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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An Ingardenian ‘Systems Phenomenology’ as the Basis for Posthumanized Architectural Practice / Ingardenowska ‘fenomenologia systemowa’ jako podstawa posthumanizowanej praktyki architektury

An Ingardenian architectural systems phenomenology

Urbanity and Architecture Files / Teka Komisji Urbanistyki i Architektury XLVI (2018)

ABSTRACT: Here Ingarden’s concept of the “relatively isolated system” is used to develop a phenomenology of architecture that emphasizes the way in which a structure’s boundary and openings define an “inside” and “outside” and regulate passage between them. This approach is compared with Norberg-Schulz’s. The Ingardenian approach’s strengths include its compatibility with biomimetic form-finding and its insights for future architectural practice that is expected to become increasingly “posthumanized.”

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Understanding the Cyber-Physical-Social-Intentional ‘Workforce 4.0’: Conceptual Foundations, Architecture, and Context

Workforce 4.0 as a Cyber-Physical-Social-Intentional System

the VIII Scientific Conference on Modern Concepts and Management Methods: Management 4.0 – Modern Trends in Public, Social and Business Sector • Military University of Technology in Warsaw • December 6, 2018

ABSTRACT: The widespread application of Industry 4.0 technologies relating to social robotics, embodied AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), ubiquitous computing, and advanced human computer interfaces is giving rise to a growing range of “cyber-physical” entities. By building on established definitions and analyses of the cyber-physical system, cyber-physical-social system, cyber-physical society, and cyber-physical-social-thinking space, this text formulates a conceptual framework for understanding the emerging “Workforce 4.0” as a specialized type of “cyber-physical-social-intentional system.” Attention is given to the heterogeneous agency, technological posthumanization, functional decentralization, and planned architectures or spontaneously self-organizing topologies manifested by Workforce 4.0. It is shown how such a workforce is situated within the context of cyber-physical space, a cyber-physical organization, cyber-physical ecosystems, a cyber-physical society, and the larger cyber-physical world.

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Ingarden’s Concept of the Relatively Isolated System and the Aesthetics of Biomimetic Virtual Forms

An Ingardenian systems aesthetics of architecture

Roman Ingarden and His Times: An International Phenomenological Conference 2018 • Uniwersytet Jagielloński, Kraków • October 27, 2018

ABSTRACT: As virtual reality technology becomes more sophisticated, there is growing recognition of the importance of Ingarden’s thought for the aesthetic analysis of architecture in virtual worlds. For example, his distinction between the ‘building’ that is constituted as an intentional object and its physical ontic foundation provides a useful tool for understanding virtual buildings, whose unique character results largely from their novel ontic basis. Moreover, it has been noted that Ingarden’s envisioning of future technologies for the ‘illusory embodiment’ of buildings in “O dziele architektury” §2 foresaw immersive VR technologies that are only now becoming feasible.

Here, however, we argue that a different aspect of Ingarden’s thought – the concept of the relatively isolated system – may hold even more promise as a tool for analyzing innovations in virtual architecture. We trace Ingarden’s development of this concept over three decades, from his description of the ‘organism’ as a hierarchical structural functional system (1937) to his model of the human being as a stable core with changing outer layers (ca. 1941), his analysis of Bertalanffy’s ‘open system’ model (1943), his notion of the ‘partially isolated system’ (1945-46), his description of the ‘relatively closed system’ (1950-54), and the mature concept of the ‘relatively isolated system’ developed in Über die Verantwortung: Ihre ontischen Fundamente (1968-70).

We then investigate the concept’s significance for virtual architecture. A growing trend is the use of computer-aided ‘form-finding’ techniques in which the shape of a building’s exterior ‘skin’ is not intentionally planned by a human architect but emerges organically through posthumanized processes of evolutionary computation; the resulting forms often display ‘Deleuzian’ curvilinear shapes resembling the bodies of biological organisms. In “O dziele architektury,” Ingarden had noted that in practice, human architecture never displays the organic irregularity and curvilinearity seen in living trees or in the ‘cities’ built by insects, because (1) functional considerations render such forms suboptimal for human inhabitation, and (2) human architects have been historically conditioned to believe that every building they design is ‘supposed to’ harmoniously concretize regular geometric shapes. However, Ingarden’s reasoning can be interpreted as anticipating precisely those radically irregular organic structures that are now becoming possible, as innovative AI technologies allow the task of form-finding to be separated from the anthropic intentional processes of a human architect and entrusted to non-human agents.

Moreover, such biomimetic design can be carried even further in virtual environments, whose looser constraints allow the construction (and aesthetic experiencing) of buildings whose forms would be impractical to fabricate in the ‘real’ world; such virtual surfaces can serve as sites of sensation and response that mediate between interior and exterior domains, reflecting the form and function of a living organism’s skin. We argue that Ingarden’s concept of the relatively isolated system provides a powerful framework for analyzing such virtual structures, thanks to its grounding in theoretical biology and its rich analysis of the outer ‘membrane’ that selectively shelters an entity’s inner workings from external causality. Such architectural applications represent another way in which Ingarden’s thought continues to bear new and unexpected fruit.

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Cognition of the Virtual: An Ingardenian Systems-Phenomenological Account of the Perception and Understanding of Virtual Objects

An Ingardenian Model of the Human Being as a Relatively Isolated System

The 5th Avant Workshop, on “Inspirations: 20th-century Philosophy and Contemporary Studies on Cognition” • Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw • October 12, 2018

ABSTRACT: As immersive, interactive virtual reality (VR) technologies grow increasingly sophisticated, contemporary philosophers like Rabanus have attempted to formulate phenomenological analyses of the experiences they offer. We would argue, though, that one of the richest phenomenological approaches for interpreting the virtual objects perceived and understood through the use of VR systems was pioneered in the 20th century by Roman Ingarden, who in “O dziele architektury” hypothesized the future development of what would now be described as “VR systems” and explored our potential cognition of virtual objects.

An Ingardenian approach can incorporate: (1) Ingarden’s analysis of the stratification of artistic products, which distinguishes different types of cognitive access afforded to the physical fundament and intentional artistic, aesthetic, and cultural objects associated with a virtual object, and (2) Ingarden’s account (grounded in systems theory) of the human being as an emergent whole comprising a physical body, sensory-emotional “soul,” and intentional «I». This framework enables us to: (1) distinguish cognition of virtual objects from that of “real” objects, dreams, hallucinations, and the fictional worlds experienced when reading novels, and (2) explain the cognitive shift that occurs when someone immersed in a virtual environment comes to “forget” that the objects encountered there are “only” virtual.

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The Diffuse Intelligent Other: An Ontology of Nonlocalizable Robots as Moral and Legal Actors

In Social Robots: Boundaries, Potential, Challenges, edited by Marco Nørskov, pp. 177-98 • Farnham: Ashgate, 2016

ABSTRACT: Much thought has been given to the question of who bears moral and legal responsibility for actions performed by robots. Some argue that responsibility could be attributed to a robot if it possessed human-like autonomy and metavolitionality, and that while such capacities can potentially be possessed by a robot with a single spatially compact body, they cannot be possessed by a spatially disjunct, decentralized collective such as a robotic swarm or network. However, advances in ubiquitous robotics and distributed computing open the door to a new form of robotic entity that possesses a unitary intelligence, despite the fact that its cognitive processes are not confined within a single spatially compact, persistent, identifiable body. Such a “nonlocalizable” robot may possess a body whose myriad components interact with one another at a distance and which is continuously transforming as components join and leave the body. Here we develop an ontology for classifying such robots on the basis of their autonomy, volitionality, and localizability. Using this ontology, we explore the extent to which nonlocalizable robots—including those possessing cognitive abilities that match or exceed those of human beings—can be considered moral and legal actors that are responsible for their own actions.

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Posthuman Management: Creating Effective Organizations in an Age of Social Robotics, Ubiquitous AI, Human Augmentation, and Virtual Worlds

ISBN 978-1-944373-05-4 • Second edition • Defragmenter Media, 2016 • 442 pages

What are the best practices for leading a workforce in which human employees have merged cognitively and physically with electronic information systems and work alongside social robots, artificial life-forms, and self-aware networks that are ‘colleagues’ rather than simply ‘tools’? How does one manage organizational structures and activities that span both actual and virtual worlds? How are the forces of technological posthumanization transforming the theory and practice of management?

This volume explores the reality that an organization’s workers, managers, customers, and other stakeholders increasingly comprise a complex network of human agents, artificial agents, and hybrid human-synthetic entities. The first part of the book develops the theoretical foundations of an emerging ‘organizational posthumanism’ and presents conceptual frameworks for understanding and managing the evolving workplace relationship between human and synthetic beings. Subsequent chapters investigate concrete management topics such as the likelihood that social robots might utilize charismatic authority to inspire and lead human workers; potential roles of AIs as managers of cross-cultural virtual teams; the ethics and legality of entrusting organizational decision-making to spatially diffuse robots that have no discernible identity or physical form; quantitative approaches to comparing the managerial capabilities of human and artificial agents; the creation of artificial life-forms that function as autonomous enterprises which evolve by competing against human businesses; neural implants as gateways that allow their human users to participate in new forms of organizational life; and the implications of advanced neuroprosthetics for information security and business model design.

As the first comprehensive application of posthumanist methodologies to the field of management, this volume will be of use to scholars and students of contemporary management and to management practitioners who must increasingly understand and guide the forces of technologization that are rapidly reshaping organizations’ form, dynamics, and societal roles.

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Utopias and Dystopias as Cybernetic Information Systems: Envisioning the Posthuman Neuropolity

Creatio Fantastica no. 3(50) (2015)

ABSTRACT: While it is possible to understand utopias and dystopias as particular kinds of sociopolitical systems, in this text we argue that utopias and dystopias can also be understood as particular kinds of information systems in which data is received, stored, generated, processed, and transmitted by the minds of human beings that constitute the system’s ‘nodes’ and which are connected according to specific network topologies. We begin by formulating a model of cybernetic information-processing properties that characterize utopias and dystopias. It is then shown that the growing use of neuroprosthetic technologies for human enhancement is expected to radically reshape the ways in which human minds access, manipulate, and share information with one another; for example, such technologies may give rise to posthuman ‘neuropolities’ in which human minds can interact with their environment using new sensorimotor capacities, dwell within shared virtual cyberworlds, and link with one another to form new kinds of social organizations , including hive minds that utilize communal memory and decision-making. Drawing on our model, we argue that the dynamics of such neuropolities will allow (or perhaps even impel) the creation of new kinds of utopias and dystopias that were previously impossible to realize. Finally, we suggest that it is important that humanity begin thoughtfully exploring the ethical, social, and political implications of realizing such technologically enabled societies by studying neuropolities in a place where they have already been ‘pre-engineered’ and provisionally exist: in works of audiovisual science fiction such as films, television series, and role-playing games.

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The Artificial Life-Form as Entrepreneur: Synthetic Organism-Enterprises and the Reconceptualization of Business

In Proceedings of the Fourteenth International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems, edited by Hiroki Sayama, John Rieffel, Sebastian Risi, René Doursat and Hod Lipson, pp. 417-18 • Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2014

ABSTRACT: In this work we demonstrate the theoretical possibility and explore the implications of developing artificial life that functions as an autonomous business within the real-world human economy. By drawing on the Viable Systems Approach (VSA), we introduce the new concept of an “organism-enterprise” that exists simultaneously as both a life-form and a business. We then reconceptualize the anthropocentric understanding of a “business” in a way that allows an artificial life-form to constitute a “synthetic” organism-enterprise (SOE) just as a human being functioning as a sole proprietor constitutes a “natural” organism-enterprise. Practical obstacles to the creation of SOEs are considered, along with possible means of surmounting them. SOEs would move a step beyond current examples of artificial life that produce goods or services within a simulated world or play a limited role within a human business: rather than competing against artificial organisms in a virtual world, SOEs could evolve through competition against human businesses in the real-world economy. We consider concrete examples of SOEs and conclude by highlighting legal, economic, and ethical issues that arise when a single economic ecosystem is shared by competing human and artificial life. The concept of an “organism-enterprise.” A business is defined as “the organized effort … to produce and sell, for a profit, the goods and services that satisfy society’s needs” (Pride, et al. 2014). Management theorists have drawn on biology to better understand the structure and function of such business organizations. Our research utilizes a systems theory grounded in neurophysiology, the Viable Systems Approach (VSA), that allows us to understand a business as an autopoietic organism or “system” that dwells within the ecosystem of a larger economy or “suprasystem” (Beer, 1981; Barile, et al. 2012). Within this ecosystem, a business must compete against other organisms for limited resources and adapt to environmental demands. In our human economy, individual businesses are born, grow, and die, and taken as a whole, this array of businesses forms an evolvable system.

We begin by considering one unique instance in which a business is not simply “analogous to” a living organism, but identical to it: namely, the case of a human being who functions as a sole proprietor. In this situation, a single system simultaneously satisfies all the requirements of being both a life-form and a business. Building on this case, we introduce the idea of a unitary “organism-enterprise,” a concept that is already instantiated in the form of at least 20 million “human organism-enterprises” within the United States alone. Reconceptualizing business to include synthetic organism-enterprises. Utilizing VSA and the concept of an organism-enterprise, we analyze the traditional anthropocentric understanding of business as an exclusively human activity to consider whether an artificial life-form could serve as a “synthetic organism-enterprise” (SOE) that is both a life-form and a business. We show that this is indeed possible, but requires us to transform our understanding of business. For example, human businesses are traditionally described as requiring four kinds of resources: 1) human; 2) material; 3) financial; and 4) information. To replace this anthropocentric understanding, we propose that a business be understood more generally as requiring: 1) agent resources; 2) material resources; 3) value-storing media; and 4) information. Similarly, a human business requires functional units filling roles in production, finance, marketing, human capital management, and information technology.

Drawing on VSA and the case of a human sole proprietor, we consider the ways in which these functions can be understood more generically, in such a way that they can also be performed by current and proposed forms of artificial life. We give particular attention to the role of “profit” in a human business and formulate an account of its correlate for an SOE: it is the difference between resources expended and received in exchanges in the suprasystem that provides an SOE with a potential for growth and insurance against environmental uncertainties. Figure 1 provides an overview of our reconceptualized “business process cycle,” which can be carried out equally well by either a human business or an artificial life-form that has been designed or evolved to fill a business role within a larger economic ecosystem.

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