Utopian Confederation: Conspectus

Utopian Confederation: Conspectus (front cover)

Volume 01 in the Utopian Confederation Sourcebook series • ISBN 978-1-944373-83-2 • Mnemoclave, 2020 • 62 pages

SUMMARY: This book offers an introduction to the Utopian Confederation RPG series and the peaceful, prosperous, and high-tech future society that provides the setting for its adventures. In this world, the island-republic of Utopia isn’t an imaginary land; it’s a diplomatic, economic, techno-logical, and cultural trailblazer that has succeeded in unifying the world’s nations under a ban-ner of peaceful collaboration – thanks largely to the Utopian mindset that combines a strong rationality and pursuit of scientific knowledge with a social and political philosophy that’s grounded in a deep spirituality and theological sensitivity.

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Twarde światło i architektura kosmiczna: Analiza fenomenologiczno-estetyczna filmu Tron jako wzorca paradygmatu ‘Siatki Cyberprzestrzennej’

Twarde światło i architektura kosmiczna: Analiza fenomenologiczno-estetyczna filmu Tron jako wzorca paradygmatu ‘Siatki Cyberprzestrzennej’ (M. Gladden, 2019)

In Rejestry Kultury (Perspektywy Ponowoczesności, vol. 9), edited by Ksenia Olkusz, pp. 481-501 • Wrocław: Facta Ficta Research Centre, 2019

ABSTRACT: W niniejszym rozdziale przedstawiona zostanie fenomenologiczno-estetyczna analiza sposobu, w jaki użycie namacalnego, „ucieleśnionego” światła jako budulca architektonicznego w filmie Disneya Tron z 1982 roku przyczyniło się do założenia paradygmatu konstrukcji i wizualizacji immersyjnych światów elektronicznych. Paradygmat ten (Siatka Cyberprzestrzenna) pozostaje aktualny w dzisiejszej erze rosnącej popularności technologii rzeczywistości wirtualnej. Analiza obejmuje dwie części. Po pierwsze, rozważane będzie użycie „twardego światła” jako elementu architektonicznego w świecie elektronicznym, przedstawionym w filmie Tron. Druga część analizy obejmie sposób, w jaki użycie twardego światła w Tronie przyczyniło się do stworzenia jednego z podstawowych paradygmatów albo metafor konstruowania cyberprzestrzeni i wizualizacji środowisk wirtualnych, to jest, paradygmatu Siatki Cyberprzestrzennej.

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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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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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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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The Dystopian Megacorp: Non-Financial Strategies for Domination in Near-Future Cyber-Physical Ecosystems

The Dystopian Megacorp

His Master’s Voice 4th Annual Symposium: Utopias, Dystopias, and Ecotopias • Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • March 25, 2017

ABSTRACT: Creators of cyberpunk science fiction envision a near future in which technological, political, and economic change yield a powerful new type of organization: the megacorporation or ‘megacorp,’ which is frequently depicted as contributing to (and exploiting) the dystopian nature of its society. By analyzing such fictional works, we formulate a definition of the ‘megacorp’ along with two conceptual frameworks: (1) a model of the megacorp as cyber-physical organism; and (2) a typology that reveals the ways in which different kinds of megacorps generate dystopian or (limited) utopian dynamics within their cyber-physical ecosystems. In developing the first framework, concepts from artificial life and management cybernetics are employed to argue that some megacorps are presented as incorporating artificial agency into their organizational architecture in such ways that they do not simply act ‘like’ living organisms but indeed constitute massive synthetic life-forms that inhabit the globalized digital-physical ecosystems of the near future. In developing the second framework, it is noted that contemporary corporations typically pursue a narrow range of strategies for achieving financial profitability so they can purchase resources needed to adapt and grow. However, we contend that – as depicted in cyberpunk science fiction – dystopian megacorps have available to them a broader range of non-financial strategies that they exploit to subdue competitors and obtain the resources needed to survive, evolve, and grow.

Such strategies may employ approaches that are legal and political (e.g., extraterritoriality; corporate courts; corporate citizenship; EULAs; ownership of individuals’ genetic code, cybernetic augmentations, and output); paramilitary (deployment of private military, police, and security forces; cyberwarfare); geospatial (construction of facilities isolated in fortified, orbital, or undersea arcologies; use of ubiquitous sensors and effectors to convert the entire Internet of Things into a corporate facility; virtualization and nonlocalization of organizational architecture; construction of new digital-physical ecosystems to dominate); biological (engineering of biomedical dependencies among employees and consumers; creation of ‘walled-garden’ commercial ecosystems requiring genetic modification for entry); psychological and sociocultural (direct neurocybernetic access to a population’s sensory, cognitive, and motor activity; cultural engineering; memetic warfare); or technological and informatic (monopolization of core global ICT infrastructure; ‘megascale’ data mining, computational simulation, and prediction; automated decision-making by AI; workforce roboticization and cyborgization). Three ‘views’ for analyzing competitive strategies of a megacorp are presented, each of which utilizes two dimensions to distinguish four types of megacorps according to their interactions with their ecosystem and resulting generation of dystopian or utopian dynamics.

The framework is then applied to numerous megacorps described in cyberpunk RPGs, including Arasaka and WorldSat (from Cyberpunk 2020); Evo, NeoNET, Proteus, Renraku, Saeder-Krupp, and Shiawase (from Shadowrun); Belltower Associates, the Picus Group, Tai Yong Medical, and VersaLife (from Deus Ex); Anubis, Augustus, and Imperial (from Ex Machina); and Golden Promise (from Interface Zero).

It is hoped that such frameworks can facilitate efforts to: (1) analyze the roles that creators of cyberpunk science fiction envision for megacorps in their worlds’ ecosystems; (2) explicate how megacorps’ competitive strategies contribute to the dystopian nature of their societies; (3) anticipate new competitive strategies that may emerge if our world’s actual business ecosystems evolve to resemble those presented in cyberpunk fiction; and (4) recognize any real-world corporations that begin to acquire characteristics of (dystopian) megacorps.

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From Stand Alone Complexes to Memetic Warfare: Cultural Cybernetics and the Engineering of Posthuman Popular Culture

50 Shades of Popular Culture International Conference • Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • February 19, 2016

ABSTRACT: Here we argue that five emerging social and technological trends are creating new possibilities for the instrumentalization (or even “weaponization”) of popular culture for commercial, ideological, political, or military ends and for the development of a posthuman popular culture that is no longer solely produced by or for “humanity” as presently understood. These five trends are the: 1) decentralization of the sources of popular culture, as reflected in the ability of ordinary users to create and upload content that “goes viral” within popular culture, as well as the use of “astroturfing” and paid “troll armies” by corporate or state actors to create the appearance of broad-based grassroots support for particular products, services, actions, or ideologies; 2) centralization of the mechanisms for accessing popular culture, as seen in the role of instruments like Google’s search engine, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Wikipedia in concentrating the distribution channels for cultural products, as well as efforts by state actors to censor social media content perceived as threatening or disruptive; 3) personalization of popular culture, as manifested in the growth of cultural products like computer games that dynamically reconfigure themselves in response to a player’s behavior, thereby creating a different product for each individual that is adapted to a user’s unique experiences, desires, and psychological characteristics; 4) automatization of the creation of products of popular culture, as seen in the automated high-speed generation of webpages, artwork, music, memes, and computer game content by AI systems that could potentially allow venues of popular culture (such as the Internet) to be flooded with content designed to influence a social group in particular ways; and 5) virtualization of the technological systems and mechanisms for creating, transmitting, and experiencing the products of popular culture, as witnessed in the development of all-purpose nodes (such as smartphones) that are capable of handling a full range of cultural products in the form of still images, video, audio, text, and interactive experiences, and the growing digitalization of cultural products that allows them to be more easily manipulated and injected into the popular culture of other states or social groups, bypassing physical and political barriers.

While these trends are expected to yield a broad range of positive and negative impacts, we focus on a particular subset of these impacts. Namely, we argue that the convergence of these five trends opens the door for the creation of popular culture that: 1) does not exist in any permanent, tangible physical artifacts but only as a collection of continuously transforming digital data that that is stored on the servers of a few powerful corporate or state actors and is subject to manipulation or degradation as a result of computer viruses, hacking, power outages, or other factors; 2) can be purposefully and effectively engineered using techniques commonly employed within IT management, electronics engineering, marketing, and other disciplines; 3) can become a new kind of weapon and battleground in struggles for military, political, ideological, and commercial superiority on the part of corporate, state, and other actors.

In order to stimulate thinking about ways in which these trends might develop, we conclude by considering two fictional near-future worlds – those depicted in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Transhuman Space: Toxic Memes – in which the further evolution of these five trends is shown as leading to the neurocybernetically facilitated manipulation of popular culture, “memetic warfare,” and related phenomena. We suggest that these fictional works represent examples of self-reflexive futurology: i.e., elements of contemporary popular culture that attempt to anticipate and explore the ways in which future popular culture could be purposefully engineered, instrumentalized, and even weaponized in the service of a diverse array of ends.

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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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Tachikomatic Domains: Utopian Cyberspace as a ‘Contingent Heaven’ for Humans, Robots, and Hybrid Intelligences

Tachikomatic Domains

His Master’s Voice: Utopias and Dystopias in Audiovisual Culture • Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • March 24, 2015

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