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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A Phenomenological Framework of Architectural Paradigms for the User-Centered Design of Virtual Environments

Virtual Architectural Paradigms

Multimodal Technologies and Interaction 2, no. 4 (2018)

ABSTRACT: In some circumstances, immersion in virtual environments with the aid of virtual reality (VR) equipment can create feelings of anxiety in users and be experienced as something “frightening”, “oppressive”, “alienating”, “dehumanizing”, or “dystopian”. Sometimes (e.g., in exposure therapy or VR gaming), a virtual environment is intended to have such psychological impacts on users; however, such effects can also arise unintentionally due to the environment’s poor architectural design. Designers of virtual environments may employ user-centered design (UCD) to incrementally improve a design and generate a user experience more closely resembling the type desired; however, UCD can yield suboptimal results if an initial design relied on an inappropriate architectural approach. This study developed a framework that can facilitate the purposeful selection of the most appropriate architectural approach by drawing on Norberg-Schulz’s established phenomenological account of real-world architectural modes. By considering the unique possibilities for structuring and experiencing space within virtual environments and reinterpreting Norberg-Schulz’s schemas in the context of virtual environment design, a novel framework was formulated that explicates six fundamental “architectural paradigms” available to designers of virtual environments. It was shown that the application of this framework could easily be incorporated as an additional step within the UCD process.

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A Phenomenological Analysis of the Virtual World as Aesthetic Object: Echo, Deepening, or Dissolution of the Lifeworld?

A Phenomenological Analysis of the Virtual World

17th Annual Conference of the Polish Phenomenological Association: History, Body, and Life-World – On Patočka and Beyond • Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw • December 15, 2017

ABSTRACT: In this work we build on the ontological and aesthetic frameworks formulated by Roman Ingarden to develop a phenomenological analysis of the virtual world as aesthetic object. First, ‘virtual reality technology’ is distinguished from ‘virtual environments’ and ‘virtual worlds.’ The types of immersive, interactive virtual worlds accessed through contemporary VR technologies are further distinguished from the types of ‘virtual worlds’ accessed, e.g., by reading a novel or watching a film. Essential and optional elements of virtual worlds are identified, with special attention given to the (software-enforced) ‘laws of nature’ governing the structure and dynamics of elements in a world, the pseudo-natural origins of apparently ‘natural’ elements like wild animals and geographic formations, and the unique positions of the world’s designer(s) and human visitor(s). The potential ‘incompleteness’ of virtual architectural structures and inability to determine whether one’s social interactions are with human or artificial agents is analyzed in light of Ingarden’s interpretation of Husserl’s phenomenological model of intentionality and the perception of objects. It is shown that a virtual building, e.g., does not display all the features of a real-world building but instead possesses some characteristics found in real-world paintings.

Drawing on Ingarden’s framework, the (physical) ontic basis of a virtual world is distinguished from the (purely intentional) virtual world as a work of art that is grasped through perception and the related aesthetic and cultural objects that may be constituted by a visitor who undergoes the right sort of conscious experience. The stratification of a virtual world as a work of art is also investigated. Building on Ingarden’s critique of Husserl’s concept of the ‘lifeworld’ as the natural world that is simultaneously (a) stripped of modern scientific theory and (b) the world that we live in and manipulate, it is suggested that VR-facilitated virtual worlds (like other highly technologized forms of art) undermine the factual possibility for such a lifeworld to exist. In response, though, Patočka’s notion (influenced by Ingarden) of fictional literary worlds as ‘echoes’ of the lifeworld is noted; we thus close by raising the question of whether certain virtual worlds might potentially be employed to help restore the possibility of (perhaps temporarily) establishing a Husserlian lifeworld.

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Cyborgization and Virtual Worlds: Portals to Altered Reality

Volume 02 in the Posthuman Cyberware Sourcebook series • ISBN 978-1-944373-20-7 • Mnemoclave, 2017 • 36 pages

SUMMARY: Whether it’s adding a night-vision cybereye or acquiring a full cyborg body, the process of cyborgization reshapes the way in which an individual relates to the physical environment around her. But how does it transform her ability to dive – or to be pulled – into virtual worlds?

Cyborgization and Virtual Worlds: Portals to Altered Reality is a resource for designing campaigns grounded in near-future hard-SF settings in which synthetic bodies and VR cyberware offer characters entirely new ways of perceiving, interpreting, and manipulating the analog and digital worlds…

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Posthuman Cyberware: Blurring the Boundaries of Mind, Body, and Computer

Volume 01 in the Posthuman Cyberware Sourcebook series • ISBN 978-1-944373-18-4. Indianapolis: Mnemoclave, 2017 • 40 pages

SUMMARY: What realities lie behind the glimmering advertisements for designer cyberlimbs, combat neuroaugmentations, prosthetic eyes with squalor-suppression filters, and downloadable charisma?

Posthuman Cyberware: Blurring the Boundaries of Mind, Body, and Computer is a resource for designing campaigns set in near-future hard-SF worlds where sensory, cognitive, and motor neuroprostheses are being increasingly employed for human enhancement – and society is tilting ever further toward the dystopian.

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