Sunday, January 22, 2012

A singularity of purpose

Thigh, by Francis Picabia. From Disasturbation

I'm haunted by that vision of the corporation as superorganic Creature, slouching towards—whatever goal you might imagine them to have, feeding and reproducing, I guess, like everything else. I think I know how it could really happen, too (at least in a science fiction sense), as a kind of socioeconomic Singularity, analogous to the technological Singularity when all the artificial intelligence devices are supposed to achieve their own independent intelligence and declare independence from their human masters...

Think of all those folks in their cubicles [jump]
as a chain of information processors, linked to one another and to the central executive: an array of parallel processors, in fact, each executing its own particular instructions toward the accomplishment of a goal it is only vaguely aware of. They form something like an enormous computer, solving the problems set in that great big office on the top floor.

Then think of the way, as computers get more and more complex, the chances that any two unrelated bits of code will interact in some unpredictable way increases. Of course with computers, a program is carefully debugged before it's let out into the public; but with a corporation, seen as an array of parallel processors, who's going to get outside it to see it that way, as a machine? Everybody's on the inside, including the CEO.

Each error the corporation makes in its functioning—I'm thinking of things one wouldn't necessarily regard as errors, just oddities that aren't part of the plan, like someone using many more words beginning with A in her emails and powerpoints than expected, or never eating the pickle that comes with his lunch—is a mutation, which may have no effect on the company at all, or harm its chances of survival, or indeed help them; like golf, say, which must have seemed like an error when it first got started ("How can they make any money when the Cheese is out on the links all day?") but turns out to be especially valuable, so that it has been imitated by all the most successful companies all over the world. (In this simple example it is clear that the Cheese, under the mistaken impression that he is supposed to be in control of the company, constantly impedes its operations, so it's better for everyone if he is just not around, but most of the time there will be no immediate explanation at all.)

It's already a kind of organism, isn't it? Feeding on cash flow, and reproducing by division or budding, or deproducing by merger and acquisition, a trick well beyond the capacity of mere biology in which an entity becomes its own next generation! The real question would be whether it is intelligent or not, or how much, in relation to the humans that operate them.

Do corporations practice cooperative foraging for nourishment? Do they use tools? Do they have a method of communication other than that of person to person? Can they chat without our knowing it?
Remember this?

Is it in fact money that does it? When the accountant cuts a check, is it like being a tongue that wags its way around the oral cavity without any notion of what its master is trying to achieve? And what are those checks talking about?
A marvel. Don't miss part 2.

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