In the 1988 essay “The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems” by Bill Nichols, the author takes Walter Benjamin's essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” as a framework to compare and gain an understanding of the cybernetic systems existent in the late 1980's – by cybernetic system is meant a mechanisms with a certain degree of artificial intelligence that capable of making changes to its own behavior (Nichols 1988, pp. 627)
Nichols follows Benjamin in his belief that major changes in art only happen once our perspective on reality has changed. He goes on asking how was our “sense of reality” is being transformed by the presence of cybernetic systems, and if this presence brings with it a promises of liberation and an in-depth understanding of the postmodern society (ibid, pp. 628-630).
What follows are a series of examples of changes brought by cybernetic systems that Nicholas detected to have changed phenomena Benjamin himself found in modern society, mainly its manifestation through cinema and photography. The central questions became no longer concerned with the authenticity of the reproduction of an art work, but with the creation and transformation of our relation to the environment and ourselves; Representation of social behaviors in cinema gives way to new forms of social interaction through cybernetic systems; The registration of past events in film is replaced by the immediacy of the simulation. Furthermore, Nichols refers that a shift has occurred in the object of fascination, while in cinema it had to do with a game of sights , cybernetics systems brought the fascination with the impression of control over the interaction; And the wish of possession and immutability gave way to urge for conversational and interaction (ibid pp.631-633).
Nicholas carries his essay giving real-life examples of how cybernetic systems concepts shaped the world. These examples consist on cases of artificial life support and creation, and of patents and copy-rights over “intelligent systems” such as video games.
The author concludes the essay by asserting that the disruptive potential seen by Benjamin in film can take a real form in the simulation. Nevertheless its possibility for liberating and decentralizing power can only be actualized if we gained conscientiousness of the cybernetic system within we exist, contrarily to this cybernetic systems will continue to serve capitalism and short-time interests.
Nichols, B. (1988). The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems. In: Wardrip-Fruin, N. and Montfort N. The New Media Reader. London: MIT Press. 625-641.
Research strands: Copy right of software: the shift from the visual aspect to mechanism of the game (PacMan case)
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