With music machines we have entered a new kind of musical alliance. Phonography, the art of recording sound, allows the production of a smooth sound plane, on which all relations between its various elements are immanent as recording extracts or constructs a block of time, a musical time that is present as sound penetrates our bodies, but emerges as a result from an (quasi)event which is distant from us spatially and temporarily.

One can see the effect of recording or sound processing technology as having helped in breaking with the traditional musical notation and the ideal of a pure musical form. Once all sound has become recordable and reproducible by machines, we can be done away with the concept of music as residing, ultimately, in the score. Phonography and electronic/digital media have flattened out the arborescent model of the actual sound’s relation to a higher structure, that is, the composition itself as actualized in various levels of perfection in the performances of musicians. From machinic point of view (or hearing) there’s no difference between voice and noise, we have only sonic stratum and various means to manipulate that sound matter.

The concept of frequency, according to German media philosopher Friedrich Kittler, brought about by recording technology, allows music to break with the Old European tradition of pythagorean harmony and notation as the preserver of clear and pure sounds (in opposition to the chaotic noise of the world). Since the 19th Century sound has been recordable, vibrations in a carrying medium transferable to a recording surface. “The phonograph does not hear as our ears that have been trained immediately to filter voices, words and sounds out of noise; it registers acoustic events as such.” (Kittler 23) The phonograph hears sounds acousmatically, without a relation to the origin of a sound.

Using the concepts of Deleuze and Guattari, we can state that the phonograph deterritorializes sound, flattens down the hierarchical organization of music into a rhizome, which is an open, multiple and temporal form of organization and subsceptible to constant de- and recoding. The act of recording is in one way already a creative act of framing and selection. Any recording is a whole in itself, all its characteristics are immanent to itself, without an essential relation to an outerior or higher symbolic order. However, up until the 1960s and the expansion of recording studio technologies, record was generally regarded as referring to an original acoustic event, a performance, which would have more ontologic value (i.e. “realness”) than mere representation of it. Multitrack tape machines make that stance irrelevant; studio-as-instrument does away with acoustic realism. A particular soundscape, experienced as a unified whole, could have been assembled during many different takes and places, or wouldn’t have to result from any acoustic events, as in computer music. Through the mixing board and the master tape, the record is the stratified surface of sound.

I hear no great conceptual divide between various music machines. Whatever means there are available for recording acoustic phenomena or presenting sound, no matter what the source, making sound reproducible and thus variable, all phonographic technologies have the potential to deterritorialize sound and music. Maybe the greatest singular moment in nomadic use (= an act of capturing forces, making a new machinic assemblage of existing machinic formations) of phonographic machinery has been the emergence of hip-hop DJ’ing and the misuse of vinyl records, making a pair of turntables into a nomadic war machine. For a better part of the last century the record remained inactive, a storage capsule of time.

Apart from few artistic experimentations vinyl records were used as passive playback devices which always referred to some original event captured onto the grooves of the disc. In a parallel to the reinvention of the electric guitar by finding the aesthetic potential of the feedback noise generated by the guitaramplifier -circuit (and thus making electric guitar something other than an amplified replica of acoustic guitar), the DJ would find and learn to use the immanent forces within the record itself.

Radio, a medium which in the early 20th Century had a similarly all-pervading role as the internet has today, remained the primary medium of the DJ for a long time. The status of a radio jock rose from that of a salesman/entertainer to a central figure in pop business during the 1950s youth culture explosion. DJ as a sonic artist evolved somewhere else, however: in the discothèque, a club for dancing to recorded music instead of a live orchestra. The first discos were born in 1940s France during the German occupation that hampered the live music circuit. After the war some clubs stuck with the concept of dancing to records. This idea migrated elsewhere and in the 50s dance clubs experienced a massive leap in popularity with the advent of rock’n’roll and youth culture. We can see this as a sort of deterritorialization: instead of responding to the presence of performers the audience responds to the music and the forces it directs into the space it creates.

Disco as a musical style developed from the mantric/tantric heavy funk of James Brown, followed by others, which concentrated on the bass-heavy, steady and monotonously repetitive groove; a becoming-machine of the rhythm section. This style evolved into even more functionalist direction, downplaying the soul element of funk and delving solely in the groove. Record companies started producing long dance remixes of songs. Disco DJs wanted to create an all-night flow of music and that required a skill of seamlessly mixing records into one another. Any kind of music focusing on rhythm rather than melody could be used; DJ was becoming a curator-figure in the emerging club spaces, such as the loft parties in 1970s New York.

The conceptual leap of DJ from a curator (organizing a collection of works) to an artist (creating a work) happened in 1970s Bronx NY, when local DJs invented the isolating of the breakbeat and hip-hop: they would play only the rhythmic percussion breaks of funk records, alternating the same passage on two turntables, creating their own music. This rather crude skill of keeping the party going (with the help of an MC hollering encouragements to the party people) soon evolved into finer techniques of vinyl manipulation and collage. The DJ became a cut chemist.

Grandmaster Flash’s 1981 record The Amazing Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel was almost literally an encyclopedia of DJ techniques: crossfading, punch-phrasing, backspinning, cutting and scratching… Not only percussion was used as a sound source, almost everything could be dropped into the mix, all kinds of noise, as long as it was on record. In some ways a popularization of musique concrète, this meant a huge shift in the perception of music:

After Flash, the turntable becomes a machine for building and melding mindstates from your record collection. The turntables, a Technics deck, become a subjectivity engine generating a stereophonics, a hifi consciousness of the head, wholly tuned in and turned on by the found noise of vinyl degeneration that hears scratches, crackle, fuzz, hiss and static as lead instruments. (Eshun 14)

The turntable becomes not only a new kind of percussive instrument, it becomes a syntax-destroyer and a connective synthesizer in a Deleuzian sense (mixing this AND this AND this…). Record is a diagram, a map, rather than a tracing or writing. A map is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real… susceptible to constant modification. (MP 12)

Despite its inventors’ wishes to provide a surface for the representation of an original event, a stable protector of the preceding mode of organization, the record became a destabilizer, weapon in sonic warfare (a nomadic war machine of sorts). DJ’s hand is a terrorwrist “opening up a new field of objectile thought: fingertip perception” (Eshun 18). A deterritorialization of hand and record in the machinic assemblage of scratching.

The phonographic diagram, given its direct transduction of physical wave to mechanical impulse or electrical signal, provides a code both precisely reproducible and potentially editable. … [W]here the score represents, phonography simply transduces… As soon as the deterritorialization of sonic matter into vinyl abstracts it from the moment, and makes music into this random-access memory available time and time again, the sonic matter is susceptible to temporal mutation, warping, looping. (Mackay 250)

DJ’s (ab)use of vinyl is a derangement in every sense of the word. Scratching deterritorializes the noise on the grooves, bends the spiral grooves into lines of flight; scratching rips its source material from the record, transforms the ideal into matter to be molded, cuts into syntax to isolate words and phrases, achieving an Artaud-style decoding of language systems (both human and musical). A scratch takes up a block of recorded time and folds it up in baroque flourishes like a cloth. Scratching makes audible the flow of time and matter, the flow and the machines that cut it, and creates a vinyl psychedelia = scratchadelia, a machinic refrain, a becoming-vinyl of music.

A digital counterpart to the scratch is the often-mentioned glitch. A precariously vague term, which however captures some of the slipperiness of digital media. If analog phonography has led to some sort of metallurgy of sound, made sound malleable and mutable, digital sound processing approaches sound as molecules. The term microsound is very appropriate for the digital music of today. Or, if we take heed of Kim Cascone, we should be talking about post-digital music, since the medium of digital technology has become so transparent it doesn’t reflect in the expression of music anymore. Instead specific sound processing tools, such as Max, AudioMulch or SoundForge produce an auratic sound, as well as providing amazing detail and accuracy in manipulating sound.

With glitches, however, electronic music producers embrace the uncertainty John Cage was talking about. Cracked and malfunctioning soft- and hardware, overloaded operating systems, wrong file types opened as sound documents produce unpredictable sounds, sometimes a ghostly unpresence of sounds outside hearing range or gaps in recorded time. Glitches, clicks and cuts are the sound of sound machines molecularizing, atomizing and ionizing sound, making audible the process of sound itself. If we must make a distinction between the scratch and the glitch, it is this: scratching is the folding of recorded time, metallurgy of sound, taking a flow of matter and producing variations of it. Common to music and metallurgy, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is the tendency to “bring into its own, beyond separate forms, a continuous development of form, and beyond variable matter, a continuous variation of matter,” in short to bring out the “life proper to matter.” (MP 411)

Glitch, in digital domain, happens on a more abstracted level of decoding that results in molecularized matter. Going beyond the matterform -division (which scratching can be seen starting to evaporate with its variations on matter) the molecularization of sound

effects a dissolution of form that connects the most diverse longitudes and latitudes, the most varied speeds and slownesses, which guarantees a continuum by stretching variation far beyond it formal limits. (MP 309)

In both cases, the scratch and the glitch, sound has escaped the overcoding symbolic order of music, or the trancendental plane of organization of the score, in nomadic alliance of man and machines.

James Brown’s Sex Machine and Kraftwerk’s Mensch Maschinedefine electronic music’s identification with machinery with their twin poles of “raw” physicality and “pure” spirit/intellect. To dance as mindless robots or to think music as an incorporeal AI. This all-too established dualism has been broken down at times by the music machinery’s potential to fuse down the two poles and to break down, to express glitches. Dance music, which might at first thought appear as a musical form most tied up with the reterritorializing function of the refrain, with its strict adherence to certain genre-bound norms, appears however as a machine for liberating sound-in-itself. Rhythm: blocks of sound arranged rhythmically, one after another, one beside another, like the instant pop images of Warhol paintings. Repetition makes the thing repeated (the thing not new anymore) present again. Each repetition (a simulacrum of the “original”, if any is to be found) is an event in itself;

Repetition and first time, but also repetition and last time, since the singularity of any first time makes of it also a last time. Each time it is the event itself, first time is a last time. (Derrida 10)

This repetition, this constant now, can be seen in dance music’s lack of drama (or constant crescendo); the changes in music are quantitative instead of qualitative, its narrative is the happening of repetitions. Dance music seeks to build a plateau of intensity. Any vertical, arborescent models are flattened by the rhizomatics of repetition, which undoes the symbolical or critical form of thought. According to Roland Barthes, critique is always either historic or futurologic, its content is culture which equals everything that is inside us, except the present moment (Barthes 32).

Electronic dance music sounds astonishingly non-temporal: repetition makes the track happen in the constant now, concentration on the sound of sound (timbre and “color” and texture, the most difficult-to-remember-afterwards- and the most deterritorializing aspects of sound and music) fades it from the memory. Repetition is a way of appearing without form, without identity: it multiplies the same element over and over again, juxtaposes the element with its each successive re-emergence, brings out the differences by bringing out the gaps between singular repetitions, forms a machinic assemblage out of the circulation of sound blocks. Musical repetition: loops within loops, clashing against each other, loopduelle. The audibility of these juxtapositions is a textuality of differences and differences mark out the repetitions = returnings = soundghosts.

As the repetition builds up a smooth plane of constant present, deterritorializing the sound itself as a singularity, a sonorous force, there’s a tendency for that repetition to become reterritorialized as a cliché, an all-too expectable formula; this seems to be a potential dead-end for numerous genres of electronic dance music. A glitch appears: a wrinkle in time of the constant present. If we listen to an archetypal glitchy sound, an Oval track for example, we can hear a rich tapestry of sound and absence of sound. There are skips, something is missing, there are holes in the smooth space of sound. Or we can consider Kim Cascone’s concept of residualism that involves structuring a work around an absence, removing a signal and leaving only its effects to be heard. Scratching, sampling and the stuttering of malfunctioning soft- and hardware are means of derangement, seeking out a way to make a rhizome out of music, a way to place its elements in continuous variation, where absences, breaks, holes, folds and ruptures can be a part; a way to let ghosts of the outside in.


“[M]achines work … by continually breaking down…” (AO 8), producing anti-production, creating gaps and glitches. One has to remember we?re talking about desiring machines and art’s ability to reflect the formative processes of machinic pre-conscious world, which is libidinal. As Jake Mandell observes in his liner notes for his album Love Songs for Machines, artists’ relation to their tools of the trade has always been fetishistic. A favorite pen of the writer, a beloved brush of the painter; it’s always been intimate. Mandell writes that the once-close relationship of artists and their tools has encountered a crisis in the digital age, the screenandmouse -interface is abstract and alienating. Still, as an immersive environment, digital media allow for an exceptionally affectionate experience.

As tool-using creatures (among other such creatures) we’ve always been cyborgs. “[T]ools exist only in relation to the interminglings they make possible or that make them possible.” (MP 90) That is to say, tools imply a symbiosis between two bodies in a machinic assemblage, deterritorializing them both. Think of Roland TB-303 Bassline Generator, becoming an Acid Machine through a glitch, a programming mistake, releasing a whole new spectrum of sounds, transforming both the musician and the instrument. It’s a two-way relation: we can well take heed of Kodwo Eshun’s conception of human beings as the sex organs of synthesizers. New sounds happen between things, in the movement that sweeps you and your computer to somewhere else: in order to effect deterritorializations you have to love your machines.


Barthes, Roland (1993) Tekstin hurma, Tampere: Vastapaino. [Finnish translation of Le plaisir du texte.]

Davis, Erik (1999) TechGnosis: Myth, Magic + Mysticism in the Age of Information, London: Serpent’s Tail.

Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix (1983) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia volume 1, London: Athlone Press.

Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix (1998) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia vol. 2, Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press.

Eshun, Kodwo (1998) More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures In Sonic Fiction, London: Quartet Press.

Kittler, Friedrich A. (1999) Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Mackay, Robin (1997) “Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Wildstyle in Full Effect” in Pearson, Keith Ansell (ed.) Deleuze and Philosophy, London/New York: Routledge.

McLuhan, Marshall (1984) Ihmisen uudet ulottuvuudet, Juva: WSOY. [Finnish translation of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.]

Welsch, Wolfgang (1997) “On the Way to an Auditive Culture?” in Undoing Aesthetics, London: Sage.

A presentation in the Refrains conference, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada 29.09.2001. First published in Intersects electronic journal (UBC).

List of abbreviations:

AO = Anti-Oedipus

MP = A Thousand Plateaus[Mille Plateaux]

Janne Vanhanen, is a professor at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

Artwork by Jose Irion Neto, alias Glitch Irion. Part of an experimental series on Flickr.

Abstract: A review of “Ghosts in the Machine: Paintings by Cristi Rinklin and Sarah Walker,” an exhibition at Evos Arts, Lowell, Massachusetts. Both Rinklin and Walker use digital technology as a tool in their complex processes of capturing, organizing, and manipulating visual information. However, their deeply satisfying paintings are enriched but not completed by an understanding of how they arrived at the image—in fact, the paintings stand resolutely and magnificently on their own.

Painting by Sarah Walker

Philosophically, Rinklin—whose work also will be featured in “Naturetech,” a group show opening at the Fitchburg Museum of Art on March 8—is involved in a post-modern project tugging at the nature of realism in a moment when everything is digitally photographed and then Photoshopped. Her paintings recycle pictures from paintings, wallpaper, Google images and collected photos. From this mélange, she produces paintings poised at the boundary of technology and tradition. It’s some of the best, most beautiful, most sensuous painting (she paints on impervious aluminum, which keeps her pigments slick and vibrant on the surface) you’ll see around these parts this year.

Cristi Rinklin draws on sources that include Baroque paintings, Japanese landscapes, photographs, wallpaper, and images found online. She mashes them together in digital collages, which she then paints. Her colors are hyper; she jams deep space up against impenetrable flatness.
That invitation—which can bring to mind the vicarious journeys through the misty hills of (again) Chinese landscape paintings or first-person video game adventures is most pronounced in the trio of paintings “Specter 1, 2 and 3.”

Cristi Rinklin’s Immersive Paintings Recall Digital, Natural Worlds

by Margot Buermann

Posted on August 8, 2016

It’s not hard to become absorbed in Cristi Rinklin’s otherworldly paintings. The artist creates seamless layers of billowing, amorphous forms and sharply defined lines to depict post-human landscapes that appear to hover weightless in space. These worlds, which take the form of both paintings and installations, are influenced by digital technologies while channeling a grand tradition of illusion in painting. “It is my desire to create paintings and installations that seduce the viewer into believing that the impossible spaces that are presented within them can potentially exist,” the artist says.

In a statement on her website, Rinklin offers insight to the concepts she explores within her works. “The ability to artificially create a heightened sense of reality has become so advanced that it permeates every aspect of our contemporary visual experience,” she writes. “From cinema, to gaming, to virtual reality, sophisticated imaging systems have created ‘seamless worlds’ that viewers can physically inhabit… When our ability to imagine visual knowledge beyond what we see with our own eyes becomes augmented by this technology, our imaginary vision for what is dramatic, awesome, and sublime becomes re-calibrated. My work is a response to this condition.”

Rinklin’s creative process involves sourcing images from paintings, internet searches, wallpaper, and photographs to build digital collages, which are translated into oil and acrylic paintings on aluminum canvas. She uses a variety of techniques, including airbrush and stenciling, to create her atmospheric works in which opposing styles are merged together. Rinklin cites Baroque ceiling paintings, American Luminism and 19th century panoramas as stylistic influences on her work.

Rinklin graduated with a BFA from the Maryland Institute, College of Art and earned her MFA from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. She is currently based in Boston. Recent exhibitions include solos at Steven Zevitas Gallery and the Currier Museum of Art, and a group show at the Fitchburg Museum of Art.

Painting by Cristi Rinklin

Painting by Cristi Rinklin

GltchLnguistx: The Machine in the Ghost / Static Trapped in Mouths

Dichotomies To Be Exploded

It is a cliché of early cyber-theory to embrace the transcendental ideal of disembodied code and run with it. According to this approach, humans are simply data run on wetware. If we could somehow abstract this data and port it to computer hardware, we could upload our souls/selves. We could become the ghost (dismebodied spirit/code) in the machine (computer hardware). This hope of disembodied immortality is rooted in some specious, idealistic presuppositions about the way computers and humans actually work. Much of "who" humans "are" is inextricably bound to the action of our bodies in lived and present time. Likewise, computers don't execute code in a transcendent, metaphysical vacuum. Code is run on physical hardware in lived and present (albeit massively accelerated) time. Computer code (like human language) may theoretically exist in a timeless transcendental realm, but in order for it to intersect being, it has to be read by and run on something -- a person or a computer. The glitch foregrounds and problematizes this myth of pure transcendental data, of pure and perfect signal. The glitch is a perpetual reminder of the immanent, real-time embodiment of executed code.

The myth that humans can upload their souls is related to the myth of pure signal transference. Both of these myths are derived from residual Platonic dichotomies which need to be exploded. Some of these Platonic dichotomies are:

immanent | transcendent
physical | metaphysical
body | spirit
hardware | software
incarnation | disembodiment

in time | out of time
lived life | philosophical ideals
uttered event | language system
emotion/volition | content/meaning

present event | memory
glitch event | glitch artifact/trace
compiled and running code | source code

These dichotomies are not binary opposites. They are not even gradual continua transitioning slowly from one extreme to the other. Instead, these extremes are inextricably enmeshed. Furthermore, they are not simply enmeshed (like the contours of an infinity symbol, evenly phasing back and forth between extremes). No, they are much more complicatedly, erratically, and problematically enmeshed (like an abstract diagram of Deleuzean relationships). Furthermore, they are not haphazardly, randomly, or aleatorically enmeshed. No, they are rigorously, fine-grainedly, contingently enmeshed. These extremes intersect and entangle in the ongoing, lived and present moment. This ongoing, lived and present moment is the moment of the glitch and the moment of the utterance.

Glitch art compared to punk, reaction to hyperrealism and perfection. Happy accidents (data corruption) or simulated processes are very important. “Improvisationally react to what’s going on”, sensibility of fleetingness


By: Mallika Roy

what glitch art is and why it matters

The word "glitch" is already loaded with an aesthetic — highly saturated rainbow stripes and white noise chopping up an image, pixelated video streams in which the subjects' words don't match up with the audio, shimmering and twitching spots in video games. Although glitches are more often than not met with impatience or annoyance, a growing number of artists are aestheticizing errors from digital or analog sources, either by intentional manipulation or by malfunctions and corruptions like the ones we're already familiar with.

As we become more and more wrapped up in technology, glitch art has begun to be taken more seriously as a movement with a unique potential for timely cultural commentary, rather than just an aesthetic embraced by individual artists. Artists began actively connecting around this aesthetic on a larger scale as early as 2002 at the Glitch Symposium and Performance Event held in Oslo, but the medium only picked up serious momentum much more recently: showcases of glitch artists have occurred in several global cities in the past few months alone, from the UK's Tate Britain and Getty Images Gallery, to the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago, and, most recently, San Francisco's Dogpatch Cafe & Art Gallery (currently on view until December 12th).

  • using analog technology that malfunctions
  • circuit-bending - re-wiring or altering the circuit within the device
  • data bending - manipulating data files by opening a file of one type in a program designed to open another file (i.e. opening a jpeg in a text application, opening a video in audio processing software, etc.)
  • using or creating apps that rely on an algorithm to automatically chop up and reproduce a file's foundation (i.e. Pixel Drifter)
  • datamoshing - intentionally distorting media through loss of data during a file compression process (i.e. streaming a video that is slow and pixelated)
  • z-fighting - weaving multiple competing visual layers together in a way that forms one layer (i.e. aflickering texture in a video game)

Glitch art starts conversations that traditional art forms can’t really access, just by the nature of how it's created. How much do we control our technology, and how much does it control us? Can technology ever transcend the imperfection inherent in its human creators? What does it mean if we can reclaim the “errors” in our computers, phones, and cameras and repurpose them as our tools? The essence of glitch art is pretty simple: humans subject themselves to technology and exert control over it to a greater or lesser extent to produce a piece of artwork that is a product of both the creator’s intention and the device’s whims. There are themes inherent in this medium, then: morbidity and destruction next to growth and regeneration, conflicts between control and unpredictability, disassembling and re-appropriating the systems that surround us, technological chaos versus human balance — or vice versa.

Because of these inherent themes, glitch art has the potential to comment on more than just an artist’s interaction with the technology in her pocket. The conversations it catalyzes transfer easily over to our contemporary relationships to the cities we live in, and glitch art is able to explore the balance of control between us and the institutions in which we are immersed. The narrative of Detroit’s art culture that we see running through national and international media, for example, builds on many of the themes that glitch art addresses — destruction versus revitalization, human processes versus those determined for us, systemic failings versus make-shift solutions — but this narrative is severely limited since it’s perpetuated by those from outside the city. For instance, there are some definite thematic connections between Detroit ruin porn — which somehow continues to fascinate the media — and glitch art; the former is cringe-worthy in its presentation and is almost always produced by someone outside of the city, but Detroit artists could use the medium of the glitch to react to, engage with, promote or criticize similar themes in a way that is resident-centered and still part of a national and international conversation.

In her article Patchwork Hedrons, Lana Polansky explains glitch art's roots in Dada and punk ideologies with regards to the “repurposing and deliberate corruption of materials, impropriety, declarations of radicalism” and the “systemic dismantling” achieved through art; with these ideologies in mind, Detroit art communities — especially those inclusive of young people who are already equipped with technological know-how — could stand to affect the glitch art movement on the whole, as well as change the narrative of the city in outside media if they begin utilizing innovative glitch art processes.

assessing the process

There's a unique relationship between the artist and her medium in creating glitch art, one that goes beyond the interaction between an illustrator and her pen, or a painter and her canvas. Illustrations, paintings, sculptures, industrial design, gifs, textiles — these mediums require a mastery of different tools that the artist ultimately wields with a high level of control (if they are considered “good” at their medium). Since these more conventional forms of art allow for the artist to take full ownership, responsibility, and control during the art-making process, the final product is the most developed and intentional form of communication between the artist and audience. In other words, the final aesthetic almost always reigns supreme while the artist’s process is secondary. Glitch artists, on the other hand, use a medium that plays an active role in determining the final piece of art. The artist’s lack of control and the device’s unpredictability are key aspects in the production of the work; the artist hands over a part of the art-making process to the device and allows the glitch to take the reins.

For this reason, the final aesthetic of a piece of glitch art is not the only thing that matters. In glitch art, the process of the creation of the artwork means as much as the final product, and determines what can be considered true glitch art versus art that looks glitchy. Take Instagram, for example. Instagram filters affect a user’s uploaded image with an orange or red flare across the picture, a sunny tinge to the image, a too-bright or too-dark representation of the original. These filters all emulate a glitch that occurs in film cameras. When these effects appear on photos developed from actual, real film, it means that there was a light leak in the camera that affected the exposure of the film. Inducing camera glitches manually in order to produce photos subjected to the whim of the camera itself definitely falls under the umbrella of glitch art. Meanwhile, there are over 200 million Instagram users who have the capability of making a boring picture a little more interesting with the click of a button that mimics light leaks from an interaction between a manual camera and its lens. So although the aesthetic of an image produced by an Instagram user might actually be similar to a photo developed through hacking the film exposure process or light sensor, only one of these uses a process that demands a level of innovation, intention, and commitment to the artist’s camera. While the person tinkering with the camera reclaims the device’s errors and comments on the balance of control between the artist and the tool, the Instagram user remains a slave to technology and therefore makes no contribution in terms of glitch art.

Similarly, we as the audience can look at any given piece with a glitchy aesthetic and give ourselves over to the beautiful lines, eye-moving flow, stark contrast, and poetic movement in the piece, only to find out that it was generated through an app or site like this. If an artist uploads a random, unappealing image that has no meaning to them, and it rearranges the pixels, adds noise, chops it up, and spits it out according to either a glitch or a genius algorithm determined by someone else, then the maker of the site or facilitator of the glitch effect should get the credit, not the "artist” who uploaded the image. The question of how an artist is putting the "glitch" in "glitch art" matters for us to understand their level of interaction and intention with the final product, since the final piece's glitchiness doesn't quite relay that information to us. As glitch artist Daniel Temkin explains:

“How visually glitchy the results look depends much on the initial image and is not necessarily important to the piece. However, as new work is built … perhaps the glitch itself will become less important as a visual clue that it builds on this history of experiments in human/machine interaction.”

So the process of the artist differentiates what glitch art is and what it isn’t. Once an artist has utilized their tool of choice — a faulty computer algorithm, a tampered-with camera, software used to open an incompatible file type — with a level of intention and interaction, how can we decide if it’s good glitch art? Destruction versus regeneration, chaos versus control, and other themes discussed in the previous section attach themselves to the medium just by way of the processes used to create the artwork. If there is a foundation of themes already connected to glitch artists’ work solely by nature of it being glitch art, what does a piece of innovative glitch art look like?

finding the narrative

A piece of glitch art with a unique and developed narrative beyond the default concepts that drive the medium as a whole becomes very valuable because it helps push the boundaries of what we can expect from the movement as a whole. There are all kinds of possibilities here. Plummer Fernandez uses 3D printing to produce sculptures created from glitched images of everyday objects, commenting on the way our vessels reflect and connect all cultures; Tom Cabrera strategically employs scanner glitches to alter body anatomy and architectural forms, in order to “transform what is known to address the unknown”; Way Spurr-Chen developed a Twitter bot called Pixel Sorter that interacts with users (and even exchanges glitched images with other Twitter bots), the implications of which could be the subject of an essay on its own — a human creates a robot that develops its own social media network of over 1500 followers by predictably glitching photos submitted by human and robot users alike.

One narrative that a handful of artists have explored through glitch art is the corruption of memory in an age of technology. Berlin-based Hungarian artist David Szaudr, also known as Pixel Noizz, has an ongoing series entitled Failed Memories in which he affects the faces in photo portraits, through intentional manipulation of individual pixels and corrupted algorithms that disassemble the portraits over a length of time. This strategic erosion of photo portraits comments on the passing of time as it affects our understanding of memories and attempts to visualize the memory process as images that were once clear in our minds inevitably disintegrate.

Kon Trubkovich's exploration of one second of a home video called Leap Second dives into this arena as well. Currently based in Brooklyn, he paints paused film stills of his mother from one second of a home video documenting his family’s final party in the U.S.S.R. before their immigration to the United States. For one thing, this introduces the medium of painting into the discussion of glitch art. The process of recreating television white noise through oil on linen takes the electronically-captured moment entirely out of its context and subjects it to Trubkovich’s human touch, allowing him to both regain control of the moment as well as to revel in the loss of imagery distorted by film that he is now unable to access. This series also gives Trubkovich permission to explore in excruciating depth just one second of a period of total transition for his family, showing the psychological power that technology holds over us as it becomes the only source through which we can revisit our past.

The subjects in Trubkovich’s and Szaudr’s work aren’t entirely visually abstracted — the viewer is able to glean details to a greater or lesser extent about each piece’s subject, through the glitched glimpse of an expression on a face or details in clothing. Canadian artist Mathieu St-Pierre’s Melting Ice Cream series, on the other hand, often completely abstracts his original subject in favor of a reimagined version of the memory. In an interview with Hot ‘N’ Gold Magazine, he explains his use of HD videos of his wife that he experimented with through an editing program to create vibrant landscapes with no discernible human features. These images, full of life and joy, comment on the visual associations that might replace or trigger actual memories; rather than focusing on the void created by the complete distortion of memory, he creates a beautiful new narrative from these memories that stands completely on its own, removed from the boundaries of its original source.

Szaudr, Trubkovich, and St-Pierre all use the glitch process and aesthetic to explore the creation and maintenance of memories. This is a powerful use of the medium that pushes the usual narrative attached to any old glitch art. When we capture memories through electronic devices, are those moments impenetrable from the erosion of the human mind? What happens when the technology we've entrusted with our most meaningful memories fails us? When we document experiences with technology of the moment, and later revisit these crudely-rendered experiences, are we remembering the pixels or the event itself — is this what memories of the millennial generation will look like? These are just a few examples of the kinds of meaningful narratives that can be evoked through different manipulations of glitch art processes. It takes real innovation within any medium to unearth probing questions in the minds of viewers; artists like these help forge broader notions of the possibilities of glitch art and push us forward into new philosophical territory through their work.

shaping the movement’s direction

We have the chance to actively shape the direction of what may very well become a significant period of art included in history books down the line; glitch art can comment on our increasing reliance on technology in a specific and relevant way that goes beyond the capability of conventional art forms. Artists are mapping the glitch aesthetic onto furniture, street art, fashion, textiles, and more. We’ve got to know how to be an effective audience (and, for some of us, an effective contributor) to the glitch art movement as the aesthetic starts to appear in public spaces, art galleries and museums; we need to look critically at glitch art in all its forms, to engage with it and judge it, to decide if we are annoyed or inspired by different claims in the glitch art arena, and to make the call for ourselves if a piece has meaning or not.

Cities, then, have an important role as the art movement progresses. Many cities across the world are already playing their part, providing outlets to access glitch art beyond computer screens. Detroit and other cities whose representation in the media leaves residents’ voices out of the picture have a stake in investing in this medium; Detroit galleries and artist collectives should work to strategically foster a glitch art culture in the city, whether through skill-sharing, public showcases, or simply providing feedback on the art movement as a whole. By experimenting with glitch processes, Detroit artists and others could potentially repurpose some of the narrow existing narratives of their cities and gain a prominent positive national and international voice through the glitch art movement as it progresses.

"Houses throwing up trees, Barcelona", image found by Peder Norrby. Source: Flickr

"Hungry plane wants to eat terminal", image found by Peder Norrby.

2017 Policy Priorities: Embracing the Ghost in the Machine

by Ryan Hagemann

November 17, 2016

Like many people, I’ve recently become a huge fan of HBO’s Westworld, a new sci-fi series that mashes a lot of Blade Runner with a bit of Jurassic Park. The gist of the story revolves around an amusement park-style operation where customers (the guests) experience a Wild West setting populated by highly advanced robots (the hosts). AI, robotics, and automation are at the core of the series, but one of the central themes also revolves around the nature of “consciousness.” This, I think, is one of the key factors driving confusion about the power of AI in the real world: the distinction (or lack thereof) between “intelligence” and “consciousness.

Separating out the concerns over an impending SkyNet future is no small task. Popular media has enshrined the bipedal Terminators of James Cameron’s eponymously-titled movies as the inevitable outcome of developments in AI. Many see this as the future this technology will engender. For others, the concerns are simply about the decision trees and algorithmic transparency—that is, if we don’t know how it works, we can’t know how it will fail. Intuition matters in how humans interpret information. For AI, intuition is scarce and even more inscrutable than it is among humans. Since AI is, in the narrowest form, attuned to data sets and not facts about the broader world, it makes extracting general rules about how neural networks and machine learning algorithms operate difficult.

Yet many fail to realize that every time we use Google’s search, we’re using a very narrow, task-specific form of AI. “As soon as it works,” the famed computer scientist John McCarthy once quipped, “no one calls it AI anymore.”

The need for algorithmic accountability will likely be compounded as this technology becomes more and more a part of everyday life, and everyday decisions. How precisely we achieve that level of transparency and accountability is still unknown, however. At this point in its development, AI is still a “black box.” Until we can figure out how to get these systems to “talk” to us—that is, more effectively disclose the rationale behind the outcomes they report—accountability will remain elusive. Nonetheless, we should not let that hurdle blind us to the many benefits this technology will deliver to society.

As discussed in a recent report from the Center for Data Innovation:

Because AI will continue to evolve and work its way into a wide variety of applications, it is difficult to predict just how much value AI will generate. The International Data Corporation estimates that in the United States the market for AI technologies that analyze unstructured data will reach $40 billion by 2020, and will generate more than $60 billion worth of productivity improvements for businesses in the United States per year. Investors in the United States are increasingly recognizing the potential value of AI, investing $757 million in venture capital in AI start-ups in 2013, $2.18 billion in 2014, and $2.39 billion in 2015. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by 2025 automating knowledge work with AI will generate between $5.2 trillion and $6.77 trillion, advanced robotics relying on AI will generate between $1.7 trillion and $4.5 trillion, and autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles will generate between $0.2 trillion and $1.9 trillion. A report from Accenture examining the potential impact of AI on economic growth found that by 2035, AI could increase the annual growth rate of the U.S. and Finnish economies by 2 percentage points, the Japanese economy by 1.9 points, and the German economy by 1.6 points. The report also found that, for the 12 countries surveyed, AI would boost labor productivity rates by 11 to 37 percent.

The economic benefits from this technology are clearly poised to be enormous. Of course, the possibility of an AI-driven economy leads to other, less Terminator-style concerns. More realistic concerns are neither about killer robots or algorithmic transparency, but the issue of an economy of ghosts in the machine. The popular video game series Metal Gear Solid actually touches on this.

The series revolves around a central cadre of characters fighting a complex web of foes tied together by unseen forces that are slowly revealed to be advanced AIs. Originally constructed to unite the nations of the world, the systems end up becoming the very reasons for which war is waged. Over the course of many decades, these AIs eventually transform the world by inducing a “war economy.” The global economic structure, reengineered by algorithmic optimization, turn conflict into a lucrative business that drives whole state economies to become dependent on never-ending war. By creating everlasting enemies, the AIs are able to accomplish the goals set forth by their progenitors: a world without ideological priors, principles, or ideals, united in a common pursuit of perpetual warfare.

This might lead us to conclude that the real concern, then, is not so much a future of Terminators, but a future of ghosts in the machine, a la Metal Gear Solid. Realistically, however, neither situation appears likely for humankind’s near-term future. Nevertheless, policymakers will soon have to confront these issues; and when they do, they should begin with regulatory forbearance, while avoiding doomsaying language. The AIs of science fiction and Hollywood are a far cry from the reality of the day. Fanciful portents of dystopian future make for good clickbait and even better blockbuster hits, but they shouldn’t serve as the basis for informed policies governing developing technologies.

Safeguarding Advancements in Artificial Intelligence

Depending on the particular use and application of AI, there are many recommendations to be offered. However, for the time being, the 115th Congress and incoming Administration should embrace regulatory forbearance as the ideal starting point for any future conversation about federal rulemaking. I argued as much in a July comment filing to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on the matter of artificial intelligence (see the full comments here). In those comments, I argued that OSTP and federal regulators should:

  1. Avoid speaking of hyperbolic hypothetical doomsday scenarios; and
  2. Embrace a policy of regulatory restraint, intervening in the development and use of AI technology only when and if the prospect of harm becomes realistic enough to merit government intervention.

However, there are a number of other recommendations worth considering given the policy fissures likely to emerge on perennial issues like privacy and cybersecurity. The following general recommendations should serve as a starting point for regulators and policymakers thinking about this issue:

  • Any agencies considering regulations specific to AI (though generally applicable to any new emerging technology representing a unique regulatory knowledge gap) need to focus on tangible and known costs and benefits, not hypotheticals;
  • Government can be positive contributor to developments in AI by increasing public funding for research into interdisciplinary analyses of the economic and social ramifications of future developments;
  • Avoid any singular, mandatory development standards for safety (such as the Food and Drug Administration’s mandatory regime for medical software of “high consequence”); and
  • Promote industry self-regulation as a first step towards developing best practices and standards in AI research. This would ideally materialize in the form of independent, third-party validators and open-source developers (such as OpenAI) or industry consortiums (such as The Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society), not as legislative fiat or prescriptive mandates imposed by regulators or other government actors.

In short, the best policy recommendations for promoting innovation in AI will rely on flexible regulatory frameworks. Government can be a valuable ally in helping to accelerate the development and deployment of this technology, but it should not stand as a gatekeeper to the future. As noted in the first report from Stanford University’s One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, initiative, policies can and should “strengthen a virtuous cycle of activity involving internal and external accountability, transparency, and professionalization, rather than narrow compliance.” Additionally, any policy developments should be continually reevaluated as new challenges emerge. A one-size-fits-all ex ante methodology of precautionary regulation simply will neither foster this industry’s development or maximize beneficial outcomes for society.

Accelerating the Autonomous Roadway

Perhaps the most pressing application of AI—and one of the leading technological applications driving public fears of this field—is already unfolding around us. Driverless cars are already hitting the roads, from Pittsburgh to the streets of Mountain View, and even around the world. The United States, if it wishes to maintain its lead in this emerging space, as well as reap the benefits from ongoing innovations, needs to create an environment of regulatory certainty. In upcoming comments to the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on its Federal Autonomous Vehicle Policy Guidelines, I argue against some of the guidelines’ newly proposed authorities and expanded interpretation of existing authorities.

NHTSA itself notes that: “Substitution of pre-market approval for all standards for which manufacturers currently self-certify would be a wholesale structural change in the way NHTSA regulates motor vehicle safety and would require both fundamental statutory changes and a large increase in Agency resources.” This is problematic. While it is understandable that the agency would argue for structural changes to assist in their efforts to address concerns from a new technology like this, it is unclear that a “large increase in Agency resources” would yield more optimal outcomes. Alternatively, this is an area where the 115th Congress can potentially lead, reasserting its legislative authority to address the issue of autonomous vehicles and federally preempt any disconcerting legislation coming from states and localities.

Promoting an expeditious and effective deployment of this technology is important in order to actualize the social and economic benefits associated with autonomous vehicles, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of lives that could be saved.

Why the Time For Action is Now

Autonomous vehicles are but one case study in how advancements in AI have helped usher in a new era of technological progress. As AI is incorporated into developments in headline-grabbing technologies, public attention is naturally becoming more focused on developments in this space. We all walk around with task-specific AI in our phones (Siri, Cortana, etc.) and utilize virtual private assistants, voice recognition technology, Google Translate, and a host of other AI-driven technological conveniences. It’s important, now more than ever, that legislators and Administration officials take the lead in continuing to examine developments in this technology, while foregoing ex ante regulatory measures. As AI continues to drive developments in other technologies, the potential for bad regulatory action could stymie not only autonomous vehicles, but numerous other technologies—some not yet even imagined—that could hold the potential to improve the lives of millions of Americans.  

Through 2017 and Beyond

Philosophers’ dilemmas and apocalyptic rhetoric should not be mistaken for the real world dilemmas facing policymakers. The reality is that AI does not present a fundamental existential challenge to human existence, and likely will not for many, many decades to come. When it comes to AI research, let a thousand strategies bloom. For legislators and regulators, however, let but one strategy be the guiding light: embrace forbearance and let the private sector lead.

Stay tuned the week after next for the third issue policymakers need to focus on in 2017: the Internet of Things.

The Concept of Mind

The Concept of Mind is a 1949 book by philosopher Gilbert Ryle, in which the author argues that "mind" is "a philosophical illusion hailing chiefly from René Descartes and sustained by logical errors and 'category mistakes' which have become habitual." The work has been cited as having "put the final nail in the coffin of Cartesian dualism" and has been seen as a founding document in the philosophy of mind, which received professional recognition as a distinct and important branch of philosophy only after 1950.

In the chapter "Descartes' Myth," Ryle introduces the term "the dogma of the Ghost in the machine" to describe the philosophical concept of the mind as an entity separate from the body. He argues, "I hope to prove that it is entirely false, and false not in detail but in principle. It is not merely an assemblage of particular mistakes. It is one big mistake and a mistake of a special kind. It is, namely, a category mistake."

This is not what I want to write about, but it's important for contextualization, to understand where the concept "ghost in the machine" is coming from.

Human-machine system

Human–machine system is a system in which the functions of a human operator (or a group of operators) and a machine are integrated. This term can also be used to emphasize the view of such a system as a single entity that interacts with external environment.


The area of human–machine choreography is yet to be extensively explored. How body-structure can be extended through machine mechanisms points to how the body can perform beyond its biological form and functions as well as beyond the local space it inhabits. How human movement is transduced into machine motion and then can be both expressed and extended into virtual performance on the web promises new possibilities in both conceptual approach and aesthetic application. For example, incorporating virtual camera views of the performing human–machine system enriches the choreography and intensifies the artistic result.

Robot as fashion designer

That’s something no one will forget. It’s a McQueen performance, a coup de théâtre that has made ever-living history, surely up there among the top 10 fashion show thrills of all time. No matter how many times you play it on video, the rawness and shock of it never diminishes: Harlow standing on a wooden turntable, flailing her beautiful arms above her head, protecting herself as the programmed machinery goes in, gunning at her with black and neon yellow paint. Around and around, woman against machine. It’s poignant, but it’s sexual too. Harlow was a ballet dancer; you see it in her. “She did exactly what she wanted to do,” says Sam Gainsbury, who produced the show with her partner Anna Whiting. “We couldn’t rehearse it. She knew how to keep her center on the turntable because she was a dancer. She didn’t flinch when they came near her face. It was completely spontaneous.”

The art of (making) mistakes: on glitch aesthetics

by Taina Bucher noise & new media festival, September 28 thru October 3, 2010. The international conference and gathering will take place in Chicago to celebrate the aesthetics of the glitch.

A glitch is a short-lived digital or analog error. Such errors mostly occur when there is some sort of mistranslation in the transmission of data between different domains in a computational system. A visual glitch is not the error itself, but its visual manifestation of it. They appear as a malfunction (a voltage-change or signal of the wrong duration) in an electrical circuit. In software a glitch is something unpredictable, something that changes the desired or expected output of the system. Things go wrong. I think Olga Goriunova and Alexei Shulgin describe what a glitch is all about in a nice way in their contribution to the Software Studies lexicon: “A glitch is a mess that is a moment, a possibility to glance at software’s inner structure…it shows the ghostly conventionality of the forms by which digital spaces are organized”.

The unexpected and the dysfunctional nature of the glitch lend itself well for artistic explorations. Glitch aesthetics is the visualization or making visible of errors, it is a way of organizing perception that emphasizes the artificiality of representation. The aesthetics of glitch makes the functionality and dysfunctionality of software appear. It interrupts the event and breaks down the expected.

Glitch art is an art form that plays with these manifestations of errors, these ruptures and cracks. According to artist Rosa Menkman, glich art shows how destruction can change into the creation of something original. Glitch art is not just about errors produced deliberatively by the artists but also about a way of expression that depends on multiple actors contributing to the creation of unexpected events in computational systems. Menkman describes her artistic practice in producing glitch art as uncanny and sublime. “The artist tries to catch something that is the result of an uncertain balance, a shifting, un-catchable, unrealized utopia connected to randomness and idyllic disintegrations”. She says: “I manipulate, bend and break any medium towards the point where it becomes something new”.

The artist Nick Briz compares glitch art to cubism. The logic of cubism he says is that of reducing natural forms into its basic geometric constituencies, glitch art does something similar by attempting to expose the algorithmic processes into an aesthetic form. Glitch art also resembles pop art in his view. Like pop art, glitch art shows an interest in popular culture by appropriating it. What’s being appropriated are the errors occurring in software, video games, images, videos, audio and other forms of data. Unlike Menkman, Briz seems to think that artists primarily search the digital landscape in order to catch, grab and record a glitch, rather than intentionally create them.

The question is whether a glitch is still a glitch, that is an unexpected result of a malfunction, if it is intentionally created? Is it possible to make a mistake on purpose and still call it a mistake?

One of the most prominent glitch theorists, Iman Moradi, distinguishes in his dissertation between the “pure glitch” of the unexpected malfunction and the “glitch-alike” which is a result of an intentional human decision. Moradi together with Ant Scott, Joe Gilmore and Chrisopher Murphy just last year published one of the first books (if not the first) solely devoted to glitch aesthetics – to the art of loss of information, the frozen uncertainty, and the revenge of the machine.

The Ghost in the Machine

By Josephine Wolff
May 6, 2015 9:30 am

The month after my grandmother died, I received several emails from her. Not from her, of course, but from an old AOL email account of hers that had been taken over by spammers. My mother and other family members called to ask me — the granddaughter who studies computer security — to make the emails stop. We were all strangely unsettled by these messages from beyond the grave, by my grandmother’s sudden appearance in our inboxes so soon after we’d lost her. More than just spam, this felt like a ghost in the machine.

To my grandmother, born in 1927, everything about computers and the Internet had seemed slightly supernatural. A writer for more than 60 years, she understood that being a professional in this day and age — selling books and articles, communicating with publishers and agents, editing and revising — required using a computer. And so she did.

But she regarded machines with suspicion and mistrust. Above all, she felt a deep sense of despair that something cataclysmic and irreparable had happened whenever she couldn’t find the Firefox icon (which she referred to as Foxfire), or open an email attachment. She would call me and say woefully: “I’ve spent all day looking for the story I was writing and it’s completely disappeared. I don’t know what I did. I’ve broken the Internet.”

How ironic that she should have an afterlife on that same Internet she was so sure she had broken. Nowadays, online ghosts and Internet afterlives are not just for those with big digital footprints and major social media lives but even for my grandmother, who considered it a major achievement to find the send button in her email. And if she thought the Internet was magic — good magic or malevolent magic — perhaps it’s also oddly fitting that it should be some 21st-century version of beyond the veil, our gateway to the spirit world.

Magical or not, my grandmother struggled mightily with the computer. It got harder as her eyesight deteriorated and she was both increasingly unable to navigate the screen and increasingly prone to frustration. Naïve digital native that I am, I periodically believed I could fix her problems with a well-placed technological intervention.

In 2010, I set up a blog for her (tagline: “Five years older than the A train”) so she could continue writing for an audience even as it got harder for her to navigate the world of professional publishing. In the summer of 2012, I persuaded her to buy an enormous 27-inch iMac and set it up in her apartment, magnifying the cursor and the text and the icons so she wouldn’t have to strain her eyes. I created an iChat account that would launch automatically and set it so that I could take control of her desktop remotely, using my own account, whenever something went wrong.

On some level, I understood even then that there was no technology that could make up for going blind, nothing that would make that loss less acute or painful or resented — but I put everything I could think of into that computer, making it so big and simple and user-friendly that maybe, just maybe, while writing on its enormous screen, in type magnified by 400 percent, she would forget that she could no longer read a newspaper or easily navigate the city where she had lived almost her entire life.

There were still lots of despairing phone calls, only now I could hang up the phone and connect directly to her computer from my own laptop, 200 miles away, talking to her and moving her mouse from afar, telling her, when she asked, bewildered, where my voice was coming from, “I’m here, I’m in the computer.”

And then, suddenly, she was the one in my computer — and not just because of the creepy emails that arrived so soon after her death. In the year since my grandmother died, I have inherited some items she loved — jewelry, clothing, books, refrigerator magnets in the shape of Popsicles — and also, inevitably, that computer, which now lives on my desk in Cambridge, with her usernames and passwords still scrawled in her shaky, oversize handwriting on scraps of paper taped to the screen, with the font and icons still magnified, and the blog post she was only 200 words into when she went to the hospital still saved on the desktop.

I’m sometimes startled by how powerfully that computer evokes my grandmother for me. As a break from my own work, I often clean out her inbox or go through her documents — that most intimate of after-death invasions — and read her words: letters, blog posts, essays, short stories, a novel, bad puns, revision upon revision, endless accidentally created automatic backups and copies. I can almost hear her voice (as she so often heard mine) coming out of the screen, can almost see her painstakingly pecking at her oversize keyboard to correct the typos or finish the latest blog post, can almost appreciate what a mystical machine it must have seemed to her.

These days, I use the computer mostly to work on my dissertation, which is about how we defend computers against attacks and about the complex interplay and interactions between the kinds of defenses we use (encryption, firewalls, passwords) and the types of defenders involved (organizations, policy makers, software developers). It focuses on the ways we often end up defending computer systems against the wrong things. We mean to protect against theft or fraud but ultimately only manage to protect against short passwords or open ports — which often turn out to be weak proxies for the real dangers.

I discuss the misleading rhetoric in which we talk about attackers “getting into” computers, when in fact, attacks consist of a series of escalating access capabilities. There is no moment at which an attacker is suddenly “in” a compromised computer.

I make this argument now on that very same machine from which I regularly announced to my grandmother, “I’m in the computer,” the same machine that I tried so unsuccessfully to layer with as many defenses as I could against her worsening eyesight and technological despair, the same machine that has slips of paper with her passwords written on them taped to the bottom of the screen because, poor security practice or no, I can’t bring myself to throw them away.

It is at once funny and strange and sad and fitting to write on my grandmother’s computer. There’s undeniable comedy in the idea that anything of hers should even touch a computer-science dissertation. And, of course, it’s bittersweet, still, to look at her handwritten notes below the screen and her archives of years’ worth of writing and realize all over again, I’m never going to get another call that she’s broken the Internet, never going to find her Foxfire icon, never going to be inside her computer, never going to talk to her again.

But the right way to remember my grandmother is to write, so I go back to my dissertation, and I try to channel her dedication, her passion for writing, if not her belief that the machines were out to get her, into my thesis — she would not have understood a single word, I know, and yet her voice is on every page.


Josephine Wolff is a graduate student at M.I.T. and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She writes about cybersecurity for Slate.

Fritz Kahn (1888–1968) describes the relationship between man and machine: “[they] exhibit far-reaching similarities. Both derive their energy from the combustion of carbon, which they obtain from plants. Man, the weaker machine, utilizes fresh plants for fuel, while the locomotive, a stronger machine, uses fossilized plants in the form of coal.” Kahn’s modernist visualization of the digestive and respiratory system as "industrial palace," really a chemical plant, was conceived in a period when the German chemical industry was the world’s most advanced.

An essay by Jonas Downey (University of Illinois)


The name “Glitch Art” is, in itself, a slight misnomer. Many pieces are more intentional than random – Scott’s fascination runs so deep that he is often moved to generate such chaos on his own, by feeding information to computer programs in a form they aren’t meant to receive or manipulate.


How should one read glitch works? Is it important to understand the data sources? As a signifi er of data, glitch art is often so obtuse that most casual viewers would not have the technical savvy to fully understand the processes and sources of the information they are seeing. Some pieces are not explained at all. In this way, glitch art shares some perceivable elitism with that of traditional gallery art practice, but it is a different type of elite – hacker elite.

Thus, the viewer’s experience with a glitch art piece involves a personal awareness of computing and technology. Some of the work requires just menial technological experience – any child of the 80’s would recognize the familiar blips and digital warps that might arise from an incorrectly-loaded Nintendo cartridge. But the aesthetic and conceptual beauty of a visualized Unix core dump (a copy of the contents of memory used by a computing process) is limited to those with the background to understand it.

Accessibility (or lack thereof) is unfortunately the pratfall in this work. There is an undeniable voyeuristic potential in the practice of rooting around inside random-access memory, looking for bits of email messages and fragments of images stowed away as distant reminders of the machine’s (and its users’) past. The work is at its most successful when the data alone has some significance, and layers of encoding are decoded, deconstructed, and spread out like scraps. The stories that develop are a mash of technical jargon and personal information – it is as if a surgeon has dissected a cyborg’s brain and the viewer has the chance to play connect-the-dots.


this reader[ror] is de[a]dicated to all those pixels and programs who gave their lives in the hope of making something wrong, right.

A Philosophical Analysis of Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Date: January 20, 2015

Author: mogsam

Ah yes, another article clumsily grappling with philosophical concepts, this time in the context of none other than Ghost in the Shell. For the purpose of the main focus of this article, I’ll start with a refresher.  In this film, a soul is referred to as a “ghost” and the plot is propelled forward by a myth concerning an entirely robotic being containing its own “ghost”. This ultimately brings forth questions as to what a “ghost” is and whether artificial lifeforms can possess these “ghosts”. Similarly, it also pushes forward the question of what is inherently unique to humans if robotic beings can mimic something such as a “ghost”. It is immediately apparent that this film presents the idea of dualism; the mind and body are presented as different entities.

Motoko Kusanagi, the main character, and a cyborg, is able to separate from her body and travel through the net on her own accord. When plugged in, she is capable of looking into another ghost or hack into a GPS system without the aid of a physical body. In essence, Motoko’s ghost has the ability to act in such a way that controls her body but at the same time act entirely individually from it. Gilbert Ryle is well-known for his criticism of dualism, a theory presented by Rene Descartes that the mind and body are distinct, with the mind living in some non-physical plane. Ryle speaks of how a person’s mind and body influence one another – that while the mind can control various parts of the body to perform certain actions, the body has an equal potential. Ryle says, “…grimaces and smiles betray the mind’s moods and bodily castigations lead, it is hoped, to moral improvement”. Now of course, applying this unique situation of the “ghost” of a cyborg implies different circumstances. It is unknown as to whether robotic beings or even cybrogs can have what could be considered a soul. However, I will continue forth with this idea and suggest that in the world of Ghost in the Shell, mind is clearly superior over that of its counterpart.

Motoko does not act in response to her body, and whatever actions she would react to would be the result of her mental capacities. I believe that with the introduction of a means for the mind to travel through the net, any potential for body and mind to be interwoven together indefinitely is destroyed. Following this train of thought, we run into concepts that sum up Descartes in his entirety. The very notion of “I think therefore I am” is the basis for Motoko’s reasoning that she must be something. However, her reasoning takes it a step further and denotes that memories are something that makes up an individual and that while she may have artificial parts; she has memories that are unique to her.  The following is a conversation she has with a cyborg friend about her thoughts on existence:

Motoko: Just as there are many parts needed to make a human a human, there’s a remarkable number of things needed to make an individual what they are. A face to distinguish yourself from others. A voice you aren’t aware of yourself. The hand you see when you awaken. The memories of childhood, the feelings for the future. That’s not all. There’s the expanse of the data net my cyber-brain can access. All of that goes into making me what l am. Giving rise to a consciousness that l call “me”. And simultaneously confining ”me” within set limits.

In this monologue, she considers all of that attributes that extend beyond her mind. By the same kind of logic Descartes follows, Motoko is able to distinguish her body as an attachment to her, such as her hand and her face that differ from others. She focuses a bit more on individuality, namely the memories she alone keeps to herself which make up her ghost. By Descartes’ very own logic, Motoko exists simply because she is able to think for herself and make rational decisions. But the question I ask is whether that might not necessarily be true. Yes, Motoko is able to think and react to events around her while making logical choices. She can deduce information from her surroundings, and go as far as to question her own existence. Nevertheless, she is a cyborg created by a company and even speculates that she may be entirely synthetic with artificially generated memories. More importantly, because she is a cyborg, she is also limited to the manufacturer’s specifications. She acts for the benefit of the company and follows orders knowing very well that should she choose to retire, she must return back her cyborg shell along with any of the memories she may hold.

The question then is, does Motoko exist as an individual if her thoughts and memories may not even be her own, with the knowledge that they could be programmed artificially and restrain her from thinking freely, and potentially even limiting the kinds of thought she can have. Of course, the other position to consider this conundrum is by strictly following the standard old Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” in its entirety. As long as Motoko is thinking, she exists, no matter who or what the source of these thoughts originate. The moment she decides to retire or happens to be destroyed is the moment she simply no longer exists. It shouldn’t technically matter whether they are her own thoughts or whether they were programmed into her or not.

The next point of interest is in discussing the nature of the human “soul” and whether there is any more merit from a so-called “soul” than there is from a cyborg’s “ghost”. Here we see this fleshed out a bit further:

Batou: Ridiculous! You’re merely a self-preserving program!
Motoko: By that argument, l submit the DNA you carry is nothing more than a self-preserving program itself. Life is like a node which is born within the flow of information. As a species of life that carries DNA as its memory system, man gains his individuality from the memories he carries. While memories may as well be the same as fantasy it is by these memories that mankind exists. When computers made it possible to externalize memory you should have considered all the implications that held.
Batou: Nonsense! No matter what you say you’ve no proof that you’re a life-form!
Motoko: lt is impossible to prove such a thing. Especially since modern science cannot define what life is.

I instantly think of Hume’s bundle theory when I now read over this conversation, which asserts that an object is no more than the collection of its parts and nothing more. Motoko is once again suggesting that life carries its individuality from memories. This can be in the form of DNA or externalized like in computers. With such a heavy emphasis on memories and the implications they have on a being’s actions or thoughts, the same recurring theme is brought to the foreground – the idea that one exists as merely a collection of pieces of experiences and perceptions. From this idea, both humans and computers exist purely through their ability to retain information and call it back up again in the future which is where they seemingly hold the same value.  

Moving onward from Descartes (there’s a lot of rich philosophical content here) I would like to now focus on Motoko and her peculiar characteristics. She has a deep sense of emotion and awareness of her feelings in response to her environment. In order to get a better of sense of what I’m exactly talking about, I’ll refer to the scene where Motoko is reminiscing about diving in the ocean with the same cyborg friend she spoke to previously:

Batou: Doesn’t the ocean scare you? lf the floaters stopped working…
Motoko: Then l’d probably die. Or would you dive in after me? No one forced you to come out here with me. l just—
Batou: So, what’s it feel like when you go diving?
Motoko: Didn’t you go through underwater training?
Batou: l’m not talking about doing it in a damned pool.
Motoko: l feel fear. Anxiety. Loneliness. Darkness. And perhaps, even hope.
Batou: Hope? ln the darkness of the sea?
Motoko: As l float up towards the surface l almost feel as though l could change into something else.

Here we can see Heidegger’s ideas come into shape with this kind of thinking. Motoko is apparently concerned with her own existence and enjoys diving because she is able to feel emotions triggered by her sense of fear. Heidegger suggested that because we know that we will die, concern with our annihilation is an ever-present feature of human experience. Motoko shares that concern for her life when she experiences emotions such as revolve around the idea of death. While Motoko cannot die like a normal human being, she is still concerned with existing in her present condition, as a ghost in a shell. She yearns to continue existing rather than yield to any sort of disassembly, which are feeling common to every human being. With the concern about her life and the sensations she feels when faced with the potential for death, it seems that “death is the key to life” is a valid statement to make.

However, the one aspect of Motoko that is different from the ideas presented by Heidegger is the importance of the question “Why are we here at all?” Clearly, Motoko has a purpose that was created the moment she was created. While she seemingly has the free will of thought and decision, it is only given to her when she fulfills her purpose in the company. She aids in fighting criminal hackers around the nation, but the moment she decides to give up fulfilling such a task she will be terminated. This also leads me full circle to the idea that our lives are shaped by death. Because Motoko is aware of the circumstances that would cause her death, she acts accordingly so that she can live. I think that in the end, whether it is an artificial intelligence, or a human being, one looks for ways to continue existing out of concern for the unknown, the darkness and nothingness that is death.  I think that this will continue to be the state of mind for any being that has the ability to think – it is the inevitability and the curse of having such a capacity for thought. In one form or another, we all seem to contemplate our own existence, left with an eternal sense of wonder and fear concerning the unknown.

William Gibson: the man who saw tomorrow

Neuromancer, 30 years old this month, leapt into cyberspace almost before it existed

By: Ed Cumming

Mon 28 Jul 2014 08.00 BST

Prescience can be tedious for science-fiction writers. Being proven right about a piece of technology or a trend distracts from the main aim of the work: to show us how we live now. William Gibsonknows this as well as anyone. Since the late 70s, the American-born novelist has been pulling at the loose threads of our culture to imagine what will come out. He has been right about a great deal, but mainly about the shape of the internet and how it filters down to the lowest strata of society.

In Neuromancer, published 30 years ago this month, Gibson popularised the idea of cyberspace: a "consensual hallucination" created by millions of connected computers. This network can be "jacked" into, while in the real world characters flit from Tokyo to the Sprawl, an urban agglomeration running down the east coast of the US. Gritty urban clinics carry out horrendous sounding plastic surgery. A junkie-hacker, Case, is coaxed into hacking the system of a major corporation. What once seemed impossibly futuristic is now eerily familiar.

"Neuromancer," says novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow, "remains a vividly imagined allegory for the world of the 1980s, when the first seeds of massive, globalised wealth-disparity were planted, and when the inchoate rumblings of technological rebellion were first felt. A generation later, we're living in a future that is both nothing like the Gibson future and instantly recognisable as its less stylish, less romantic cousin. Instead of zaibatsus [large conglomerates] run by faceless salarymen, we have doctrinaire thrusting young neocons and neoliberals who want to treat everything from schools to hospitals as businesses."

On its release, Neuromancer won the "big three" for science fiction: the Nebula, Philip K Dick and Hugo awards. It sold more than 6m copies and launched an entire aesthetic: cyberpunk. In predicting this future, Gibson can be said to have helped shape our conception of the internet. Other novelists are held in higher esteem by literary critics, but few can claim to have had such a wide-ranging influence. The Wachowskis made The Matrix by mashing Gibson's vision together with that of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander is a facsimile of Molly Millions, the femme fatale in Neuromancer. Every social network, online game or hacking scandal takes us a step closer to the universe Gibson imagined in 1984.


How does the ghost in the machine manifest itself in art, design and the designer’s process?

  • What is the ghost in the machine?
  • What does the ghost in the machine look like in science fiction (film and literature)?
  • What does the ghost in the machine look like in art and design?
  • What does the ghost in the machine look like in fashion?
  • What kind of role can the ghost in the machine play in artistic processes?
  • Can machines take over the role of the designer?

reference list

Betancourt, M. (2013). Critical Glitches and Glitch art [Journal Article]. Retrieved on October 30, 2018, from

Bucci McCoy, M. (2005, June/July). Evos Arts, Lowell: Ghosts in the Machine: Paintings by Cristi Rinklin and Sarah Walker [Review]. Art New England, Vol. 26. Issue 4. p. 27. Retrieved on October 14, 2018, from

Buermann, M. (2016, August 8). Cristi Rinklin’s Immersive Paintings Recall Digital, Natural Worlds [Review]. Retrieved on November 22, 2018, from

Cook, G. (2015, January 21). Rinklin’s Otherworldly Landscapes Are Poised At Boundary Of Tech And Tradition [Review]. Retrieved on October 14 2018, from

Cumming, E. (2014, July 28). William Gibson: the man who saw tomorrow [Newspaper Article]. Retrieved on November 22, 2018, from

Frankel, S. (2016, October 31). The Magnificent Impact of Alexander McQueen S/S99 [Magazine Article]. Retrieved on October 30, 2018, from

Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. New York City, USA: Ace Books.

Ghost in the machine [Blog Post]. Retrieved on October 13, 2018, from

Roy, M. (2014, December). GLITCH IT GOOD: UNDERSTANDING THE GLITCH ART MOVEMENT [Magazine Article]. Retrieved on November 22, 2018, from

Stearns, P. [PBSoffbook]. (2012, August 9). The Art of Glitch | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios [Video File]. Retrieved on October 15, 2018, from

Vanhanen, J. (2001, November 26). Loving the Ghost in the Machine [Blog Post]. Retrieved on October 14, 2018, from

Wolff, J. (2015, May 6). The Ghost in the Machine [Blog Post]. Retrieved on October 14, 2018, from

Yudkowsky, E. (2008, June 18). Ghosts in the Machine [Blog Post]. Retrieved on October 14, 2018, from

[mogsam] (2015, January 20). A Philosophical Analysis of Ghost in the Shell (1995) [Blog Post]. Retrieved on October 14, 2018, from


Technology is very important in my design process, both as tool and as subject. I use various software tools to create digital moulages and prints. I have done so since the second year of this course, when I made a collection about hacktivists using online glitch tools (here). In the third year I made a baroque hooligan chaos collection, working mostly on the computer as well.

In between I also made a little detour via technical university, but this was where I realized technology in an industrial design setting is just no fun to me. It seemed to me that when technology was used in this context, suddenly the design had to be extremely minimal (or nonexistent). I could not develop myself as a designer here at all, because there was just one aesthetic, and it made me miserable. My graduation collection is a response to boring technology, and this essay an ode to mistakes in machines.

I want technology to be weird, I want machines to be whimsical and I want software to be used out of its intended context. I want machines to be recognized and appreciated as valuable partners in design processes. Machine made definitely does not have to equal perfection, because a lot goes wrong, and that is exactly what makes it valuable to artists. Machine made is not inferior to handmade in a design context.

This essay has helped me a lot during my design process. Since I first started research on the subject, I have continuously kept the idea of the ghost in the machine in my mind. At some point I could see a ghost in every machine: the 3D printer shutting off mid-printing because of a power outage at university, resulting in 3D prints suddenly finishing somewhere in the process, showing the usually hidden grid on the inside of the print; the washing machine that unintentionally shrank some of the threads in a specific fabric while dyeing my fabrics, resulting in a very nice texture; a malfunctioning printer messing up my print design but actually improving it; and the milling machine I had to assist because the cut pieces would otherwise go everywhere.

I decided to write this essay in English, because I want to do a master and all of them are in English. I also dreaded having to switch constantly between English and Dutch in sentences with this subject (honestly, ‘Geest in de machine’ just sounds silly). Writing in English turned out pretty OK although it took some time before I started thinking and writing in my own words in English.

I am quite content with the result: I think this is the most coherent essay I have written so far. I was worried that writing about both the literal and the metaphorical ghost in the machine would be confusing, but it was necessary to explain where the idiom ghost in the machine came from. If you start talking about dualism, you might as well talk about what it looks like in science fiction first, and then continue with the metaphor. Science fiction films, books and comics also happen to be another big inspiration to both my graduation collection and to myself, so I didn’t mind writing about it at all.

The ghost in the machine is a subject I am passionate about and want to continue researching after graduation. I am thinking about starting a studio with a multitude of machines like 3D printers, plotting machines and homemade chaos machines, where students and designers can work and collaborate. In this scenario I would be building new machines, creating design software tools and most importantly, stimulating others to discover the ghosts in the machines.