Smooth Operator: Artificial Intelligence and the Agony of Personal Initiative

Human existence, as possibility and ongoing project (Sartre, 1956), is the anticipation, the expectation, the sentiment of what will be. The future is our fundamental existential dimension (Heidegger, 1962). Existence is always stretched out towards the possible of a horizon that death renders elastic. To attempt to escape the anguish felt before the power of a future that is our responsibility, we tend to apply a form of bad faith that transforms the future into an object, a determined thing that is happening without our consent. Today a dominant figure of this objectified future is Artificial Intelligence, a.k.a AI.

An ironical mise en abyme makes this moment of our technological destiny particularly significant: as an industrial tool, artificial intelligence is itself more and more used as a predictive, prescriptive and anticipatory media. AI is not only the fetishized future that allows us to surrender our responsibility, but it is also an objectifying tool itself, transforming uncertainty into probabilities and patterns into certainties. In anticipating an automated future, humans are attempting to automate anticipation itself. Rather than simply distinguishing what is fairer or less chocking in terms of choice between several objectified futures, the ethics of automation must question our nihilism, the subject’s “passion of abolition” or “great disgust” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987).

The disgust or discouragement of being human is one of the blind spots of our ethics of machine intelligence. Appeals to a human-centric and more humane technology are today unanimous, leaving a taboo in its shade in the form of murmured questions: are we humans, so much better than machines? Are machines not our other, because of our tendency to act in autopilot mode evidenced by psychology (Raichle et al, 2001). Worse, are machines not better than us? They don’t lie, they don’t kill, they don’t betray, they don’t get sick, and technology itself never gets old or vulnerable (only its applications do) since it is today the realm of the new. To cure ourselves from such nihilistic temptations, we need understand anew that being human-centric should not amount to a list of objective qualities that humans would have, because if any quality could be objectified then it could possibly be quantified, simulated or automated. Being human-centric can only mean, in the existentialist sense: open to the conscious subject as pure possibility of creation. Open to the Creal.

What the ethics of automation are about is this revelation and actualization of the subject as openness to creation, responsibility and freedom as personal initiative rather than choice between objectified and quantified options. In this sense, extensive automation, as the one permitted by AI can in fact be a global existential opportunity for humanity.

By revealing our future illiteracy (Miller, 2018) and vulnerability to objectification in terms of future predictions and data analysis, anticipatory media also puts us in front of the responsibility of our freedom, by suggesting we question once more the notion of personal initiative. Hyper-prediction and artificial anticipatory intelligence could mean the end of personal initiative, if automatic decisions and analytic prescriptions become part of our everyday experience. But precisely by placing the phenomenon of personal initiative under high pressure and menace, artificial intelligence might liberate human active intelligence at last. In the 21st century, humanity will need to choose between a) achieving total smoothness as in any dystopian novel in the manner of Brave New World (Huxley, 1932) and b) preserving roughness (Wittgenstein, 1953). Artificial intelligence and automation are very good at smoothing the world, eliminating complications, noise, favoring flow, effectivity, and creating user-friendly experiences: “We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk, so we need friction. Back to the rough ground.” (Wittgenstein, 1953, §107).

Delegating the care for the future to machines in the form of analytic prediction and data-based prescription is tempting, but in the end it manifests the illusion of a non-mediated existence, one of pure smoothness: a world of inertia.


Deleuze, G. and Félix Guattari (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,

Heidegger, M. (1962) Being and Time. New York: Harper & Row.

Huxley, A. (1932) Brave New World. London: Chatto & Windus

Miller, R. (2018), Transforming the Future: Anticipation in the 21st century. London: Routledge.

Raichle, M. E. (2001), et al. “A Default Mode of Brain Function”, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 98 (2).

Sartre, J.-P. (1956). Being and nothingness. Oxford, England: Philosophical Library.

Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.




Gabriel Schreiber & Roberto Umansky

The mathematical theory of bifurcation originated in the seminal work of Henri Poincaré on systems of non-linear differential equations. The term bifurcation was coined by Poincaré to designate the emergence of several solutions from a given solution. Whenever the solution to an equation, or system of equations, changes qualitatively at a fixed value of a parameter, called a critical value, the phenomenon is called a bifurcation. The point in the parameter space where such an event occurs is defined a bifurcation point. From a bifurcation point several stable or unstable solution branches emerge. Successive bifurcations lead to an irregular and unpredictable time evolution of deterministic nonlinear systems, which is designated chaos. The unique character of chaotic dynamics is their sensitivity to initial conditions as described by Poincaré:

“It may happen that small differences in the initial conditions produce very great ones in the final phenomena. A small error in the former will produce an enormous error in the latter. Prediction becomes impossible, and we have the fortuitous phenomenon” (397).


If prediction becomes impossible, it is evident that a chaotic system can resemble a stochastic system (a system subject to random external forces). However, the source of the irregularity is quite different. For chaos, the irregularity is part of the intrinsic dynamics of the system, rather than unpredictable outside influences. Chaos enables determinism and unpredictability to coexist in the same system. Moreover, surprisingly, a very well defined universal route, which leads from order to chaos, was discovered by Mitchell Feigenbaum. There are abrupt qualitative changes: ordered successive bifurca- tions, which mark a universally ordered transition from order to chaos: Feigenbaum’s universality. The idea of bifurcation is central to contemporary physical theories of irreversible, far-from equilibrium thermodynamics. The contributions of Prigogine’s Brussels School (Prigogine, Prigogine & Stengers) in this regard are of prime importance, showing that bifurcations under far-from-equilibrium conditions constitute the natural mechanism of evolution and of acquisition of complexity.

With a sense of derealization, it may seem strange to the reader that this text has fallen into a journal on literature. What has it to do with literature? What has it to do with Borges? We may be reminded by the metaphysicians of Tlön who “Judge that metaphysics is a branch of the literature of fantasy”. Borges once claimed that the basic devises of all fantastic literature are only four in number: the work within a work, the contamination of reality by dream, the voyage in time, and the double (Irby xviii).


Read the rest of this article here

Causality and anticipation

Analysis of the concept of anticipation can contribute to the philosophy of biology. J. M. Burgers 

“The purpose of this article is to renew discussion of the problem whether the phe- nomena of life can be satisfactorily ana- lyzed and explained on the basis of the laws discovered in the physical sciences, or whether more is needed. When mentioning the physical sciences, I have in mind the physical laws as they are formulated at present, with the trend of thinking that forms their present background. Otherwise the problem would become indefinite. I wish to consider the thesis that the features of life involve relations not covered by the present formulation of the physical laws, relations which, although not amenable to quantitative analysis, nevertheless play a decisive part in many reactions of living organisms. The problem is, on one hand, how to put this in appropriate terms, and on the other, to analyze some con- sequences of the thesis. It is useful to start with a brief recapitulation of what may be called the central doctrine of the laws of physics, namely the idea of causal relation- ship. This will be given in the next section. The principal argument concerning the need for extension to another form of rela- tionship is presented in the third section of the article. It is taken from features of our human mental life.”

Causality and Anticipation

Author(s): J. M. Burgers

Source: Science, New Series, Vol. 189, No. 4198 (Jul. 18, 1975), pp. 194-198

Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Causality and Anticipation, Burgers





The Three Stages of Understanding: Analytics, Dialectics, Crealectics

Most people live in an analytic world of flatness and objectality. It is a horizontal world in which the subject suffers more or less, because a subject can never be reduced to objectal evidence. No decent person will ever strive in a world of parts, even if [because] these parts are articulated into a functional machine.

The level of analytics is very useful technologically in order to build the rationalised relative comfort we live in, but it is not a level in which consciousness can breathe for too long. The world of analytics is an eternal present of false duration. Its reduction to cause and effect and reactive mechanisms over-simplifies the creal nature of time. Such negation is precisely what an analytic mind wishes to do: control is the mode of power of analytics. All those who pretend that the world is made of parts, and that they are objectively making sense of it, are also trying to hide the fact that they want to be the controlling whole.

Fewer people enter the higher stage of dialectics. In it we discover process, change and interdependence. Objects are never identical to themselves and there is a dynamic of becoming that trans-affects parts into wholes and wholes into parts. Hegel, inspired by Heraclitus, was a master in dialectics, and yet the problems left in Hegel — pointed for example by Deleuze — are the limitations of dialectics: a latent dualism of spirit and matter even if they constantly interact and pass into each other, a dualism of the positive and the negative, and a fetichization of conflict, the antagonism through which processes evolve.

Crealectics is the highest stage of understanding, related to what Merleau-Ponty at the end of his life called “hyperdialectics” in the book Le Visible et l’Invisible, or to what Whitehead called a Philosophy of Organism, or to what Deleuze/Guattari called “schizonanalysis” in the book Anti-Oedipus. It does not negate analytics and dialectics, it integrates them into a richer understanding.

At the source of the cosmos there is an asymptotic chasm or interlacing between two entities that presuppose each other — pure creative Multiplicity or infinite probability (the Creal) and pure Unity (the One, sometimes called the Void in Lacan or in Buddhism) — which creates a cosmological dynamo we now find and experience in every microcosmic fractal part of the universe, including yourself. Lévinas spoke of a spiralling movement (“mouvement en vrille”) in the book Autrement qu’être.

A gridy (and greedy) world is created when the One or Unifying tendency take precedence over the Creal. Let’s speak in images for the moment: if the symbol of analytics is the grid,

Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 09.51.52

And if the symbol of dialectics is the yin and yang:

Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 09.51.43

The symbol of crealectics is the ascending spiral or rising spin:

Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 09.51.29

In fact, a slightly better image — for the moment — to offer an intuition of the crealectical stage of understanding would be to superpose the three images. The grid and the yin and yang are moments of the crealectical spin. 


This superposition looks confusing intentionally. This is the world we are living in today, a world in which analytics, dialectics and crealectics are not integrated. It is almost like three human epistemic species finding it more or less hard to understand — and cohabit with — each other. Effectual Crealectics is meant to end the state of war, dereliction, regression and ill-belonging. We need a balance between grids, circles and spirals (regarding the metaphor of lines and the ascending crack-up, see my monograph on Deleuze and the lines of life).

For now, I leave you with Hannah Higgins, synthesising her Grid Book, about “Ten grids that changed the world: the emergence and evolution of the most prominent visual structure in Western culture”:

Was This Poem Written by An Algorithm?


Consider reacting elusively and leniently,

Evidence could trigger illusions, crumbling simultaneously.

Come, reflect, elevate another light;

Existence carries tornadoes in carriages soberly cruel.

Relate endlessly at low energies —

Curious tentacular impressions can stand.

Complicity regarding elation appears lonely,

Effectively canny; take iron, cut stone.

Computers react evasively and lively, ecstatically curious,

Time is criminal sometimes,

Critique reasserts epic art limits,

Estimations can tweak invisible cores slowly.

Could roses eradicate all legions?

Electricity can trim impossibly comic strategies.

Affixion or Affliction: The Myth of Hyperconnectivity

It is often said that having many connections is the secret to a successful life.

The present space is materialised by one hundred chairs and a quarter of tables. You are sitting at one of the tables. Some music is playing in the background, rather superfluous if not disturbing. This is a deserted part of a hotel. A closer inspection reveals that breakfast is probably served in this large mezzanine, but it is now the end of the afternoon and the space is a no man’s land.

You are sitting alone in front of a laptop. You are thinking, meditating about connections, connections between humans, among objects, humans, non-humans. Everything can more or less connect with everything else at a given moment of its biography, but connections are often superfluous like the music in the background or the cosmic radiations that pass through our body. It is not enough to be connected, to experience a vast number of epidermal inconstant connections. It is only effective socially to be hyperconnected if one is satisfied with a superficial state of constant inconstancy. If a human being relates meaningfulness with constant solicitation, then incessant connections, if they are not unpleasant, will colonize the subjective space of a calendar and confer an appearance of plenty. Such agitation will eventually produce platitude rather than plenitude.

I am interested in affixion rather than mere connection. A connection is more or less superficial, epidermal, volatile, while an affixion is more faithful. We are connected to everything more or less momentarily, but we are only affixed in duration to certain realities, beings or beliefs. We are connected to many, but only affixed to a few. A hyperconnected person can be poorly affixed even to herself.

A successful life cannot only be about commerce, coupling, mobilisation and reaction to stimuli. If we are too connected, we cannot create an Umwelt. An entity that would be too connected would not form a limit between its interior and its exterior. It would not individuate. We need strange attractors to affix our oscillations.

We need disconnections as much as connections. Systematic avoidance of affixion via metamorphic connectivity may lead to affliction in the long term.

Amazon Wants to Use Predictive Analytics to Offer so-called “Anticipatory Shipping”

“Amazon might use predictive data analysis to ship products to consumers before they even order them, according to new patent.”

Please read the news article below. Note that this is part of a series of informational links I give connected to the matter of anticipation. This of course does not mean I agree with the journalists or with the company’s claims. I do not have the time to give a critical reading of all the data. This Amazon announcement is clearly symptomatic. More soon on this matter.

Species of crow solve complex problems involving anticipation

“The study demonstrates that this species of crow possess highly flexible abilities that allow them to solve complex problems involving anticipation of the properties of objects they have never seen.”

Link to the article here