NEW CYBER AGENTS
As of 2021, the consumer computational device is overwhelmingly tied to a person, in a greater ecosystem of people. Therefore, any change in the systems between people, has the power to dictate the trends of a device.
Though in order to do this, a larger change in the complex systems and behaviours must occur within the population. Each one of these, as agents, within the intertwining systems of the computer and human.
In defining our relationships with the computer, we might usually refer to the “features and benefits”, that we get from any device. These are marketing terms tied to the capitalistic desires of an agent in 2021, that consumes the smartphones and laptops that naturally end up as waste. The physical device here is a transient vessel for the cyber existence of any such agent. We can refer to them (us) as existing in 2021 as the old cyber-agents; (ghosts) in the transient shells which we hold in our hands, separate from our physical bodies.
So what if we re-frame the ‘feature’ and ‘benefit’ to that dictated by immediate actions of the agents? The ‘feature’ is now dictated by ‘drive’. The action is now virtue based (eudaimonic) rather than pleasure-based (hedonic). And to achieve this type of living, the ‘benefit’ becomes about beneficiaries. In this context becoming the ‘dependence’ of the agent in any of these worlds.
In pursuit of the “good life” for any agent in context with a computer, it is therefore proposed that a new cyber-agent must be created. This agent is formulated from the desires of the post-capitalist, venture-capitalist, pragmato-consumer and super-consumer, to create an agent who’s drive is almost entirely in their agency, and dependence on a network of others. Tightly knit though both cyberspace and physical space. With the human bodies and bare metal of computational hardware. But what is the purpose of these agents?
The new cyber-agent is a potential antidote to unsustainable cycles of waste in the electronics industry. An industry where rights to modify and repair the computational device are aggressively pushed to the fringes of consumer desire.
The cyber-agent is the next generation of the cyber punk; but put into a consumer ecosystem where they are far from counter-. They are the status-quo of ’users’, that themselves are producers and maintainers of their cyber-selves not only in software but in the vessels for it. They create the setting for longevity and the computational heirloom to exist.
If you have gotten so far to engage with the idea of a new cyber-agent, then in the pages to come, we, the first new cyber-agents invite you to gather perspectives on a new world. From the activist, the pragmatist and engineer of 2021 into the next 180 years; all trying to find sense and hope in such a vision.
This vision is one of an extreme lack of obsolescence. The first experiment to see what our relationship with computation could be if the physical vessel was not only in a human agent’s total digital control, but also physical. The tangible bits and atoms morphed and maintained and fed with data that patinas over a lifetime.
What does the gardener, the accountant, the artist, the cleaner, the artisan, artist and engineer look like if they themselves are new cyber-agents?
We will now give you a hint, and hope for you to find out the details for yourself.
The computer-person and engineer and artist and bureaucrat must accept a merging. An emergence of the new cyber-agent who computes on interfaces laid upon a physical foundation set by a previous kin, in good faith regardless of the burden of form factor but with a gift of agency like that not found outside of the cyber punk or data harvester.
Users and producers in flux, but, move away from the dependence of producers. The user-person morphs and maintains to their specification. The user innovates and the producer manufactures for mass. Accept the bureaucracy of open networks. Register publicly and co-exist with every user-innovator. Recycling is obsolete, the cloud is submitting to trust of the producer. Keep and repair and pay for the service of convenience only to maintain legacies and agencies of the previous and next of kin, whether in blood or adopted lineages by government or friendships.
Aims of the Computational Heirloom:
- To be devices that are morphable and maintainable ad-infinitum
- To be a single computational object that maintains desirability over a person's entire lifetime
- To be an antidote to escalating levels of e-waste
- To be the next generation of lifelong human-computer cybernetic relationships
There is not design in the the computational device that meets a sustainable desire in the user. Data is not enough if the capsule is submitted to the control of private organisations. There must be a reconfiguration of the computational ecosystems we are born into. We inside are the agents, whether even post-capitalist, pragmato-consumer, or venture-capitalist; a new type of agent must be created. And this is the new cyber-agent. The one that by the status-quo of their surrounding ecosystem desires absolute agency over their digital being in hardware and data.
By 2030, allow yourself to buy an iPhone that you keep for one-hundred-and-eighty years. Already you have the ability to do this, but there is no way to desire it or network yourself with a tool of your life that isn't replaced year after year to keep up with the evolving state-of-your-art. In ten years we can try for the first time to have a lifelong relationship with a device to touch or hold that computes the mundane and extraordinary functions of your every day. The cybernetician is you. The user, the consumer, and pragmatic innovator of today.
What would it be to live in a world where the vessel for computation was not disposable, but a precious heirloom. Something so sought-after and revered that it is fought over in the details of a last will and testament. There have been attempts based on modularity. But resolution has never been accessible to the common user. It has been defined by the producer companies. What kind of interactions could we have if we do not mask the computer in the trends of a new fiscal year? I dream of a time where bare-metal data streams are accepted in understanding or mystery and interfaces exist without need for layers of abstraction.
But we know that technology is not static, it must adapt to the newer need and keep up with the latest in breakthroughs for the benefit of accelerating our pursuits. Though we know this acceleration is not for the benefit of the individual agent. There is no need for the obsolescence of the physical after only two, or four, or six years of use; as the physical is morphable, and has the potential to be kept as such.
How do we leave obsolescence behind? Does it seem like an impossibility? Or nostalgic moonshot that goes against progress?
Before committing to any of these, can we ask if the user looks at their own desire in their electronic devices? And if they do, is it that belonging to themselves? Or something projected by a consumer ecosystem?
One elephant in the room is an increasing loss of materiality in computation, that can today be considered progress. What if the device is abstracted from the user, and we simply connect through seamless interfaces to the cloud, under dominion of our chosen (or unchosen) guardian. The loss of the device and data held within the physical space of the user is a visible loss of agency over their digital life. Yet the digital quantities and cybernetic functions are increasingly becoming the most valuable and defining assets of the individual, and group today.
In today’s consumer ecosystems, the digital emblems and icons on our ears or wrist are cybernetic fashion. A way of signalling our status and virtues of the other agents in our system. So could such a relationship be extended with the device itself? That we express our virtues as a caretaker of our cybernetic selves? Be it in a monolith of a computational device tied to our home spaces. Or in the patina of an everyday object we carry and express the evolution of old iconography into that of generations built upon unique stories and attachments and relationships in and out of the cyber world.
The physical in such a world is unashamedly, a burden. This is a near future for all, where we are still very much humans in body as we understand it. This may reject an idea of a post-human within the near future,.Though could this be enough to solve our waste issues in computation? Up until a free agent in a seamless, organically growing computational system emerges?
In a thousand years, any sort of computational hardware may be a bucket of electrons that rearrange into any architecture needed at a moment’s notice. Could some of this magic be possible today? There are technological solutions, where silicon chips rewire themselves to the needs of a specific application, but we are not yet at such a singularity. Should we not instead look at how the human-controlled ecosystems of desire around the object can achieve this?
Say, for example if we became aware of the limitations of decade-old hardware continuing to the future, would we expect much more than is possible in software today? Or could we instead create a population of withering innovators, that take withered technology to it’s extremes in pursuit of it achieving our day-to-day tasks with efficiency. In such a system, some extra time is lost with every action, as the stubbornness of the physical material in withered technology dictates how we imagine technological progress.
This need not be an entire system of slowness, but rather a re-framing of the state-of-the-art based upon the innovation of the smaller community in a silo away from extreme computational cases where waste is inevitable. Do I want a supercomputer to use WhatsApp? Or will a different form of open-routing be more suited, and sustainable for my peers?
How does an engineer born in the 1990’s take care of a computational heirloom into the 2030s? To start, they’d have to create one from scratch, or commission one designed for open morphing and maintenance. The computational heirloom that lasts two generations more, does not exist yet. The engineer’s heirloom is standardised to be custom, and must interface with the heirlooms of the next and previous engineer close and far away.
This need for standards is not a new one, and to keep some amount of convenience in such a diverse world of personal devices, consistency is vital to keep people connected. In order to proliferate, there is no faster way than through openness. The engineer needs access to the standards freely when at school, or private studying to be able to apply it in their everyday context.
Does this risk explaining all complexities as being solved by open source? Only if the resolution of change available to the regular user is too small to sustain a full generation independently. What would it be like if you could make high resolution changes to your chosen computational device dynamically and with common knowledge?
This has been the issue of past attempts. The resolution of change available to a user has always been in small modules defined by a small set of designers in the producer company. In order for a dynamic changing ecosystem of long-life devices to last, this resolution must be high, and designed by the user. The user must have the ability to morph the components down to a low enough level that form factor is also dynamic, and bare metal is a familiar sight. There must not be a dependence on a small set, or single producer company, as this puts the entire ecosystem of heirlooms into jeopardy based upon success of corporate interests. The computational heirloom and the agents that use them are dependent on the network of other user-innovating agents at large.
We must accept that profitability cannot be tied to sale of new devices over and over again. Manufacture of the physical is in parts for service and modification. The art supplies and patina-enhancers of the computer ageing gracefully. The producer companies can accept the lack of need for in-house innovation, if the users themselves are given incentive and agency to produce their own innovation.
Historically mass-produced innovations have their origins a decade earlier by a user-innovator. A new symbiosis must be adopted hereon (en-masse), for the user to benefit from supplying innovation to the producer company. To benefit from the material and functional value itself of the enhancement of the computational device, separate from monetary or intellectual property.
In this, the engineer morphs into the ubiquitous new cyber-agent of the future, who generates value in computational bits and parts, sustaining themselves like the farmer living from their own crop. But this is a crop that is not consumed once, but repeatedly and eternally, built upon in value from the previous and networked produce of the cyber-agent’s peers.
In 2021, car enthusiasts hide large lumps of function steel and plastic in garages. Each with distinct serial number, parts defunct, and shells with a satisfying ability to br buffed to a mirror shine. These are monoliths of their desire. Whether of a machine from 30 years prior? 50?
What separates the computational device from the automobile is it’s lack of mechanical beauty. At it’s most functional, the computer is cold. It is flat and quiet, with efficiency measured at nano-scale. So what, then, is the value of a monolith of a computer in one’s home?
For some, it may be a symbol of their agency. A status, that they hold onto like an urn filled with ashes on the fireplace. Perhaps they add shiny bits, and fashionable trinkets to signal to those who visit. Some might find the burden enticing, “something to take care of”, in the pursuit of giving meaning to our cyber-selves.
So then, is the new cyber-agent one that is driven not only by agency, but also of ego? And if so, is that opportunity, or a vice? Perhaps the action of moving, hauling, or transferring the cyber-self in physical form, or from one vessel to another is a pleasurable act by performing the agent’s ego?
This is likely the most unknown part of the computational heirloom... What does it look like?
The problem lies in fashion, or the lack of in the case of such an open ecosystem. Of desires compounded from generation to generation. Where will the pride of one’s parents fail to compete with an external trend? That of smaller and denser or larger and emptier with decoration and jewellery, and interaction mimicking that with no connection to computation at all?
Trends will, even for the new cyber-agent, be disruptive to a cause. Though with their greater agency to react, may also come unparalleled diversity of user-innovation.
The dream of the computational heirloom relies on a lack of friction in the morphing, maintenance, and access to computational hardware. Though even if all the systems were in perfect harmony to facilitate the thriving of the new cyber-agent, a final complex system of human heritage is left unresolved.
The new cyber-agent is not post-human in their body. They have as complex interactions with family, friends and benefactors as we have ourselves. So what happens when one dies an IRL hermit? Or has too many children within a nuclear family to distribute their computational-wealth among them amicably? Or simply wishes for their legacy to be destroyed upon death?
These systems are beyond the computational heirloom itself, though systems put in place could remove any need for anxiety.
Core to the new cyber-agent’s way of life is reliance on networked systems of openness. Open blueprints and avenues for investigation in the execution of minute and magnificent action. With such openness comes the potential for unparalleled agency over how we may solve a problem. Do we divert ourselves from it? Create alternatives separate from it? Or perhaps distribute one problem to multiple agents?
In this world, the possibilities for new relationships will continue to develop; and perhaps maintain a more sustainable world of computation, while we are still humans as we know it. Within these relationships, do not just imagine the total bandwidth of merging with the computer; but instead the struggles between the purely biological human and a synthetic device physically separate to themselves.
In doing this, we feed off the legacies of ancestors pre-computation. The way we accept and find beauty in patina? And find curiosity in the breaking in, and opening of every seam and void, removed from the systems that made us.Signed: Sandeep "Sandy" Hoonjan
This work by Sandeep "Sandy" Hoonjan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.