The Fate of the Self in the Click Age


Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning
by Meghan O’Gieblyn

imagine sitting somewhere go gameAlone in front of a screen, not in a cafe or park where you can joke with your opponent or discuss strategy with the audience. Your competitor is not a person, but an algorithm, AlphaGo, a program created by Google’s machine learning subsidiary DeepMind. When you squint at the cool glow of your monitor, you are manipulating digital parts. You are not touching anything tangible: You cannot carefully study the expressions of your faceless opponent.

These are roughly the awkward and surgical conditions in which Lee Sedol, one of the world’s best Go players, was defeated in his best-of-five matches in 2016. As essayist and cultural critic Meghan O’Gieblyn reports, her agile new book “God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Religion” followed a former Go champion game, and AlphaGo’s winning maneuver was “human”. He said he had no movement. It is not immediately clear how we as humans should respond to such alien games. We may fear AlphaGo’s icy efficiency – but then we may wonder why anyone would even bother playing against the computer. After all, most of us play games primarily for the sheer pleasure of winning or losing, but also of getting into a community with other human players or untying conceptual knots. I don’t know if an algorithm is said to have entered a Go tournament or to have what we call “reason” – but I know most people like games because they value the process, not just the outcome. from playing.

In this respect, games are similar to many of our cherished ventures, partly because they have an impact on the fabric of our inner lives, partly because they are important to us. Yet many of the most powerful forces in the contemporary world conspire to deny the value, or even existence, of experience that avoids quantification. The architects of our digital landscape see people by trackable clicks, not by personality. “God, Man, Animal, Machine” represents a cunning answer to the bankrupt “philosophy of the self” that has characterized information technology since the early days of cybernetics – the idea that a person can only be defined in terms of patterns and possibilities without anything. inner anxiety.” O’Gieblyn’s loosely connected and rigorously thought-out meditations on technology, humanity, and religion offered a compelling and at times moving apology for this irremovable key in the system, not just for the browse-and-buyer, but also for feels: battered, anachronistic and indispensable self.


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