A lecture that presents many of the key arguments of my forthcoming book. It was given at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam and at École Normale Superieure Paris-Malaquais, both in the last week of November 2011. My thanks to Phillipe Morel for organizing the invitations and for the translation of the abstract below.
On the Nomos of the Cloud: The Stack, Deep Address, Integral Geography (Sur le Nomos du Cloud Computing : l’empilement, l’adresse profonde, la géographie intégrale)
Cette conférence s’intéresse à la manière dont la computation à l’échelle planétaire déforme et distord la logique westphalienne traditionnelle de la géographie politique - dans la mesure où elle construit de nouveaux territoires à son image -, et revient sur la géométrie et la topologie de ce nouveau diagramme de souveraineté au moment où le plan Moderne et linéaire s’effondre. Mon propos sera que la computation à l’échelle planétaire (des infrastructures de Cloud Computing à la computation ubiquitaire aux interfaces actives comme celle de la réalité augmentée) constitue un « empilement » global de hardware/software (analogue aux OSI, protocoles TCP/IP ou LAMP) et que cet empilement est à la fois le diagramme intégral de la géopolitique computationnelle, et le modèle ou medium critique pour une re-conception de la géographie et de la juridiction à son image. En tant qu’architecturemaître de l’espace du géo-politique, ce modèle est aussi une variante contemporaine de ce que Carl Schmitt appelait le nomos, une structure organisatrice de l’ordre mondial et terrestre, une partition générative des domaines de l’espace en fonction de laquelle les souverainetés sont constituées. Ma position sur L’Empilement est liée à son ambivalence. Il absorbe la souveraineté en lui-même tout en réalisant un nouveau mode d’accumulation primitive (de connaissance distribuée, d’« électrons » arrangés en grille, de réseaux sociaux, de phylum algorithmique, etc.) mais, peut-être plus positivement, déplace aussi le point final de l’ontologie politique au-delà, à la fois de la machine anthropologique d’Agamben et de la distinction de Schmitt lui-même entre amis et ennemis, vers un horizon plus plastique, plus machinique et plus facilement « dessinable ». Pour cette raison, la question d’une « adressabilité » profonde et massive devient la clé d’une nouvelle géopolitique matérialiste et computationnelle, dont quelques caractéristiques seraient :
1. Les lignes sont réécrites, mises en pointillées, déformées, effacées et automatisées (devenant un cadre puis une topographie). 2. L’opposition entre la territorialisation géométrique et chtonienne se résout dans la computation : l’algorithmique est reconnue comme moyen de division continentale. 3. Les interfaces se démultiplient en réseaux qui se démultiplient en territoires qui se démultiplient en paysages géographiques : des territoires constitués de territoires (faits et ensuite conquis, et non conquis et ainsi faits). 4. Le corporel est rendu mobile et le liquide est cristallisé en constructions et infrastructures. 5. Les territoires juridictionnels, d’abord plans horizontaux, se démultiplient en piles entrelacées. 6. L’opaque est retranscrit et le transparent est théâtralisé, mis en scène et artificialisé. 7. L’enclave, la diaspora, le satellite et les allégeances anciennement patriotiques sont formalisées. 8. Les scénarii futuristes et moyenâgeux se confisquent mutuellement les utopies super-computationnelles. 9. Les compréhensions incomplètes (et « non complétables ») des différentes passés de la Terre sont repliées les unes sur les autres en autant de cosmopolitiques ambiantes et promiscuitaires. 10. L’Empilement est assemblé comme l’infrastructure nuageuse d’un monde recomposé (notre pharmacopée, à la fois remède et poison). 11. Etc.
In an age of planetary-scale computation, what is the future of sovereign geography? As it is conditioned by globalization, localization, and intermediate zonal regionalisms, by spaces absorbed by networks and networks absorbed by citadels, will some other, unknown political geometry come to enact and enforce the necessary partitions and brackets (border, wall, law, identity) that would program the world according to its alternative plan, and plan it according to its program? For the citizen-subject-user-agent of that future, how can sovereignty itself be redesigned as the organization of another cosmopolitics, another geography, and another world that is not only possible but even inevitable? These questions are posed in anticipation of an opening-to-come, another “Copernican” transformation of the spatial order that would emerge both in resemblance and against the image of planetary-scale computation as we currently understand it. We may not have to wait. Geographies that were comfortable and doxic are now transient and alien, inhabited weirdly. (endnote....since so much of the text to follow is technical and measured, allow me to say how exactly weird, and frame the text almost aphoristically instead, with a roster that might, by the time you finish the book, read instead like economic lines of execuitlbe code).....
Lines are rewritten, dashed, curved, erased, automated (becoming frame then topography)
The opposition of chthonic and geometric territorialization is collapsed into computation: the algorithmic is accounted for as a means of continental divide
Interfaces multiply into networks which multiply into territories which multiply into geoscapes: territories comprised of territories (made and so entered into, not entered into and so made)
The embedded is mobilized and the liquid is tethered-down into shelter, infrastructure.
Jurisdictional territories are multiplied from flat planes into towered, interwoven stacks.
The opaque is transcribed and the transparent is theatricalized, staged, artificialized.
The enclave, the diaspora, the satellite, and ex-patriot allegiances are formalized,
The futurist and the medievalist scenarios confiscate supercomputational utopias, one from another.
The incomplete(able) comprehensiveness of Earth’s archives are folded back upon themselves as a promiscuous, ambient cosmopolitics.
The Stack is assembled as the blur infrastructure of a world recomposed (our pharmakon -- both remedy and poison).
But even as strange geographies corrugate, fracture and smear worldly scale and tempo, the the ground isn’t somehow evaporated into virtual information flux, but, quite to contrary, we are brought to the end of the non-place, to a point where place can be and must be re-established anew as an accountable habitat in the renewed image of these very same deformations. That establishment is neither a universal irredentism, a natural law re-grounding in organic systems, a universal secessionism, nor an accelerationist escape. It is a designation, a composition, a design aesthetics and a projective ethics of pan-infrastructure, deployed for a geopolitical ontology that cannot possibly untangle material from information, materialism from informationalism, Earth from sky: the line on the earth is a vector in the sky.
Nomos For the consideration of a nomos of the cloud, of planetary computation as the substrate of a geopolitical order, what is a nomos? I employ the concept from Carl Schmitt’s 1950 work, The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of Jus Publicum Europaeum, in which the notorious German legal theorist, develops a sweeping topological history of how political orders, particularly Greeks, Romans empire and then British and Germans empires, divided and partitioned the geometry of territory into particular forms of political geography from which differing logics of sovereignty were derived. Schmitt defined nomos: “the greek word for the first measure of all subsequent measures, for the first land appropriation understood as the first partite and classification of space, for the primeval division and distribution, is nomos.” It is a both a structural logic and a primordial first act of territorial inscription in accordance with that logic, a making of a territorial order through the execution of a territorial claim and physical occupation which precedes it. From this nomos becomes a master architecture of the space of the geo-political, an organizing structure of the world-order/ Earth-order, a generative partition of the domains of space according to which subdivisions of sovereignty are constituted and enforced: from arbitrary territorial capture, to technique of delineation, to geopolitical order (because derived from the earth, geo), to the language of cosmogram/ world-map, and back again. Fredric Jameson offers another structural variation on Schmitt’s definition, he writes, “the concept of the nomos is a periodizing and structural category (whose family likenesses, besides one to the Marxian ‘‘mode of production,’’ might also include one to Foucault’s historical épistemes) then inevitably brings with it the problem of the break, not particularly solved by the notion of a ‘‘transition.’’ In Schmitt, however, the fact of the break is an energizing one: first, because it suggests that each break, the historical disintegration of a given nomos, will call for a historically original production of a new legal superstructure or Novum. This call then lays in place the notion of an active moment of constitutive power of the kind theorized in our time by Antonio Negri, and in turn qualifies the seeming pessimism of the open end of the work.” Schmitt’s work lamented the end of a European order and viewed with suspicion the rise of an American era, pessimistic that the USA was ultimately capable (or that this would be desirable anyway for Schmitt, who served the Nazis.) His history of that European nomos is built upon the encounter with the New World, and the “free soil” it presented to the European jurisdictional imagination. The unpartitioned Americas were one of the breaks Jameson speaks of, and Schmitt demonstrates how this recognition of an unwritten territorial outside to Europe motivated its competing common laws, and juridical traditions to formalize into a homologous spatial geography, which as at the Treaty of Westphalia, subdivided loops of land, but not sea, and largely ignored air and the z-axis altogether in favor of a master Archimedian point, from which the dominant cosmogram of the Mercator projection could be made. I argue that the emergence of planetary scale computation (as yet in a larval stage) represents a similar break and a similar challenge to the geopolitical geography order, a break. Jameson again, “Yet the prophecy of an air-power return to total war, with the friend-foe pairing replaced by self and other, human and subhuman, is only partially cor- rect, for it is no longer a question of air as an element, but one of cyberspace. Information is the new element that reproblematizes the spatial.” For Giorgio Agamben, quite famously, defines “the nomos of the modern” as the camp,” a spatial expression of integral exception that locates the sovereign as he who can suspend the juridical order by fiat. But for the Nomos of the Cloud, which both is and is not Modern, the model spatial exception is the enclave: the discontiguous sovereign body that interpenetrates and interweaves a thickened landscape of territorial claims. That thickened, landscape, that dense verticalization of the geometry of political geography is, I argue, less an accumulation of absorbable remainders, of geopolitical parts maudites, than the architecture of another nomos, called The Stack.
Figure one: detail from "Loops" schematic OpenGL application designed by The Center for Design and Geopolitics (Sam Kronick and Benjamin H. Bratton, 2011)
The Stack Its subject, “the stack,” is that vast software/hardware formation, a proto-megastructure of both bits and atoms, literally circumscribing the planet, which, as said, not only perforates and distorts Westphalian models of State territory, it also produces new spaces in its own image: clouds, networks, zones, social graphs, ecologies, megacities, formal and informal violences, weird theologies, each superimposed one on the other. Schmitt defined nomos by the organization of two definitions: that of the appropriation of land, and that of the process of warfare.1 Isn’t the disruptive quality of the examples below, taken in aggregate, precisely that they alter both those definitions beyond a certain tipping point of recognition? Contemporary geopolitics of the moment, and the confused commentary upon on it with which we muddle through, are knotted through and through by emergence and violences of the Stack: the employment of social media in in the Arab Spring outlining an anterior stratum of crowds and power, or how Wikipedia formalizes taxonomic consensus from a heteroglossia of interests and Wikileaks inverts the ocular and occult body of the State, or how Google cloud services both circumvent and circumscribes State authority in China. How? The blending of urban infrastructures into common paths of bits and atoms, Events and pseudo-events are plentiful and it’s hard to know which signal a new situation and which are trivial: the Google Earth stand-off between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Bitcoin and Data.Gov, Net Neutrality and the Golden Shield, hyperbolic packet-routing topologies, Dot-P2P and OpenDNS. Which of these really scales well and which obscure the critical point? What long-term ramifications will the privatization of the common intellect by search and social network platforms have on our ability to self-govern or rather toward what governmentality do they already provide us? And to underscore the point, these knotted questions are not exclusive to what is new. Emergent secular geographies (such as cloud computing, ubiquitous computing, emergent ethnoscapes, minoritarian psychogeographies of user-interfaces) as well as archaic sacred geographies which had once help formulate the domain of States (such as Dar-al Islam, Christendom, Judea) both compete with States not only for claims over legitimate violence, but also claims over legitimate citizenship and the capacity to delineate borders. The Stack, the megastructure, can be understood as a confluence of interoperable standards-based complex material-information system of systems, organized according to a vertical section, topographic model of layers and protocols. the Stack is a standardized universal section. The Stack, as we encounter it and as I prototype it, is composed equally of social, human and “analog” layers (chthonic energy sources, gestures, affects, user-actants, interfaces, cities and streets, rooms and buildings, organic and inorganic envelopes) and informational, non-human computational and “digital” layers (multiplexed fiber optic cables, datacenters, databases, data standards and protocols, urban-scale networks, embedded systems, universal addressing tables). Its hard and soft systems intermingle and swap phase states, some becoming “harder” or “softer” according to occult conditions. (Serres, hard soft). As a social cybernetics, The Stack that we know and design composes both equilibrium and emergence, one oscillating into the other in indecipherable and unaccountable rhythm, territiorializing and de-territorializing the same component for diagonal purposes. But what is the state condition, and literally for governance, what State, does it describe in advance?
Let me then be specific about the Stack that already exists. In the body of this talk I will outline 3 critical layers of the emergent stack, cloud computing, ubiquitous computing and augmented reality/active interfaces. First its important to understand the Stack as an abstract model and as a real technical machine. Consider then the OSI network model, upon with the TCP/IP stack and the global internet itself is indirectly based. Each node in the network, represented by a terminal, is comprised of 7 discrete layers, from application layer down to the physical layer of “wire.” A message is sent by a user down the stack, layer by layer, until it is transmitted to the receiving node. At that point, the message travels back up the stack, from physical layer to the application layer, and is read by next user. The model specifies that each layer can receive information from the layer above it, can pass information down the stack to the layer below it, and/or pass information laterally to its corresponding layer (i.e. network-to-network, as in many so-called Level 2 networks linking financial traders and trading centers.). Key to the success of this model is its flexibility in absorbing future inventions, in that new technical solutions can be employed at any given layer (fiber optics instead of copper, a faster router, a smarter application, etc.) so long as it adheres to the protocols that allow it communicate with its adjacent layers. For our purposes, the OSI model serves as both a literal technical model for how network architectures operate between very small and large scales, and as an abstract machine, a pure model, for how unlike actors in a vertical sectional assemblage can be composed into a scalable, composable metastructure. In this sense, OSI is analogous, both literally and figuratively, to the urban street grid. If the Stack, like any technology worked to both constitute a political-economic order or to stablize a cultural-economic order already in place, what is the program of the nomos of the cloud? To borrow from Walter Benjamin, is it a constitutive or constituent violence? Clearly it is both, and the untangling of how so is the work of architects to come. My consideration of these three layers, cloud, ubicomp and AR, is based on a presumption that Paul Virilio’s famous axiom that the invention of any new kind of technology is also simultaneosuly the invention of a new kind of accident, holds fast and true to the emergence of planetary computation, the nomos of the Cloud, and the Stack. I consider then three technologies and three accidents.
Figure Two: detail from "Stacks"
schematic OpenGL application designed by The Center for Design and Geopolitics
(Sam Kronick and Benjamin H. Bratton, 2011)
Cloud The geopolitics of the cloud is everywhere and wants everything. anonymous server routers from Egypt, Anonymous going up against mexican drug cartels, wikileaks, the facebook/twitter/youtube stack in Cairo, TOR users building on Amazon, MPLS level 2 dark fiber networks connected trading centers for optimal position to trading floors gaming the speed of light and the microeconomics of transcontinental bandwidth, Chicago to SF, amazon TOR. While it would seem that in terms of, for example, Roberto Esposito’s immunological theory of borders, these translegal events might be understood as disruptive contaminations of a biopolitical order. Yet in their consistency, these exceptions constitute a new order. That order, that nomos, is composed from the structural and procedural protocols that locate different actors and technologies at different layers within an aggregate stack, and which thereby condition the actions they take from there. Far from counter-immunological, that Stack, like the OSI layer works because protocols both produce and police the information that can move up and down layer to layer, fixing their borders and designating passages to and fro. Low in the stack, above cthonic energy forces but below the stratum of cities, is the layer of planetary scale cyberinfratructure we call simply the Cloud. Aristophenes’ play, The Clouds, is a parody of intellectual presumption, the gift-economy of debt and virtualization of meaning into tactical rhetoric. Does the same goes for our Cloud polis? The Cloud operates at the planetary scale: a unevenly ubiquitous computational mechanicosphere, a prototype Turing machine for which our primitive human attempts at "supercomputing" are arranged in a provisional and incomplete networks of datacenters, databases, fiberoptics, terminals, browsers. The Cloud erases some geographies and produces others, territorializing and deterritorializing in competitive measure. The Cloud’s nomos is the proto-soveregin network geography And it is at this level of the stack that the Modern sovereignty of the State (which would produce one sort of public) and the aggregate urbanism of information, energy and concrete that interpolates another come into direct conflict, overlapping and interweaving one another without universal jurisdiction or resolution. The integral accident of this layer is one of rotated and interwoven geography of sovereignty, like Beszel and Ul Qoma in China Mieville’s The City and the City, two cities only partially visible to one another even as the occupy the same location, constantly policing one another’s breaching. Consider the Google-China conflict of 2009. It can be interepreted as geopolitical conflict between dominant empires, both leveraging their different State-corporate-military-information network systems to claim the free soil of planetary computational territory. I think the conflict is more fundamental than that between two mega-State actors. It was/is a conflict not only for the right to control search results but indeed for the pre-dominance of two modes of sovereignty: a state sovereignty that would dominate and determine the network sovereignty of information and energy flows versus a network/information sovereignty that would, by assembling users into another real network and imagined community come to in essence escape the final sovereignty of the State, to determine another polity in its image. It is both too small for the state to control (data packets moving over wide area mobile networks regardless of any Great Firewall) and too big for it to control (it connects people and things and banks of data across planets, a massively distributed state actor not circumscribed by a stretch of land but spread across a layer in a vertical, sectional global stack. The breach theory of Dr. Fang Binxing, an academician of the China Academy of Engineering who was one of the main designers of the infamous firewall, is truly breathtaking. Earlier this month, he said a conference, that the Chinese Internet does not have the capability to disable a global Internet service whenever desirable. He used the example of Google and said it was a pity that although google had retreated from China but its service was still accessible in China. “It’s like the relationship between riverbed and water. Water has no nationality, but riverbeds are sovereign territories, we cannot allow polluted water from other nation-states to enter our country.” To extend the figure of water from a metaphor to a real location, Consider that for Schmitt’s history of the nomos of European political geography that the territorial geography of nations was always defended by the naval capacity over the omnidirectional glacis of the ocean in light of Google’s recently filed patent on water-based data centers. This floating cyberinfrastructure would in principle greatly reduce the energy and cooling costs of hosting and serving the peta and exabytes of data that will constitute an eventual planetary cloud computing platform. It may also symbolize a productive crisis of territorial jurisdiction and how truly perva- sive computation may demand, or activate, new forms of agonistic and/or cosmopolitan political habitats. Data-centers, the hard technical core of the internet, use a lot of energy, mostly to keep processors cool, and with some- thing like 1.8 of the world’s estimated 6.7 billion people using the world- wide web in any given month, the anticipated growth curve is steep. Where will the energy come from? How can Google possibly feed the energy appetite of the datacenters that would provide ambient supercomputing to the next 2 or 3 billion human users and the next 50-500 billion objects of the internet of things? Oceanic data-centers theoretically would help solve this by using both tidal and wind energy to power the stations, as well as the abundant supply of water to assist in the cooling process, but in doing so, the literal offshoring of such critical infrastructure also raises other issues about the jurisdiction and legal control of data, and the governance of the emergent territory we call the ‘cloud’. That offshoring neatly portends the integral accident of the cloud and of its layer of the larger stack: the delamination of territory, economy and sovereignty one from the other, potentially perforating the domain of the State with the economies of non-state infrastructure beamed in from the middle of the open ocean. The nomos of the cloud is not a two-dimensional map but the vertical, sectional stack . Its topology and topography is defined by the superimposition of layers of sovereign claims over the same site, person, event. It’s fundamental generative spatial exception is less the camp than the enclave, the interweaving of discontiguous sovereignties. Those generalized enclaves, like those that layer Google upon China are the exceptions that in fact constitute the new rule; the nomos of the stack (and within the stack, the cloud) is that interwoven, sectional architecture
Figure Three: The space is full. Schematic map of IPv4 Address space after the recently completed allocation of the final blocs of addresses to the RIR authorities. Designed by The Center for Design and Geopolitics
(Sam Kronick and Benjamin H. Bratton, 2011)
Ubiquitous Computing One effect of that political geographic rotation is a disturbance in the capacity of money to represent the exchange value of things, files and work. This is a crisis of addressability, a de-addressing of things, and one that is consolidating a collapse within (if not of) the world economy. But it is not nearly the first time that an encounter with a New World of unaddressed space generates confusion over the modality of sovereign claims, and over an unfinished division according to what type of Earth is claimed, land, sea, air, and now information, each always allocated and addressed differently. The integral accident of ubiquitous computing, the next layer in the stack, is the abyssal scope of deeply granular universal addressability and the challenges to thought it demands. An address is more than a unique identifier. It is also refers to the capacity of one addressee to exchange information with another according to the protocols of the universal system that links them. One building with an address can exchange information with another through the postal network that addresses those buildings by the a logical hierarchical address of postal code, country, street, number, etc. That is address names both the source and the ultimate destination of information, and as in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, the control of the postal address code is core to how states, real and imagined, can see and manage territory. Ubiquitous computing depends upon many competing schemes for the globally unique identifier and universal addresses of websites, locations, and network-connected objects from massive to microscopic scale. Some track homology between real and virtual objects (i.e. the Tour Eiffel in Paris and Tour Eiffel in Second Life, or an instance in a database and a thing in a shipping container), whereas others are true addresses that structure information exchange between nodes in a universal network, such as the IP addresses that identify unique internet-connected nodes, and use this to properly route packets on to the other. Others, such as IBM’s recently open-sourced MQTT (Message Queue Telemetry Transport) broker signals between more local ecologies of the internet of things. As at any time in the history of geography, a core function of political power is the inscription and management of an orthodox map and the addresses it organizes. If you are unnamed as an address, you cannot speak or be spoken to. Resistance to this history was core to the Situationists’ redesign of the Modern city. For the internet that organization is IPv4, the 16-bit addresses that identify everything connected to the internet and route packets to and fro. There is however a potential crisis with IPv4 and it’s ability to map a growing internet and a viable ubiquitous computing layer. We have run out of them. Earlier this year the final blocs of 16 millions addresses were allocated to the five global RIR (Regional Internet Registries). You have probably never heard of the transnational bodies responsible for allocating the addresses that provide access to the global internet: AfriNIC, ARIN (which covers North America) APNIC, LACNIC, RIPE (which covers Europe). Considering the significance of the internet becoming, in one specific way, “full” I was interested in seeing a map of the global address space. Indeed in the long history of cartography, of world maps going back to the Greeks, Westphalian and Mercatur projections, and most importantly Medieval Islamist geographies like Tabula Rogerina, the cosmogram of a now full IPv4 address space would compare. I was surprised then that none existed. So in collaboration with the San Diego Supercomputing Center, we made one. An ugly one, but it now exists. You’ll note two things right away. First, even though the presumed growth of users is in South America, Asia and Africa, North America and Europe control many more addresses. Second, this whole quadrant in the top-left (each square is 16mm addresses) is claimed by private and military actors, such as Apple, Microsoft, Halliburton, US DOD, UK MOD, Merck, Lilly. The new economy of scarcity is the geopolitics of addressability, and already existing technological solutions for a too small address space are unlikely to be implemented anytime soon. There is hard power in soft addresses and the top left hand corner of this map is the beachfront real estate. One of those technical solutions is IPv6, a 128-bit address. When would IPv6 run out? If you were divide the 128-bit string by 7 billion people, it would be able to theoretically allocate 10^23 addresses per person. That is an incomprehensible number. It is roughly equal to the number of known stars, or to the number of grains of sand on Earth (however, it must be said, also many orders of magnitude fewer than the possible number of books in Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel.) If you were to assign an address to 10^23 things over the course of your life, you would be working down to the molecular scale. Addresses for individual letters in books, hairs on heads, blood cells, specks of dust. I was interested in experimenting with that granularity, trying to get a picture of it so that it might be more easily understandable. So in collaboration with the Nano3 lab, also at Calit2, we wrote a single IPv6 address with a electron lithography beam into a silicon wafer and photographed it with the scanning electron microscope. The address here is 10 micrometers in width, about the size of a red blood cell. The lines of each digit is about 50nm in thickness. But this is only part of the story. Deep addressability would allow for the identification not only things with mass but also of relations between things. This microphone could have an address, but the fact that I am near it and in relation with it could also have an address as well. There is then, both a graph theory and a set theory problem at work. I can address a discrete thing and an abstract envelope of relations around it that could extend to infinity. To extend Heidegger’s parable of the Four-Fold, the bottle of wine could have an address but so could each of the worldly, earthy processes that combine together to result in this particular thing. Not just addressable nouns but addressable verbs too: events. Deep Addressability includes not only discrete entities but also multiple levels of abstraction, as well as the traces of those entities, and even the abstractions we hold for them. There is then a homology between the universal addressability of discrete assemblages with mass and indiscrete assemblages without mass, things or concepts, with the flat ontology of speculative realism and/or Latour’s Irreductionism. The parliament of things and the internet of things are related, as are dingpolitik and the geopolitics of addressability. I could never exhaust 10^23 physical things, but I could easily exhaust that many relations of relations of relations, etc., in an instant of we were to extend relationality “all the way down” into the abyss. Put another way, the exhaustion of any full allocation of IPv6 exists therefore somewhere between never and instantaneously: the architecture of that middle is your design brief. The phrase “the internet of things,” implies a network of physical objects. I prefer the more esoteric-sounding, “internet of haeccities” which would include objects, but also concepts and memes, addressable at the same level, but at multiple scales, through the same system. Scales blur and what seemed solid becomes fuzzy. Inevitably we see that any apparently solid scale is really only a temporary state of resolution. Things in the world always communicate and exchange information. DNA, RNA, flowers exchange information with bees, sunlight exchanges information with celluloid film. Things inform one another in specific ways, and this specificity is how Michel Serres defines “communication”: the work of Hermes. I see ubiquitous computing not just as new logistics but as new literature. Massively addressable spaces is not only a way to map and describe the world, it is a creative medium in its own right. It is not only as a way to describe things by giving them a discrete number, but ultimately as a way to to compose and create lines of connection, association, and metaphor. It’s an authoring medium. This week we composed a new set of poetry comprised entirely of IPv6 addresses we have assigned to specific objects and to perceived relations between them. The text on the page is just addresses, but the network of their resolution into things, relations and events, is the abstraction of associative language. So deep address is not only a way to map the world, it’s a way to compose a world, to create new concepts and logics of association between apparently unlike things, words, ideas, places with an alphabetic language that is also, because it is software, an executable code. I think that this conjunction between the addressing of discret things and their active if more abstract associations, and this concrete literalization of set theory: a relational poetics built on the quantification of sets, has implications not only for art and literature, but through them, for everything from climate science and urban planning to neuroscience and nanomedicine.
Augmented Reality At the highest level of the stack is that with the most local form of agency (also the most formally represented politically): the user, the actant, the subject. One level below them, and structuring their access to The Stack and it’s access to them, are interfaces. Interfaces instrumentalize the affordances of The Stack for users and actants, and thereby mediate users’ connections to one another through its many layers. If those actants are machines, the interfaces through which they perceive The Stack may be specialized sensors, codes, or switches. If they are instead phenomenologically-complex subjects, such as humans, then the affective intensity of iconic, symbolic and indexical signs not only synthesize technological affordances (signification) but also narrativize the meaning of possible actions that users might take (significance). One interface avant-garde blends a range of semiotic technologies with direct ideological description of the landscapes a user is inhabiting. Augmented reality (A.R.) can be defined as a set of technologies which directly project a layer of specific indexical and interfacial signs upon a given perceptual field-of-vision. A.R. thereby transforms the resulting landscape into a designable instrumental frame by the use of different techniques: the subtitling of objects and events, the superimposition of navigation tools, the overlaying of iconic GUI menus upon real-world systems, the use of cinematic insertions and elisions, and other artificial visual or auditory feedbacks through which local signification and significance are programmed. As the interface layer within The Stack, augmented reality performs the imagistic and linguistic mediation between actants (one layer above) and the ubiquitous computational capacities of their habitats (one layer below). As a design space, it a platform for staging, animating, composing, and accounting for communication between actants and their worlds, and unlike traditional mechanical or screen-based user interfaces, it performs this as ambient, artificially-embodied perception. While I define the interface as “any point of contact which governs the conditions of exchange between two complex systems,” within augmented reality, the dominant mode of the interface (the GUI: the icon which when clicked initiates a feedback loop) melts, so it seems, into reality itself, and is perceived as a direct property of surfaces, things and events. That melting becomes the scope of design, the register of work, the touch-point of advertising, and even (perhaps especially) the domain of activist theology. How can we locate A.R. among Modern media and their psychological or psychoanalytic effects? We might say, in tribute to Friedrich Kittler's famous which he association of film with the imaginary, the typewriter with the symbolic and the grammophone with the real, that his Lacanian quasi-stack would be reworked in augmented reality such that the imaginary is so directly inscribed into the symbolic, as the content of the interface, that the real is also itself collapsed into the imaginary, making the reality of augmented reality perhaps irredeemably occult. How so? The most impending accident of Augmented Reality is, I suppose, a deeply granular, pervasive advertising by which our embodied perceptions and gestures generate the monetizable exchange value of the network user profile. A.R. is where the microtargeting business models of cognitive capitalism melt into the choreography of the mobile user-subject. The work that the user-subject already does to perfect targeting algorithms for search engines can be scaled from finger points-and-clicks to the very musculature and dance of dwelling itself. However, I fear that ultimately a less secular danger is latent in A.R. and that its most killer app is not marketing but fundamentalist religion. A.R. promises the design of a differential sacrality whereby the Carl Schmittian, Manichean political theological segmentation of the polis into friend and enemy becomes a direct literal annotation of the lifeworld: the subtitling of clean and unclean, ours and theirs, sacred and profane, empire and rebel forces, ork and not-ork, red team and blue team. Will mature augmented reality initiate a wave of bizarre new sects, cults and activist versions of fundamentalist monotheisms for which the metaphorical nuance of holy books is collapsed by the direct imprint of virtual words onto real things? There are certainly indications so. We can see the use of Google Earth, Google Maps, stolen SIM cards, and other advanced but off-the-shelf spatial command and communication technologies by Laskhar e-Taiba during their attack on Mumbai in 2008 as a prototype of the kinds of weaponized augmented reality we should fear. It is a more violent and extreme variation on Creationist video games for the home schooling economy, or the chrisitan AR overlay ofthe grand canyon in AZ which explains how the Canyon proves Creationism and disproves evolution for those willing to look through the lens and see what it sees. Phone apps that give Qibla direction or which allow users to scan barcodes to determine if products are kosher or halal seem like benign and obvious innovations. One hopes that the poetry of these monotheistic cognitive cultures can withstand the unambiguous cybernetic literalism that augmented reality might afford them, and the violence that absolute explication can demand.
Conclusion By way of conclusion, let me state that my “position” vis a vis The Stack is one of invested ambivalence. It both absorbs sovereignty into itself, and executes a new mode of primitive accumulation (of distributed cognition, of electrons composed in grids, of social graphs, of the algorithmic phylum, etc.) but, perhaps more positively, also moves the end-point of political ontology beyond both Agamben's anthropological machine and Schmitt's own friend/enemy distinction, and toward something more plastic, more machinic, more design-able. The stack is pharmakon, both remedy and poison, both mechanism of a disruptive cosmopolitics and a catastrophic homogenization of the information technologies into what Mumford called a Megamachine. On the pharmakon and technics, and in consideration of the granularity of deep address, let me close with a quote from Bernard Stiegler, “from the Platonic critique of thepharmakon is the thought that all exteriorisation leads to the possibility, not only for knowledge but for power, to take control of these processes of transindividuation by mastering the development of categorisation. In particular, since the formation of the Greek logos, what is key here is taking control of meta-categorisation, the production of a metalanguage, as all rational disciplines in our societies, and more generally all forms of deep attention, rest on these metalanguages.” It would argue that the positive vision of the Stack is then analogous to new civis romanus sum, a mode of transindividual soveriegnty derived not from blood or land but from a commonly held relationship to infrastructure, in this case the composite infrastrucure of a meta-global city that is simultaneously concrete, glass, steel, energy, water, information and the promiscuous combination of the above substances. The Stack finally is an architecture of such promiscuities.