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    on first cyborgs, aliens and other sides of new technologies

    | 2006-08-19 | 11:08
    temos: ENGLISH

    Interview with Berlin-based artist group BBM that performed their work  “Crowd CTRL” Live: streaming, tracking, interracting at ArmPods concerts on May 13 at CAC, Vilnius.
    Interview in Lithuanian/interviu lietuviškai 

    Questions: Valentinas Klimasauskas, CAC
    Answers: Olaf Arndt, BBM
    Zsolt Barat, BBM
    Lars Vaupel, BBM
    Janneke Schönenbach, BBM

    Valentinas: You have recently visited Lithuania and some other Eastern European countries. Can you see any big differences between Germany and Eastern Europe in using hi-technologies for ideological purposes?

    Olaf: In speaking about art and ideology, I’d like to quote a friend, an American musician based in Slovenia, with a fascinating personal background. He was raised in Southern California in a Ukrainian enclave amongst members of his family who still, after 30 years in the States, did not feel obliged to speak any English. His brother was a radical Christian fundamentalist, while he himself worked for the American military. Later he decided to retire and become an artist. So, who else could have more practical experience in dealing with different "ideologies", whatever color, East or West?

    He says: "New media art? Just a fake! Just business, it’s all about products. Formally it’s a disco, basically polka! Music is perhaps the most forceful non-lethal weapon ever invented: it was made to control the emotions of the crowd, to calm them down. Even if its looks like ecstasy from outside, it’s a precisely planned economic process."

    Whenever the masses get involved, the products have to be mass-compatible. All over the globe, people get hypnotized by the same items: it’s a total I-Pod culture, so to say. "Total" in the good old German sense in which Carl Schmitt used the word. We are in a permanent capitalistic “Ausnahmezustand” where no niches are left. Economy is the logic of the total – a total logic, with no “–ism” attached to it, because it is by itself and does not need any system beside it.

    The times of ideology are over, most probably, for ever. As there is no point of return within capitalism, there are no possible worlds or spheres parallel to it. As capitalist hardliner theoreticians would say, “It’s a law of nature, no ideology”. But this law doesn’t know any borders between East and West: it just knows victims and perpetrators, losers and winners.

    Zsolt: Maybe the acceptance of the use of new technologies seems to be more non-critical in the Eastern European countries that we visited. People, especially those involved in the so-called art scene or new media projects, are more focused on the positive sides of the new technologies, not to say that there are also projects dealing with dangerous effects of it, e.g. Marco Peljhan’s work.

    Janneke: If you read "old" books, those written before 1914 or between the wars, you will see that the ideology did a whole lot of damage to the European culture. Take the books by authors who write about their cosmopolitan – and of course bourgeoisie – times before the wars: the artist still belonged to that model as the "tongue of the balance". No matter if they had money, their ideas were their bill to enter. They were invited to join the discussion. No question, they were a part of the game, no matter if their origin was East or West. Think of Monte Verita: the same amount of Russian anarchists as of Western "modern conservatives". Or take Irene Nemirowsky, for example. She is describing a world before WW2, maybe the last glimpse of a history that wasn’t completely infected by one or another ideology. What you can sense there is a culture of fear. That’s not only the victim’s fear. It is the fear of the ideologies confronted with their own intellectuals. Before two big leading ideologies of the 20th century took complete control for the next 15 or 40 years, there was a kind of social obligation that brought the commercial leaders together with the intellectuals. One party was exchanging their financial superiority for the other party’s "esprit". They learned from each other and they knew that they belonged to the same system, but with very different tasks.

    Nowadays, as a result of the ideology’s "game of extinction", we do not experience this correction of our views and standpoints. Vice versa, we only play the game of the winning party. Revision has been erased from the scene. The truth is owned by those who have the power. That’s the shortest way to define ideology: the power of definition. Technology only plays the role of the servant in it, it follows the leader’s needs, in other words, the market.

    Valentinas: As you write in your website http://www.bbm.de/, the BBM group has always been focused on technology, scientific research and the social reality of post-war Germany. Were there huge differences about it in the former West and East Germany?

    Olaf: A good term to compare Germany’s former East and West is “bricolage”. In our very first book from 1989, which was called simply "Machines", the German author and Burroughs’ friend Ploog called us "maniac German engineers with the same mentality that ruled amongst the Germans in Stalingrad: those kind of guys never give up. They try to repair even the worst bits of technology to send them on the battlefield again." But maybe this style of improvising makes the machines work just for one more night, for one last showdown. It was something that people understood quite well during our first travels to East-Germany, way back in the early 90ies. There has always been that ambiguity during our trips to the East, e.g. when we joined the "Dream game" festival in the stadium of Dynamo Kiev in 2001: parts of the audience were eager to get our brand new sponsored Varta batteries, while others saw the "other West" that they welcomed like a kind of surprising hope that there were people taking care for old technology and other scraps. But then already there were Ukrainians who felt fooled by our archaic robots: it wasn’t the kind of future they expected to see.

    Today, both ends of Europe have developed the same direction. The breakdown of the ideological regimes meant as well the end of fundamental differences.

    Valentinas: To note your interest in hi-tech weapons, I’d like to ask you about the internet as a (possible) weapon. From the very start, the internet was created as a cold war instrument. It was –  and still is – widely used for tracking and distributing of the intercepted information. Also, the internet became a vital media for getting and spreading information. Do you see any other possible ways of using the internet as a weapon, not mentioning using it as a tool for propaganda, censorship, and spying?

    Lars: The internet can become a weapon in the case when important fractions of a state’s infrastructure can be targeted or influenced via the net. It’s hard to judge how far this process has already gone. Depending on the different sources of information, the specialists say either “No way, our firewalls are thicker than bunkers, you can’t break in", or "Hackers were controlling the bombs in the state military atomic department with their laptops".

    If you treat the term “weapon” in its wider sense, DDOS (distributed denial of service), attacks and spam is a weapon because it destroys commercial properties, in the very last case combined with social engineering.

    Zsolt: The internet seems to be more a communication device or a reproduction tool. For sure, it is also possible to use a telephone network as a weapon, and in the times of war, every telephone network is a part of the military infrastructure. The question how the internet is involved in modern war, in the so called "war against terror", is a more interesting question in this regard. As we see, the landscape of a civil-and war-society is more and more confusing and networked. To make a difference between the civil and the military part of life seems to be more unclear than it ever was. Maybe the questions "Who are the enemies?" and "Who are the ones who fight them?" are not so spotty at a second glance.

    For sure, as the internet is more and more commercialized, it is an economic weapon as well.

    Valentinas: As tracking from space becomes more and more user-friendly, it seems that in the nearest future you will be enabled to track down your cat in the yard in real time by using satellite technologies. Don’t you think it will change the ways we perceive reality?

    Zsolt: "Real time" and "live" are always a bit ambiguous. Did live-TV change perception of reality? Location tracking systems, in general, are funny things one can play with.

    Lars: It will still take a while until live-from-space video will be available for everybody.

    And even if it will be there one day, it won’t change our perception more radically than Google Earth, videophones and webcams have already done. It’s a fatal process that sneaks in without notice. What you feel to be spectacular now will be outdated by the end of the day.

    You see, people did fight against census and CCTV some years ago. Now they accept it, since it has stayed too long, and if it helps to catch terrorists, they love it. There is that sentence saying, “Those who mustn’t hide something can’t be against it…”

    Olaf: Left wing lawyers and doctors have been fighting on from the seventies to prevent that state institution from getting the right to use chip implantation as a means of control. Now you can buy RFIDs so cheap that they are offered as a new kind of piercing in discotheques, becoming the jewellery of today. Their proponents call them "digital Guardian Angels", and people are massively shopping razorblades and t-shirts with integrated tracking tools. They willingly use the options of their cellphone providers to spy out the location where their lovers or children are. Privacy is for sale, as well as ethical refinement or personal freedom.

    Our project TROIA was a three years investigation in the implications of "political control". We finally found out that more effective means of control is self-control. The political has been pensioned off, same as the public will to participate in shaping your society bottom-up. It’s a pity, and we are still fighting against it. We can’t believe that our will to be individuals is that small.

    Valentinas: We all know that Jean Baudrillard did not believe that the Gulf War did take place, as it was over-mediated and over-simulated. In fact, the Gulf War II is still not over, and Iraq became much more than just a Frankenstein laboratory for the new media, technology and “democracy” games. What can we learn from wars that do not take place, even though they cannot be finished? Are they becoming a symptom of our times as a confrontation between multiple time-lines, ideologies and technologies in a single place?

    Lars: Actually, it has always been the same: new wars have been better test-beds for the state of art technologies and the latest computer-controlled firearms. The World War I already was a fully mechanized war where pre-robots were fighting each other and gassing the troops. And afterwards, the winners shape the new world order.

    Olaf: Who on hell is Baudrillard? The one who earns money by publishing his prognoses after the things happen? What a fuck, French philosophy deals too much with luxury problems and elegantly ignores the problem itself. It’s no wonder, this is the colonizer’s mentality, you can hear it roaring in their words: they use phrases made to camouflage genocide.

    I went to see that Virilio’s exhibition "Ce qui arrive" at Foundation Cartier in 2003. I was smashed by that banal presentation of  the evil of all kinds: again, natural catastrophes and evil done by man were exposed on the same wall, glued together with a piece of "theory". There you find it all, filed up in one row: the pure luxury of the Cartier-funded Jean Nouvel building, an artwork without any blood in its veins, and that late Christian philosophy about the techno-cataclysm being the revenge of God. Pure shit, turned into gold in the holy cellars of the modern alchemists’ museums.

    The artist-made video "documents" of the Manhattan towers opposed to Iraqian war pictures: that’s not Armageddon, that’s man-invented war technology to be used to subdue others. And there is always somebody who pushes the buttons, even when the button is a computer mouse some ten thousand kilometers away from the place where people die, or even if it is a civil airplanes redirected by Islamists. Everybody knows that. War technology has always been made to make killing easier. And to produce martyrs as well.

    Janneke: Compare Baudrillard with Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Dunant was no philosopher, he was just an intelligent rich man in the late 19th century. But his ideas went far more in the direction where you should hope to find philosophers as well. He experienced war as a "randonneur": he passed by, he saw the suffering and the inhumanity of war. And he felt obliged to act. Apart from the maybe 10 days he spent on the battlefield, on the beautiful meadows in the Europeans Alps, helping wounded people to survive, as a complete medical layman he decided to do something more sustainable against these odds. He knew that his efforts couldn’t prevent war in general, but he felt that he could alter the cruelty of reality. And he succeeded in doing it. No wonder that in our days we find the most engaged people to support the TROIA projects intention in Geneva, where they are still based. And they are not only doing their necessary surgeon’s work in the field: they are as well fighting with the same energy on the diplomatic battlefield.

    Valentinas: Is it true that future wars will be wars against citizens, as it is not enough just to hunt the “evil” government and “evil” president, as in case of Iraq and Saddam Hussein?

    Lars: I do not, I cannot believe that anywhere a complete nation is regarded as to be bad, and that’s the one and only reason why "we" have to start war against "them". The real reasons are always the notorious ones, like resources, power, expanding the territories, etc.

    Olaf: We have had a lot of discussions and made interviews with the key persons of the international non-lethal weapons at the special technologies scene in the last years. Most of them were employees of the US military, special police forces, SWAT or intelligence.

    I am mentioning this because there is, in fact, a new critical relation in future wars, and that’s all centered around the role of civilians and other "enemies caught on the battlefield". The whole non-lethal movement emerged, in my opinion, not from humanistic beliefs, but from the problems that the US had during their "peace keeping missions" in Somalia and elsewhere since. Snipers were constantly killing their troops "shielded" by civilians, mostly children. So the US went into that problem, to kill the ones they pretended to protect, just to save their own GIs. So they where researching for a technology to blow them all off, and later select the good and the bad.

    In a way, they were seeking for the Holy Fire: remember that historical case when, in the 13th century, heretics went into a Catholic church in France to escape from the pope’s army. Their bishop decided to put barricades from outside against the doors of that church and burn all of them inside, and there will be no problem because "God will select his people properly."

    One of the special weapons advisors, the Vietnam veteran John B. Alexander, put it like this: "There are already enough weapons and technologies to control or suppress the resistance of any possible dimension. It’s the human that makes us free, not the technology." These are words to remember, spoken by somebody who killed a lot in service as he confesses in his book "American Soldiers".

    Valentinas: Why can’t the CIA catch Bin Laden? Are the latest technologies not smart enough yet?

    Olaf: It’s not at all a question of technological superiority. For sure, the US could do it if they really want, but they may still need him as a negative idol, and as an excuse for permanently tightening their control concepts, exploiting the East and bringing war in their countries.

    By the way, as there is no "Al-Qaeda" (payroll for assassins), there is no big money still held by Bin Laden. His property was confiscated twice: in 1994 in Saudi Arabia, and in 1996 in Sudan. Financial specialists say that, most probably, the fantastic 300 million dollar budget for terror does not exist. There are only fanatics and a "clever" and "sustainable" low budget war behind the lines which they learned from the intelligence. Ground Zero has proved the Arabian counter insurgency to be successful, even if the CIA have not organized the game themselves. The CIA have raised and educated Bin Laden over 20 years, and urgently they need him now to build up homeland security and thereby make critics at home shut up.

    Valentinas: In his book “Techngnosis”, Eric Davis has  made this statement that humans are cyborgs from the year zero. But who, in your opinion, was the first cyborg on Earth?

    Olaf: Maybe the bacteria that entered a termite’s anus to exchange its genes with the host through the open cell walls, in order just to stimulate it and get more food. Check Lynn Margulis’ text about it in our book “Hyper-organisms”at http://www.bbm.de/book/hyper.html

    But Davis is right: as far as we understood from Margulis and her son Dorion Sagan, we, all humans, consist of hundreds of former savage xeno-organisms that are arranged with each other by "genetic cross-fertilization".

    Valentinas: “Doesn’t stay fixed on screens. Screens might become obsolete sooner than you think… A laser micro-scanner will paint realities directly on your retina; it‘s just a question of when it will happen… The people we have working on it think we can achieve a resolution of 8000 by 6000 scan lines.”…

    Lars: How should that work out? If  ever possible, what is the difference between a laser micro-scanner and a transparent LCD or whatever? It still needs external hardware…

    Zsolt: Screens are illusions, like dreams. Resolution doesn’t make sense without an interesting idea.

    Valentinas: … (Thomas A. Furness, former director of the US Air force’s VR research program. Quoted by Howard Rheingold from an interview at the Human interface technology laboratory, University of Washington, in H. Rheingold, ‘Virtual Reality”, P. 194).

    When do you think the first hi-fi hardware and software will be created to command the human brain directly? I mean, when will we be able to google by using just our brain, not the keyboards and PCs?

    Lars: It’s an interesting question and an interesting approach towards the concept of the human. It will take some time until the bricoleurs have built the brain-interface. Even if it will work without a keyboard, some kind of board or processor – whatever it will look like – will be needed, at least as long as Google hasn’t turned into pure thoughts…

    Zsolt: There are already interfaces allowing to use the Google via the brain activity and to extend the brain memory with a few gigabytes of artificial memory.

    It doesn’t make a real difference – in the perspective of an interface – if an application is used by brain directly. Applications are used by human brain as artifacts, like cars are.

    Valentinas: As there is a huge need for aliens to be discovered, do you think the first aliens will be discovered/imported from outer space or “produced” on our planet?

    Lars: Real aliens, in the sense of the unidentified being that shows up surprisingly without any predecessor on earth, that can be only from outer space by definition. All kinds of golems or cyborgs that might be invented on earth can never become "aliens".

    Zsolt: Aliens are aliens only if the so-called human civilization considers them as alien beings. In this perspective, aliens have many options. Alien life-form is already somewhere there, we didn’t discover them, but we have already annihilated them.

    Maybe we are aliens to ourselves, to our nature. So the real search for aliens should probably be started by a research of our psyche or the question what is nature and what is civilization.

    Valentinas: As Gibson put it, “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed”…

    Lars: As soon as you are able to perceive the future, it’s already the present, and more or less the past at the same second. In this regard, the Gibson quote is a little senseless.

    Zsolt: The future is determinable, and we all can make decisions to let it be less dark, as Gibson most remarkably did. He brought down the future, or better, the genre of science fiction, to a practical experience. He pointed out that the future isn’t a determinable scientific endeavor, like Moore’s law, but even this law has its limits. It’s all in flux, and we have the possibility to change it all the time, as much as we can change our present.

    Also, the role of technology is not that important in this regard. Other skills, like the adoption of corporate technological innovations and their use in pirate like-groups, or stealing the licensed knowledge, are an important ability in this present/future world, beside other important cultural techniques like sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

    Valentinas: … So what is not going to happen in the future which is already here? In what kind of movie will we live then, or will we be saturated by the future?

    Zsolt: We live in our present, and it’s neither a destiny nor a movie, just a time frame, which is very complex but changeable. So the analogy to a movie or a book, which is always serial, is a false analogy.

    Olaf: There is a whole big problem with all that – spooky or not – "visions": if they look really hype, then, for sure, they are "old-fashioned", like Bruce Sterling puts it. The future will be less breathtaking than the B-movies in the fifties made us believe. And there is always a good amount of stylish design ideas coming within the same package like the vision itself. For example, look at that vast variety of projects on the "Allende Ops-room". Many artists in the last two years (mis)used it to build their game engines or to smear oil on canvas, because THE ORIGINAL looks so smart that it seems to be still something after they have worked on it. Almost nobody is referring to it as a "platform for change", as its inventor Stafford Beer designed it. The beautifully furnished room was, by no surprise, a model for the actual command/control posts in the field during wartime. So the fantasies of omnipotent control impregnate each other. The seventies’ South American communism fed logistics to run down Iraq in the nineties. The platform for a social renewal of the Chilean society during the short utopian interregnum became a tool to track down enemies in the realm of cyberwar. That’s how visions normally end up.

    As our former Bundeskanzler and a great NATO supporter Helmut Schmidt puts it, “If you have visions, you should see a doctor".

    temos: ENGLISH |

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