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Patrick Tierney (M, 32)
Princeton, US
Immortal since Oct 7, 2007
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    I recently read an article by Manuel DeLanda discussing Non-Organic Life and the Mechanical Phylum. Simply put, anything that crosses thresholds can be thought of as an organism. This includes waves moving through water, rocks forming stratas over millennium, yo-yos, simple circuits, and computers.

    Dimensions can be assigned to these organisms for each degree of freedom. A light switch, a battery, and light is an organism with a "point" degree of freedom: it is either on, or off, and therefore exists in a point space. An oven occupies a point in one-dimensional space (it's freedom is confined to a linear temperature). A pendulum occupies a point in two dimensional space, and bicycle, DeLanda notes, has about 10 degrees of freedom. In other words, there are only 10 aspects of a bicycle that separates it from a static object. It therefore exists in 10 dimensional "phase space," depicting this phase space would require collapsing 10 dimensional to a space we can view. I like the terms Non-Organic Life and Mechanical Phylum, since as we clearly dont require organic life to have even the slightest consciousness, non-organic life should not have to start with AI.

    I find this concept most interesting as it applies to bots or web crawlers. When computer programs are competing to solve a problem their "movement" and the very space they inhabit it made at the discretion of the programmer. I've discussed this process and how this space can be thought of as architecture in a previous essay.
    A glass structure is charted in two dimensional phase space. The orientations of the glass shards is the structure's degree of freedom, charted in a line.

    Another interesting dimension (no pun intended) of bots is that they can be thought to exist in multiple "universes." If you create a bot, Q, to roam through a set of data, you can duplicate not only Q but the space it lives in. You Therefore when charting Q's location you must not only specify its position according to these degrees of freedom, but you must specify which Q in which universe you are describing. DeLanda neglected this in his essay but I would consider it a part of phase space.

    So if we can think of bots as part of a phylum, is there an architecture to their space? Does architecture apply only to humans? Is there an architecture to the space bacteria or worms live in?

    Order out of Nothing

    DeLanda's essay also brings up an interesting note about order arising with no guided influence. Rocks are organized into similar stratum though nothing more than the chaos of our universe. Similarly, the planets of our universe formed in the same way. If the planet we stand on and the environment we live in creates order out of nothing, why is it so hard to imagine that it eventually created rudimentary life, or rather, rudimentary life created itself.
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    Let's take a definition of architecture as any constructed environment designed for beings to live, work, or exist. While this would include some odd environments such as cattle pens (constructed from little more than wooden posts and barbed wire), I think as a whole it encompasses most of architecture. It leaves out forests and other natural habitats where beings exist and live, and includes virtually every structure traditionally defined as architecture. It also leaves out sewers, trenches, and other pieces of construction which one shouldn't call architecture (unless you adopt a rat's point of view). Thus, architecture is a build or constructed space that beings inhabit.

    Using this definition, I have chosen for my space digital space, or cyberspace, to use a term coined by William Gibson over two decades ago. His descriptions of cyberspace described shafts of light, large spaces, and a psychedelic environment you could touch, manipulate, and become engulfed in.

    While I have included this three dimensional, tectonic space in my collage, I have also shown a space which beings of a much lower order than us inhabit. This space is unlike the three dimension worlds such as Second Life or video games. This space is a space made of bandwidth and computing power, operated by machines for machines, which allow some programs to duplicate themselves, modify themselves, move from machine to machine, gain power and loose it. All of these programs live in an environment based on algorithms and, ultimately, how well a particular performs its given task. Google for instance has machines to roam the Internet searching for information. Cryptography companies use programs to sift through and interpret data[1]. Each program is given access to some data and freedom to move from computer to computer, gathering data. Some make sense of the data and are allowed to reproduce. Those that output gibberish are deleted.

    The environment these programs inhabit is not like the three dimensional space we live in, in fact, it is unclear as to how many dimensions these programs live in. For instance, while we define ourselves by three spatial coordinates, these machines might define their location by a data bandwidth dimension, charting how much data it can receive, or by the number of times it can replicate itself, or to what extent it can communicate with other programs occupying the same state. A programmer determined all the qualities of each location in this environment. Since physical location matters little to these programs, they might describe each location by a thousand different dimensional qualities, and base how they move by factors we cannot imagine, as entities in our space do not have limitations on reproduction or viewing bandwidth. So, is this environment space, and if so, is it architecture?

    It seems to satisfy half of our initial condition. It has been constructed. As much planning and design goes into designing the computing environment for these autonomous machines as would go into a constructed building. The environment has constraints and boundaries, and therefore walls and enclosements. Enclosement defines interior space. It also seems to satisfy the second half of our definition, that beings live, work, and exist in this environment, provided that these digital machines are in fact beings. Thus the problem with labeling this digital space as architecture lies not in measuring breaths, widths, spans, or volumes; the problem lies in defining life.

    I would argue that these machines would constitute some kind of rudimentary life, and therefore can be categorized as beings. The book Vehicles, Experiments in Synthetic Psychology by Valentino Braitenberg maps out a way to construct simple machines with incredibly lifelike characteristics. His book is backed up by neurological research showing how simple the brains of many insects and lower order animals are, and how easy parts of these brains can be replicated in the computer. Thus, we can construct an insect like program and place it in our virtual space, design the parameters that limit where it can move, where it can eat, what it can see and where it can meet other insects. If an insect is a being, and if this software is much like an insect, this software is a being. Therefore, it would seem that this environment satisfies the conditions of being architecture.
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