Novel Forms of ‘Magical’ Human-Computer Interaction Within the Cyber-Physical Smart Workplace: Implications for Usability and User Experience

International Journal of Research Studies in Management (2019)

ABSTRACT: The growing use of advanced AI, ambient intelligence, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) technologies of the sort found within the emerging cyber-physical smart workplace has been described as enabling new forms of human-computer interaction (HCI) that are “magical” in nature. This study shows that from an anthropological perspective, such a workplace environment can indeed be understood as “magical”; however, that “magicality” is a double-edged sword that can potentially both enhance and damage user experience (UX) for workers and other occupants of such environments. First, by analyzing existing social anthropological and philosophical anthropological accounts of magic, typical elements of magical practice are identified. Using Nielsen’s empirical analysis of HCI usability heuristics as a basis, a prospective heuristic evaluation is then carried out for the usability of a generic “magical” environment, in order to identify elements of magical practice that might be expected to enhance or impair user experience when they are required for interaction with the environment. A more specific heuristic usability evaluation is then performed for the “magical” aspects of HCI created by two kinds of constituent technologies that are typical for a cyber-physical smart workplace: those of (a) ambient intelligence and IoT-enabled systems and (b) AR and VR systems. It is shown that the magical aspects of HCI within the emerging cyber-physical smart workplace differ significantly in their potential UX impacts from the magicality involved with earlier forms of computing, and the implications of this fact for the management of future workplaces are identified and discussed.

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Megacorp: From Cyberdystopian Vision to Technoeconomic Reality

Megacorp (front cover)

ISBN 978-1-944373-30-6 • Defragmenter Media, 2019 • 322 pages

The image of the “megacorp” – the ruthless, sinister, high-tech global conglomerate that’s grown so large and powerful that it has acquired the characteristics of a sovereign state – is one of the iconic elements of cyberpunk fiction. Such a megacorp maintains its own army, creates its own laws and currency, grants citizenship to employees and customers, and governs vast swaths of cyberspace and the physical world. If it allows traditional governments to survive in some vestigial form, it’s only so they can handle those mundane tasks that the megacorp doesn’t want to deal with itself. By these standards, contemporary companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, ExxonMobil, and Walmart aren’t (yet) “megacorps”; they’re the playthings that megacorps gobble up to use for spare parts.

This volume develops a comprehensive intellectual history of the megacorp. It locates forebears of the cyberpunk megacorp not only in earlier fictional works like Čapek’s R.U.R. (1921) and Von Harbou’s Metropolis (1925) but in a string of real-world organizations ranging from the 17th-Century British and Dutch East India Companies to the Pullman Palace Car Company, the Ford Motor Company, and late 20th-Century Japanese keiretsu and South Korean chaebol – as well as in the nearly indestructible oligopolistic “megacorp” described in the pioneering theory of American economist Alfred Eichner.

By investigating the nature of the cyberpunk megacorp as a political entity, commercial entity, producer and exploiter of futuristic technologies, and generator or manipulator of culture, differences are highlighted between the megacorps of “classical” cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk fiction. Classical cyberpunk megacorps – portrayed in novels like Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, films like RoboCop and Johnny Mnemonic, and games like Cyberpunk, Cyberspace, and Syndicate – are often ostentatiously malevolent and obsessed with short-term financial profits to the exclusion of all else; the over-the-top depictions of such companies serve a dramatic purpose and are not offered by their authors as serious futurological studies. On the other hand, the more nuanced and philosophically rich portrayals of megacorps in post-cyberpunk works like Shirow’s manga The Ghost in the Shell reveal companies that are less overtly evil, possess a broader and more plausible range of long-term strategic goals, and coexist alongside conventional governments in a state of (begrudging) mutual respect. Yet other works like the game Shadowrun depict companies that combine elements of both classical cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk megacorps.

Drawing on such analyses, the volume concludes by exploring how the idea of the post-cyberpunk megacorp anticipated a new type of real-world megacorp – the unfathomably large, fast, and complex “rhizocorp” – that’s now being made possible through ongoing revolutions in the exploitation of robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things – and which threatens to become the dominant economic, political, and sociocultural power of our technologically posthumanized future world.

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Beyond Buildings: Developing an Ingardenian Systems-Theoretical Aesthetics of Future Biomimetic, Interactive Architectural Entities

Beyond Buildings: Developing an Ingardenian Systems-Theoretical Aesthetics of Future Biomimetic, Interactive Architectural Entities

The European Society for Aesthetics Conference 2019 • University of Warsaw, Warsaw • June 13, 2019

ABSTRACT: For millennia, the buildings created by human architects largely displayed traits of solidity, immobility, passivity, limited interactivity, and reliance on fairly simple geometrical shapes to constitute their core structure. As a result, the field of architectural aesthetics could take for granted the fact that a “building” was such a motionless, non-interactive shell; the philosophical frameworks developed to analyze buildings thus had very little in common with those used to analyze, say, living organisms or moral agents.

This paper begins by showing how such historical assumptions are now being undermined through the development of technologies that enable the creation of types of buildings that would previously have been impossible. For example:

• Augmented reality technologies increasingly allow buildings to create perceived and experienced structures that differ wildly from the buildings’ actual physical components.
• Developments in ambient intelligence and social robotics allow a building to create intimately interactive spaces that interpret their occupants’ moods and unspoken thoughts and respond through physical changes, speech, and other social behaviors.
• AI-guided parametric design (championed by figures like Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher) is enabling the creation of highly complex, asymmetrical, curvilinear, resilient, biomimetic architectural forms that no human mind could design.

The building of the dawning future is more than just a “building”: it is a biomimetic, interactive architectural entity that is richly “biomimetic” not simply because of its curvilinear surface but because of its dynamism, agency, and role as an intelligent, autonomous social actor. Depending on its AI, such a building may even constitute a “person” capable of meaningful social relationships. In the language of Herbrechter’s critical posthumanism, such buildings are posthuman agents that create new types of posthumanized architectural spaces.

The emergence of such architectural entities requires the development of new conceptual frameworks for investigating them from the perspective of philosophical aesthetics. One popular paradigm employed to analyze parametrically designed architecture is that of Deleuze’s fold, which Deleuze illustrated in Le Pli: Leibnitz et le Baroque (1988) through his allegory of the “Baroque house.” The Deleuzian fold is active, curvilinear, and mediating; it thus possesses some properties common to biomimetic, parametrically designed buildings. However, we argue that Deleuze’s Baroque house allegory fails to capture the agency, dynamism, mutability, and interactivity of the emerging architectural entities described here; the need thus remains for new frameworks to describe them. We propose one such approach that draws on elements of Ingarden’s later thought that have been largely overlooked within the field of aesthetics.

The Polish philosopher Roman Ingarden (1893-1970) is known in the field of architectural aesthetics primarily for the “classical” phenomenological frameworks that he developed in the 1920s and 1930s, which analyze the stratification of the architectural object (i.e., the “building”) as a work of art, the ontological status of the building as a purely intentional object, and the role of concretization in aesthetic experience. Today – after a century of developments in aesthetics – the ontological suppositions of those frameworks are seen as increasingly antiquated, and it is often presumed that Ingarden has little to offer for the analysis of posthumanized architectural entities.

In this paper, however, it is argued that the opposite is true, as the conventional view of Ingarden overlooks innovative strains of thought (a sort of “Ingarden 2.0”) that arose in his later years, as he explored ongoing scientific and technological advances. For example, we show how Ingarden foresaw future VR technologies, analyzed what today would be called “computational aesthetics,” and made one of his last (unfinished) projects the reworking of his earlier writings to account for new discoveries in neuroscience. Moreover, his work in systems theory proved so influential that he is considered a pioneering figure of Polish cybernetics.

Ingarden died before applying his mature systems theory (and especially, his model of the “relatively isolated system”) to aesthetics; as a result, it has been largely ignored by later aestheticians. However, we argue that it is not only possible to formulate a “systems-theoretical aesthetics” grounded in Ingarden’s systems theory, but that it offers a valuable tool for analyzing emerging biomimetic, interactive architectural entities.

Developing an Ingardenian systems-theoretical architectural aesthetics. As the foundation for its proposed systems-theoretical aesthetics, this paper analyzes Ingarden’s concept of the “relatively isolated system” by tracing its development over decades and providing translations of some passages previously available only in Polish. Sources analyzed include:

• Ingarden’s account of the membranes that partially isolate bodily organs from one another other, which is presented in O poznawaniu dzieła literackiego (1937).
• Ingarden’s model of a living organism as an enduring core surrounded by outer layers that arise and are destroyed throughout one’s life, as presented in Spór o istnienie świata, vol. 1 (1941).
• Ingarden’s model of the “partially isolated system” and the role played by semipermeable boundaries that regulate an object’s engagement with its environment, as described in a plan (1945-46) for Spór o istnienie świata, vol. 3. This concept was influenced by Ingarden’s reading of Bertalanffy’s Theoretische Biologie.
• Ingarden’s concept of the “relatively closed system,” found in preliminary notes (1950-54) for Spór o istnienie świata, vol. 3.
• Ingarden’s mature concept of the “relatively isolated system,” presented in Über die Verantwortung: Ihre ontischen Fundamente (1970).

Drawing on the multifaceted concept of space found in Christian Norberg-Schulz’s Heideggerian architectural phenomenology, we demonstrate how a systems-theoretical aesthetics grounded in Ingarden’s concept of the relatively isolated system identifies the emerging biomimetic, interactive architectural entity as a system that creates, encompasses, animates, and regulates a nexus of overlapping three-dimensional, experiential, informational, technological, social, and ecological spaces. Such an approach categorizes, compares, and evaluates architectural entities according to the nature of their semipermeable membranes and their openings.

In a manner consonant with contemporary environmental aesthetics, this approach locates a building’s aesthetic properties in the “porousness” of its external and internal physical, informational, and social boundaries – which include not only structures like walls, windows, and stairwells but also the topologies of Wi-Fi networks; information security mechanisms; air circulation patterns; elements that regulate colonization of the space by plant or animal species; social networks; enforced social conventions; and the relationships between a building’s human occupants and the artificial agents that enliven it. The definition and exploration of this approach represents this paper’s central achievement.

The paper concludes by discussing strengths and weaknesses of this proposed approach. It is argued that it can prove useful for analyzing the design and aesthetic experience of buildings transformed through the incorporation of artificial agency and biomimetic dynamics.

It is hoped that this paper can contribute to aesthetic discourse in several ways. First, it shows how diverse technologies are combining to create biomimetic, interactive, posthumanized architectural entities that differ qualitatively from buildings of earlier ages. Second, it formulates an Ingardenian systems-theoretical aesthetics whose foundations in emergentist theoretical biology render it at least as suitable for describing such entities as paradigms like the Deleuzian fold. Finally, the text presents a historical-textual analysis of aspects of Ingarden’s thought that are little known within philosophical aesthetics, thereby shedding new light on a leading 20th-century aesthetician.

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Who Will Be the Members of Society 5.0? Towards an Anthropology of Technologically Posthumanized Future Societies

Toward Society 5.0: The Dynamics of Posthumanization

Social Sciences 8, no. 5 (2019)

ABSTRACT: The Japanese Government’s “Society 5.0” initiative aims to create a cyber-physical society in which (among other things) citizens’ daily lives will be enhanced through increasingly close collaboration with artificially intelligent systems. However, an apparent paradox lies at the heart of efforts to create a more “human-centered” society in which human beings will live alongside a proliferating array of increasingly autonomous social robots and embodied AI. This study seeks to investigate the presumed human-centeredness of Society 5.0 by comparing its makeup with that of earlier societies. By distinguishing “technological” and “non-technological” processes of posthumanization and applying a phenomenological anthropological model, the study demonstrates: (1) how the diverse types of human and non-human members expected to participate in Society 5.0 differ qualitatively from one another; (2) how the dynamics that will shape the membership of Society 5.0 can be conceptualized; and (3) how the anticipated membership of Society 5.0 differs from that of Societies 1.0 through 4.0. The study describes six categories of prospective human and non-human members of Society 5.0 and shows that all six have analogues in earlier societies – which suggests that social scientific analysis of past societies may shed unexpected light on the nature of Society 5.0.

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Istoty inaczej-ludzkie, quasi-ludzkie i nie-ludzkie jako członkowie przyszłych społeczeństw: Analiza dynamiki posthumanizacji technologicznej

Świat sposthumanizowany

The International Conference on Humans in a Technological World: The Anthropology of Technics • Jagiellonian University, Kraków • May 10, 2019

ABSTRACT: Procesy „posthumanizacji” mogą być rozumiane jako dynamika, za pomocą której społeczeństwo ludzkie włącza do siebie poza „naturalnymi” biologicznymi istotami ludzkimi innych członków, którzy przyczyniają się do struktury, działalności albo znaczenia tego społeczeństwa.
Dzisiaj posthumanizacja identyfikowana jest głównie z włączeniem w ludzkie społeczeństwo zaawansowanej sztucznej inteligencji i robotów społecznych, które ludzie zapraszają do swoich domów i miejsc pracy jako asystentów, współpracowników i towarzyszy. Rozmaite projekty badawcze stwierdzają sposoby, w jakie takie łączenie nie-ludzkiej sprawczości do ludzkiego społeczeństwa stwarza nowe wymiary społecznej rzeczywistości. W niniejszej prezentacji natomiast twierdzimy, że chociaż taka „posthumanizacja technologiczna” faktycznie jest fenomenem dość nowym, może być ona porównana z procesami „posthumanizacji nietechnologicznej,” które od dawna poszerzały społeczeństwa ludzkie o wiele typów nie-ludzkiej sprawczości. Na przykład, wszystkie społeczeństwa, w których ludzie zamieszkiwali i pracowali z zwierzętami domowymi; wierzyli w aniołów, demony albo potwory; albo starali się rozmawiać z zmarłymi krewnymi mogą być rozumiane jako społeczeństwa (nietechnologicznie) posthumanizowane. Starożytne formy posthumanizacji nietechnologicznej i rozwijające się formy posthumanizacji technologicznej będą zidentyfikowane, zanalizowane, i porównane przy zastosowaniu podejścia fenomenologicznego. Prezentacja pokaże, jak społeczeństwa posthumanizowane zarówno technologicznie jak i nietechnologicznie włączają różnych członków, których można klasyfikować jako „naturalne” biologiczne istoty ludzkie, sztucznie rozszerzone istoty ludzkie lub meta-ludzkie, epi-ludzkie, para-ludzkie, albo nie-ludzkie istoty.

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