Len Ellis

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Silicon Simulacra: Post-humans of the Machine Worlds

Len Ellis

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The assimilation of humans into machines is no longer science fiction.  Today, each of us has virtual versions inside the two giant machines of the late modern age, the datascape and cyberspace.  These hybrid entities, part human and part machine, are our post-human forms.

Chapter 1.  From Human Nature to Normal People
Social statistics cannot say anything about individuals because the source of our individuality—our ideals, aspirations and possibilities—cannot be captured as data.  The limits in using social statistics to define human affairs and the peril in their overuse were baked in at the discipline’s birth and persist among its descendants.

Chapter 2.  Being Different from the Joneses
Defining us by the numbers became ubiquitous in the 1970s   The Information Age enabled but an economic crisis caused a shift away from mass manufacturing and mass marketing a one-size-fits-all American Dream and toward the manufacture of variety and the marketing of difference.  The latter is the triumph of data-based marketing.

Chapter 3.  The Daydreamer and the Probability
All marketing addresses each of us as devoted to self-expression.  Advertising does so by addressing us as daydreamers.  Data-based marketing addresses us as probabilistic profiles—ephemeral informational entities, defined and manipulated by others to inform their decision making for their goals.  We live with the results. 

Chapter 4.  The Consumer’s New Clothes
The Web enables consumers to “advertise” our needs and wants to marketers, and new interfaces for the “virtual consumer” invite us to publicize ourselves proactively. Marketers will save millions but we’ll think it empowering and disclose our selves for free.

Chapter 5.  Virtual Me
The Web 2.0 world—social networks, blogs, bookmarking sites and more—invites each of us to make ourselves visible and knowable.  Doing so establishes our online presence and reputation and creates the need for each of us to build, manage and control our self-disclosure.  The patterns and rhythms of one’s connections are key.

Chapter 6.  Thinking Together
Online applications such as crowdsourcing, recommender systems and prediction markets promise to generate collective intelligence—new knowledge greater than the sum of its inputs.  Going forward, more of what each of us thinks will reflect what all of us think.  

The datascape and cyberspace are different machines and our simulacra – data profile and cyber-persona – are different.  Both, however, are hybrids – part human, part machine.  We are their raw materials but brought forth in machine terms.  They are our post-human forms.

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