Can Technologies That Empower Also Enslave?

Brilliant blog post by Mr teacup.

A POST ON MICHAEL SACASAS’ excellent blog has drawn my attention to Tim Wu’s essays in the New Yorker about technological evolution. Michael has his own reflections which are well worth reading of course, but my thoughts veered in a somewhat different direction.

Wu begins with a thought experiment. Imagine a time traveler from 1914 is visiting our time. He is in a room divided by a curtain, and is asked to evaluate the intelligence of the woman sitting on the other side. No matter what question he asks or on what subject, her replies with the correct answer is almost instantaneous. The time traveler concludes that humanity has achieved a level of superintelligence, but the truth is that behind the curtain the woman simply has access to a smartphone with an internet connection.


Tim Wu’s thought experiment exposes another interesting flaw in cyborg thinking. Although it poses as anti-Cartesian, proponents of augmentation assume that no matter what happens, human agency will always be preserved. Augmentation only enhances existing capabilities, and there is no possibility of an antagonism, or any sense that the nonhuman partner has agency or exerts force or pressure on the human, as might be implied by actor-network theory or object-oriented philosophy. To put it differently, why assume that in the cyborg assemblage, consisting of the woman behind a curtain and her smartphone, the woman is the augmented agent? Why privilege the view of the cyborg with the human at the center, when one could just as easily say that the smartphone is augmented by the human? After all, from the vantage point of time traveler, the woman isn’t really contributing very much. At best, she acts as a translation layer, resolving the ambiguities in his commands and relaying the information back with greater verbal fluency than what Siri can currently provide.

Read the full post here


The automation of everything …

New York Review of Books || The Programmed Prospect Before Us:
Robert Skidelsky reviews ‘Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans’ by Simon Head:

“Scientific management” is Simon Head’s point of entry—and protest—in his fine book. Head is a journalist turned academic who has specialized in writing about the social impact of technology. In The New Ruthless Economy (2003), he analyzed the practice of call centers, showing how digitalized scripts required of their operators robot-like behavior. In his latest book he claims that computer programming is now applied to all the principal sectors of the manufacturing and service economy.
The upshot is that networked computers, with monitoring software attached, have hugely expanded “the power to manage the affairs of giant global corporations and…micromanage the work of their single employees or teams of employees.” Their possibilities have spawned “Computer Business Systems” (CBS) which have colonized much of the service sector.
The tendency of CBS, Head argues, is to discourage intuition and judgment in a large population, except for a tiny class of highly paid engineers and managers, who are needed to activate and control the automated systems. What Head calls “digital managerialism” achieves this by transforming the objects of management into “electronic representations” of human beings, “the numbers, coded words, cones, squares, and triangles that represent us on [the] digital screens [of managers].” Such electronic representations have been applied increasingly to middle management, who, deprived of their traditional oversight functions, are themselves subject to the intrusive monitoring of time and performance they had exercised over their subordinates.
Read on here
Of course it is not just ‘work’ which digital Taylorism applies to rather the internet of things and wearable computing seeks to apply it to every area of our lives.

We Are the Borg! Human Assimilation into Cellular Society

The chapter “We are the Borg! Human assimilation into cellular society” (Lipschutz & Hester  2014) in the book “Uberveillance and the Social Implications of Microchip Implants: Emerging Technologies” unsurprisingly caught our eye given our name. The whole book is well worth a read but given the price your probably best getting it from your library.

Abstract: As cybersurveillance, datamining and social networking for security, transparency and commercial purposes become more ubiquitous, individuals who use and rely on various forms of electronic communications are being absorbed into a new type of cellular society. The eventual end of this project might be a world in which each individual, each cell in the electronic “body politic” can be monitored, managed and, if dangerous to the social organism, eliminated.  This chapter examines the objectives, desires and designs associated with such a cellular biopolitics.  Are individuals being incorporated into a Borg-like cyber-organism in which they no longer “own” their substance, preferences, desires and thoughts and in which they are told what they should be doing next?

The whole chapter can be down loaded for free here:


Introduction: It is a dream of power to control human minds and bodies.  Obstacles to this end are the materiality of the latter and the noncorporeality of human thought.  In this chapter, we explore the technological and social potential for creation of a cybernetic collective, not terribly dissimilar from Star Trek’s “Borg”. We propose that such a socio-technological formation might not be quite the science fiction fantasy it is generally thought to be. Although we do not anticipate the full fusion of minds, as among the Borg, the combination of RFID-type brain implants, neuropsychological research and changes in individual subjectivities point toward a “cellular society”, in which individual identities and autonomy are submerged in a greater whole Our goal here is to assess the current state of technology, politics, and social control where minds and bodies are concerned and to suggest how new developments, yoked together, could lead to a re(B)organized cellular society, in which the individual members are linked to each other, in real time, via centralized data bases and surveillance systems available to state authorities.

Our conceptualization of the Borg centers on the collective ontological and cybernetic formation that results from being connected to other brains and bodies through embodied technology. Because of its connectedness, the Borg is more than a cyborg. That is, it is not just a fusion of biology and technology such that a new, bionic man or woman results. It is more akin to Michael and Michael’s (2007) notion of the electrophorus in which a “bearer of electricity” acts like a network element or node in a larger electromagnetic field. The novelty of this networked being is not only that technology and society are fused (Stephan et al 2012) such that human capacities are expanded and improved, but also that mechanisms for surveillance and social control are internalized, opening up the possibility that the Borg can be externally manipulated (Duhigg, 2012; Singer & Duhigg, 2012).  The concern here expands beyond whether this kind of networked society is threatening long-standing notions of what it means to be human (pace the debate between Bostrom (2003) and Fukuyama (2004) on transhumanism). Certainly new neurotechnologies are questioning and even threatening the primacy of traditional humanistic “mind over matter” world views (Benedikter et al 2010). There is no doubt that humans continue to evolve in relationship to the technologies they develop. What is at stake, however, is the extent to which a re(B)organized society can exercise political and moral agency if its thoughts are tracked and controlled from without and if those in such a society feel confused, naked and lost (Mann 1997) when they are not “jacked in” to the network (Gibson 1984).

We begin with a discussion of the political motivations for extended electronic monitoring of “unruly bodies” that pose risks and dangers to the self-discipline and social order underpinning advanced liberal society. Preventing and pre-empting risks to minds and bodies is a central logic driving what we call the “re(B)organization” of society.  The following two sections examine, first, recent technological and neurological efforts to measure and collect in vivo data on biochemical and neurotransmitter levels in brains and bodies, body temperature, toxins, and viruses, and to communicate real time data to remote electronic databases for assessment of risk potential; and second, recent developments in neuropsychology, mindreading and synthetic telepathy.  In the fourth part of the chapter, we review recent research on changes in individual subjectivities following from instant and continuous communication with friends and families afforded by near-ubiquitous cell phones.  Recent experiments with implantable RFID chips point toward more sophisticated, brain-implanted receiver-transmitters offering access to the world’s communication networks while sending out streams of biodata.  Already, the current mix of security, technology and subjectivity is transforming both society and individuality; we should not be surprised if future developments are welcomed with open arms and minds (Collins, 2002).  We conclude with a discussion of the implications of a Borg-like cellular society.

Any commentary we add here might be seen as polemic so seriously just read this academic paper and realise what is at stake.

These companies are tracking their employees outside of work

An article in  the Guardian reports that some employers tracking their staff with wearable tech. It should be illegal for employers to coerce, bribe, oblige or socially pressure employees to wear monitoring devices. If we fail to make this law we are heading for a very scary world indeed.

Staff at a London analytics company are obligated to take part in an experiment that sees them using a variety of apps to monitor their entire lives – and according to its founder, if they “didn’t want to do it, [they] were out.”

Rob Symes, founder of The Outside View, believes he is only asking employees to live by the cultural values of the business as a way to understand – and outsmart – competition. “To be brutal, it’s a cool idea … we want the company to unlock its own potential.”

Employees of The Outside View, based in Shoreditch, have to download a variety of smartphone apps that helps them to track everything from the amount of time they sleep, the distance they walk or run, what they eat, how much time they spend sitting at their desk and are even required to input their ‘happiness’ levels.

But that’s not all. Staff are also currently participating in an intensive exercise programme with the help of the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP) on Harley Street, an organisation that traditionally helps those preparing for major surgery – or getting ready to climb Everest.

At the first session a baseline test is performed, giving each participant an idea of their level of fitness. Based on the results, employees are given a nutrition and workout plan.


Read more at the Guardian 


Google Glass Spyware Sees What You See

California Polytechnic grad students created a spyware proof-of-concept for Google Glass and got it into the Google Play store. The software takes a photo every ten seconds when Glass’s display is off, uploading the images to a remote server without giving the wearer any sign that his or her vision has been hijacked.

Read more at Forbes.  



List of bars that are banning google glass

Glasshole free is also compiling a list so check there as well it may be more up to date:

Oakland CA

Heart & Dagger Saloon,

Merchant’s Saloon,


San Francisco

The Willows, & The Sycamore,





El Rio,

Lucky 13,

The 500 Club,

Grand Coffee, 


Bender’s Bar, 


5 point cafe, Lost lake cafe and lounge,

London UK

The Wolseley,

The Delaunay,

Brasserie Zedel

The above draft list is primarily based on news reports. If you are an establishment that have banned glass and want to be added to the list let us know. Similarly if you are erroneously on the list let us know and we will remove you.