Humankind has been caught up in the coevolutionary becoming with technology for a long, long time. For some, the idea of treating technology as a living being may seem shocking especially thru anthropocentric goggles. Even a very general overview of territories and habits of humans reveals a very intimate relationship with technology. In that respect we can exercise what it would be like to be a part of larger web of connections in the context of technological coevolution.
First of all the revision of organization of knowledge of our species is needed in order to reflect our position in this web and the becomings we are part of. Our species has lived in an organic environment classified as biological and sorted into six taxonomic ranks defining specific organic kingdoms in the arborescent classification of the tree of life: eubacteria, archaebacteria, protista, plantae, fungi and animalia.
However, with our will to survive and procreate we became the origin, the makers of another kingdom, a kingdom not defined by ecological, biological and organic. Kingdom of various materials, tools, mental concepts, social organizations, in short, a kingdom of technology. This kingdom has been simultaneously evolving and living in symbiosis with humans as species and has formed a life. Humans are its origin but it also has a life of its own growing on its own accord. Technology has a life that we explore, use and learn about like we learn about any other organic kingdom of life. We also use it to explore, communicate, upgrade, cultivate biological life, which by now, needs our intervention just to survive and prosper in some cases. Biological life has been so closely intertwined with technology that the latter has become a vital part of ‘nature’ itself.
Kevin Kelly called seventh kingdom of life, the technium. A massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us. Kingdom so vast, so close, so personal and naturalized almost to the extent that is almost invisible because of its proximity. Technium has been defined in short as ‘anything useful invented by a mind’ and it extends beyond shiny gadgets and includes culture, art, social institutions, and intellectual creations of all types as are intangibles like software, law, and philosophical concepts, including methods for handling anything from hard to soft to wetware. (Kelly, 2010)
Our species produced the technium, that is evolving at our side. Technium connects to us with a great story that started long ago with first sticks and stone tools. Besides, it connects to our species also as an actualization of this connection, as a life that is evolving with our species. As such it is very much alive and it is our long time companion. In this respect we are most definitely not alone in the temporal dimension of our becoming. Life as such is emerging on different planes, regions outside the scientific definitions and taxonomic ranks. Life is searching for new definition. No, most probably for its own plane.
In Kevin Kelly’s words the technium as a whole exhibits life-like behaviors in the same way one’s neuron doesn’t really think, but the network of neurons in one’s brain can make an idea. (Kelly, 2014: http://www.edge.org/conversation/the-technium) Hence, what does technium want? It wants us to be happy, it wants our co-operation, because we are it’s sexual organs, it’s means of reproduction. It wants increasing diversity, increasing complexity, increasing energy, density and efficiency, increasing specialization. Quite surprisingly, all of this processes are very much a part of biological evolution. (Kelly, 2010)
However if you look at the history of your favorite domestic appliance or your mobile phone, you might notice same kind of trends. In this respect Kelly’s suggestion that we should see technology as the seventh kingdom of life isn’t that outrageous anymore.
Kelly’s conceptual invention of technium is obviously a part of the process of humanization and naturalization of technology and as such we have actualized it in the region of techno biotop. I envisioned an immersive techno-ecosystem 7K: new life form as a future environment of symbiotic cohabitation. Responsive audio visual art installation 7K: new life form is a techno biotop inhabited by plant life, microscopic organisms and a strange new class of engineered nano-beings. 7K’s vision of reality features a custom-built photosynthesis chamber, electronic sensors and purpose-shot footage of life under the microscope to create an autonomous system in which visitors become active participants.
The 7K in the title of 7K: new life form stands for seventh kingdom of life, the technium. Thus, the domestication of nature and naturalization of technology is being called into question, and the classification of knowledge about life in arborescent structures such as tree of life is being put under scrutiny. Such an arborescent structure is especially difficult to imagine in rhizomatic space of constant becoming of posthuman period that one seeks.
By changing the scale of microorganisms and nanorobots that inhabit the projection around miniature landscape in the photosynthesis chamber the question of the interconnectedness is possed since even the smallest organisms in the environment have enormous impact on large scales biotops such as forest, meadows, lakes. Besides, on the nanoscale so much of the life is still to be explored and 7K’s new technological organisms, nanobeings, could be a method to explore more about biological life on that scale and communicate with it. To boldly go so small as no one has gone before would be their saying.
Nanobeings for 7K: new life form were designed with the consideration of material properties on nanoscale and by usage of biomimetic methodology for creating bio-logic beings.
Another bio-logical communication method between nanobeings and microorganisms used in 7K was quorum sensing. Seemingly invisible communication involves signaling molecules called autoinducers or pheromones. They inform their neighbours as to whether or not it is worth switching certain genes on or off or start communicating. 7K application of this method was digital, coded and manifested by nanobeings in order for them to know when and where to go to connect with the microorganism that needed to be communicated to or helped. 7K’s answer to the question of the relation between technological and biological is: communicate, gain knowledge, connect, explore. Symbiosis in everlasting becoming of heterogeneous elements is already inherent in the 7K’s circuit of signals. The presence of a human being triggers the self-assembly of a nanobeing on the screen that goes on to communicate with the microorganisms whose numbers and movement depend on the level of CO2, sugars in the photosynthesis chamber i.e. the dome with the miniature landscape. 7K circuit is a loop of constant becoming of signals between the digital techno-biotop, bio-logical photosynthesis chamber and human presence that is picked up by system of ultrasonic sensors.
7K: new life form addresses several conditions of becoming but there are still two aspects that have to be somehow translated or transferred into rhizomatic space: arborescent structure of tree of life and it’s inherent evolution.
I would argue that technium as such was in respect to becoming sort of awkwardly put on the top of the genealogical tree. An arborescent structure seems to be an outdated artifact of even pre Anthropocene era, when there was a need for the source, the lineage, the father, the control, the ego. Tree of life as a model of origins, kinship, creation, generation and lineage was and is embedding the social structure in the natural. I am asking myself, what particular version of social structure is this? It is a version in which the prime motivating force is self-interest and evolutionary struggle for survival in a situation of scarce resources. In short, I would argue that this structure is based in the ideology of consumer capitalism as probably many others would also.
Although genealogical tree did demonstrate the interconnectedness of all life forms, it should be recognized as a pseudo multiplicity, since it emphasizes only vertical descent from common ancestor. Basically, “in Darwinian theory the natural order retained both the hierarchical order of Creation and its god-given quality; the difference is that the power no longer came from God, it came from Nature” (Franklin, et al., 2000: 49). So nature became the god and the source of knowledge, the measure for social behavior, sexual orientation, distribution of goods in the society as well as social, financial and cultural capital. The term ‘natural’ justified all kinds of aspects of social reality although sometimes in quite contradictory contexts, always to justify the financial, social, sexual status of white western male.
In order to distance ourselves from capitalist and sexist logic inherent to arborescent organization of knowledge, I propose a transformation of technium from seventh kingdom to plane of technium. A rhizomatic plane that carries the emergents of connections continuum, in order to promote connections generated by human as well as by other beings, be it bio-logical or techno-logical. In this respect, all matter be it techno-logical or bio-logical could be seen as an active agent. As Jussi Parikka explains that all media can be seen as ‘a realms of affects, potentials and energetics’ and all media bodies emerge as part of the environments in which they are embedded, interconnected through their intensive capabilities (Parikka, 2010: xxvii).
Instead of Malthusian-Darwinian theory of evolution I would propose the concept of ‘involution’ with respect to Deleuze and Guattari’s theory. Involution introduces a non-classification of becoming, preferring the term ‘involution’ between heterogeneous terms that reside inside an open structure of limitless connectivity and becoming in symbiosis. (Deleuze, Guattari, 1988)
In the process of involution different species, interacting in a symbiotic fashion, living together over a prolonged period of time, can eventually co-evolve into new species. Symbiosis can stand as metaphor and a material reality of species in an intimate relationship, cooperating in spite of differences, of becoming something else and transgressing boundaries.
In biological context symbiosis has had even greater impact on evolution than Darwin’s struggle of animals. Lynn Margulis argues that this has accrued in endosymbiosis, a type of symbiosis in which all life forms can be seen to have evolved from microbes, from the interactions between bacteria. Moreover symbiosis in some cases even evolves into symbiogenesis, when certain forms of entities that are living together in a long term lead to the appearance of new species or organs. Organisms merge with other organisms, acquiring their gene sets in the process (Margulis, 1999: 8-9). Margulis’ main claim is that in most cases evolutionary novelty arises as a consequence of symbiosis, which goes against a Darwinian struggle. (Margulis, 1999)
Deleuze and Guattari’s non-classification of symbiotic becoming can be seen as a viral evolution, based on contagion, instead of heredity, where animals as packs originate, develop and transform by means of viral contagion (Deleuze, Guattari, 1988: 241).
Rhizomatic becoming and symbiosis as inherent concepts in 7K thus juxtaposed itself against the title 7K and reveals a gap between classification and a life that is emerging, becoming. Instead the proposed 7K techno-biotop works as a network of symbiotic alliances, trans-species affiliations and co-evolution.
– Deleuze, G and Guattari, F. (1988) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
– Kelly, K. (2010), What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Press.
– Kelly, K. (2014), Technium: A Conversation with Kevin Kelly, [Online]. Available: Edge: The Technium [15. 1. 2014].
– Margulis, L. (1999) Symbiotic planet: a new look at evolution. Basic Books.
– Parikka, J. (2010) Insect media. An archaeology of animals and technology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
This is an extract from an article writen by Saša Spačal titled Connections Continuum: A Life that is published in a book Experiencing the Unconventional: Science in Art edited by Theresa Schubert and Andrew Adamatzky.
Photos of 7K: new life form by Damjan Švarc / Kapelica gallery photo archive.