Berlin, 13 Mar. The Time of the Automaton at MaerzMusik

March 13th, 2016

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My talk at Thinking Together, Maerz Musik festival
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The Time of the Automaton: Finance and the Algorithmic Division of Value

In a text dated 1835 the pioneer of computation Charles Babbage illustrated the use of clocks for the automation of mathematical operations, the replacement of “the mental division of labour” in the first industrial factories, and the design of the Analytical Engine. As also Philip Mirowski remarked, the Analytical Engine, the first stored-program computer, was in fact a miniature factory. Clocks have been the empirical model of the human mind, machines and labour for centuries: yet they will never be able to imitate the computational scale of recent computers, Giuseppe Longo argues, as the latter break into incommensurable temporal dimensions. In 1948, Norbert Wiener framed the history of the industrial automaton according to three stages and temporalities: the Newtonian age with its clocks, the industrial age with its thermodynamic engines and the contemporary world with cybernetics. Surprisingly, and a bit mysteriously, Wiener said that the modem automaton of cybernetics “exists in the same sort of Bergsonian time as the living organism”, as it is not following the linear and reversible Newtonian time. Curiously, Wiener took meteorology as an example of the statistical science that was necessary to study the expanding temperamental character of cybernetics. Holistic influences aside, Wiener already sensed a computational universe that was producing its own incomputable temporalities, as much unpredictable as the shape of clouds and financial markets. Contemporary finance, as well, does not appears to follow a Newtonian time but the chaotic temporalities of High-Frequency Trading, for instance. Ultimately, finance appears to cultivate its own self-catastrophic universe of derivatives and attempts to merge with the long now of a supersocial machinic intelligence.



Kircher’s Musurgia universalis (1650). From Siegfried Zielinski's Deep Timeo of Media (MIT, 2006)

Kircher’s Musurgia universalis, 1650 (from Zielinski’s Deep Time of the Media, 2006)

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