In 2007, a group of some two-hundred entrepreneurs representing technological start-ups descended on Seattle for “a wine and cheese party” organized by Amazon and Madrona Venture Group, an early investor in the tech corporations like the aforementioned digital giant and Isilon Systems, a database storage company noted for servicing big data interests, gene sequencing firms, and oil and gas companies. The focus at this large gathering, however, was the advent of Amazon Web Services (AWS, a series of distributed remote computing services that generates a massive cloud platform – a digital sea composed of interlocking databases, email services, search engines, real-time data monitoring platforms, and much more. At the time, cloud computing was still a relatively small idea; “Now, seven years later, Seattle is Cloud City.”i
Big business is cloud crazy: the integration of the database, the communication network, the standardized and streamlined platform and IT management allows for a faster, more agile corporate model, be it in the realm of data analytics or in expensive resource usage. Cloud computing is an internal digital architecture, but what it offers is an full environment that the corporation does not so much as use, but operate within, while all the while the cloud itself spills outwards and connects deeper still to the movement towards informatic singularity. In 2012, the Chinese government, working with IBM, launched an ambitious project to build a corporate office park, data center, and digital cloud the size of city, which includes not only the business districts but also residential neighborhoods. That same year, Pike Research published a report that between 2011 and 2017, cities would spend upwards of $4.8 billion dollars on big data and cloud computing technology.ii This technology, the report states, will better enable “smart governments” to deal with the complexities of managing the “smart city” – the recent trend in urban development to look to combining the traditional drivers of economics, education, and environmental concerns with information-communication technology.
The cloud infrastructure of smart cities is being eagerly promoted through IBM’s Smarter Cities initiative and MIT’s City Science division of the Media Lab, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Intelligent Cities program, the World Foundation for Smart Communities, and the Smart Cities Stakeholder Platform, set up by the European Commission’s energy and power division. The image being promoted by all of these organizations is an urban place that strikes an equitable balance between the citizenry and the government, between work and play, industry and environment; the driver for economic growth is typified more by the ‘creative’ industries than the manufacturing base, which will largely be operated through automated machinery. In the case of the thinkers of MIT Media Lab’s City Sciences, holistic approaches to ecology and human growth factor in just as much as entrepreneurs networking and data sharing. The end result is a vision of harmonic and peaceful existence, the actions of the people and the nerves of the government mediated by technology.
There is a postfascist figure haunting our world, Deleuze and Guattari tell us in A Thousand Plateaus, that aims not for the mobilization of war, but instead for a global equilibrium of peace – “a smooth space that now claims to control, to surround the entire earth.”iii This state of Empire is a nomadic war machine operating alongside and above the state apparatuses; in its momentum, there is little means in which to differentiate between total peace and total war. This is the lesson of the global War on Terror, launched by neoconservatives in the State Department under the sovereign right, espoused first by the Reagan administration, of “Peace Through Strength,” and later continued by the progressives under the banner of the humanitarian intervention. This is not so much a war advanced purely by territorial concerns, though we cannot discount this as a catalyzing factor. The conjunction of Total War and Absolute Peace is a unification spurred on by the reconfiguration of war, on the transnational level, to police action, and the upgrading of the police, on the national level, to a military force. Police action on the transnational level is wholly contained within an informatic paradigm, from the orbits of satellites in space to the flights over drones, to boundless wiretaps and email monitoring and the immense databasing of suspects, smart bombs, and the next generation of robotic soldiers currently in development at DARPA.
So too is the warfare on the national stage conducted through information. Drones are coming home, so to speak, and the citizenry of the nation is treated with the same level of suspicion as the so-called insurgents in the “war-zones.” Hand-in-hand with these cybernetic enhancements, the bodies of the police themselves are reworked into those as soldiers in a battlespace. Stephen Graham has extensively detailed how the terrain of this new combat is the city itself in the form of the metropolis, the abstract and digitized realm that encompasses the architecture of the city itself and the social relations that take place within it.iv The logic of this militarization follows precisely the information networks of the metropolis, the dense matrix of flows that interlinks commerce and movement, trade and exchange, tracking and accumulation. In short, the beginnings of the cloud – the vision of tomorrow’s city – forms the basis of total war.
The metropolis, writes Giorgi Agamben, is a composition of two historical elements: that of the exclusion of the figure of the leper from the city, and the city stricken with the plague.v Both of these elements are adapted from Foucault’s discourse on the evolution of what he dubbed the “disciplinary society,” and later, “biopolitics.” The figure of the leper is one of exclusion, abandonment by the power relations that constitute the organization of the social; always cast away from not only the city center but the outer walls, the domain of the leper is the outside. He wanders the untouched wilderness like a nomad. With the eradication of the disease, this figure was replaced by others: “Poor vagabonds, criminals, and ‘deranged minds’ would take the part played by the leper,” Foucault recounts.vi The individuals in the plague city, by contrast, are condemned to the inside, forced by juridicial apparatuses and a well-designed technology of confinement to remain within a specific territory dominated by a top-down hierarchy. The issue of the metropolis is then, for Agamben, the resolution or synthesis of these two opposing factions: the inside and the outside, the internal and the external, the town and the country.
The plague city is a space consumed in a state of emergency, and is subjected to a “strict spatial partitioning,”vii conducted through the closure of the town at its borders, the prohibition of free movement, the division of the city into districts and quarters, and through a regime of surveillance, both in the interior spaces of each and every home and on its streets and byways. This surveillance entails a system of “permanent registration,”viii and with it a whole succession of apparatuses that transforms the monitoring of the public body into an affair of bureaucracy and data through documentation and archiving. The control of the plague city is at once a medical contingency plan and a political paradigm, and with it comes the elimination of two conceptual registers of the outside. On one hand, we have the physical outside, in a geographical sense based on the dichotomy of the town and country. By remaining within, one is safe; the exterior is a space of danger and the unknown. On the other hand, we have the social outside, pertaining to the movements and actions of individual bodies in relation to one another and to themselves. “The plague as form,” Foucault writes, “at once real and imaginary, of disorder had its medical and correlative discipline.”ix The plague city is then the dark precursor to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, a prison system based on the specter of routine and constant surveillance, whether or not it is actually occurring at that moment.
If the metropolis is the conjunction of the leper’s expulsion and the plague city, then we’re confronted with a force or figure that cannot be defined in “urban” and “rural” dichotomies; it also positions the Metropolis as a strictly political terrain bound up in multiple forms of power, sometimes complimentary, sometimes contradictory. It is a form of power that is both closure and opening, the collision of the “simple binary opposition of diseased/healthy, mad/normal etc” with “a whole complicated series of differentiating dispositions of technologies and dispositifs that subjectify individuate and control subjects.”x In 1994 the Critical Art Ensemble described the rise of a new methodology of power, one made invisible and located in “an ambiguous zone without borders” – nomadic power.xi This is the legacy of leper, the wanderer in the outside: power operating through flexibility and hypermobility, a friend of speed and escape velocities, shifting wildly in a world of fluids and spaces of flows. This nomadic power in no way contradicts the legacy of the plague city, sedentary power, that remains as vertical as it does centralized.
The metropolis is that which emerges from the dynamics of neoliberalism, by-product and foundation, mutation in code and carefully colonized space. It is far more an immaterial notion than the geometry and geography of the urban for it reaches its highest expression as the informatic double that is generated from within. Neoliberalism conducts itself by circulating rapidly between, establishing flexible ties with, and linking together domestic spaces that are consumed in their own operations and internal dynamics, governmental modes and regualtory concerns: the becoming-node of sedentary powers, the becoming-network of nomadic power, as if the leper was ambling from plague city to plague city. Metropolis-as-information, metropolis-as-media, then undergoes a two-fold transformation: one half of the informatic double itself becomes nomadic, feedbacking into the market. The other half is sedentary, an affair of the state.
If every site of power operates as an assemblage whose moving parts are composed of the flows of capital and property, juridicial orders and bureaucracy, social relations and the circulation of commodities, familial dynamics and relationships to machines, neoliberalism is an abstract machine that connects these assemblages while also subjecting them its own codification. This abstract machine has a technological motor, building on the primitive machines and complex machines, thermodynamic machines, and in the wake of the second World War, taking off in the age of computer machines which empower new formations as much as they retain the relationships and dynamics of old in a precarious hauntology. The actuality of the abstract machine’s functionality is matched by its role as a haecceity, a “thisness” that seems to be a transcended zeitgeist of a moment but in reality is emergent from the machine’s invisible core. The haecceity is achieved in the union of design, the industrialization of utopian dreams and the avant-garde, and data accumulated until it becomes simulation. Metropolis wavers between the two poles as our conditions of everyday life.
Simulation’s conception can be found when the vaults of databases are projected onto social, economic, and political relations, made possible through their connectability through network technology. The database is the legacy of the plague city, the disciplinary and medical necessity of monitoring and cataloging, horrifically mundane tabulation and statistical reason that lends civilization the atmosphere of a prison, the enclosure of life and its possibilities, as well as biopower, the ability to make life possible. Foucault couples biopower to the idea of the “population,” a nonentity whose entire existence is owed to the rise of statistical reasoning, the “science of the state.”xii Statistical information fed into inputs: National Library of Medicine, Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, Acxiom, IRS database, ChoicePoint, National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, HPSS, Google, Youtube, Sprint, NSA, on and on and on. Input to output, immediately back into input. Data greases the gears of the machine.
Deleuze and Guattari had a word for the immense composition of the machines of the abstract order: the mechanosphere, “of which concrete assemblage is a multiplicity, a becoming, a segment, a vibration.”xiii The mechanosphere is the “plane of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed”:xiv universal, cris-crossing the face of the globe, there and back again, made possible by the howls of electrons and the speed of fiber optics, moving through radio waves, bounced from satellites to earth. The political hypothesis that Tiqqun dubbed the “cybernetic hypothesis” is a universal hypothesis. The Mathematical Man, walking the streets and non-spaces of the metropolis that he is simultaneously calling into creation is at the center of a cyclonic mastery over the forces of nature. The word “cloud” tells us all we need to know.
For the Situationists, the urban is a production of the Spectacle, and the Spectacle is the accumulated of capital until it becomes image. This formula is indicative of the time and place, high industrial society, with its compliments in the screen-vision of the TV. It implies a linearity of time, a forward momentum and succession, cinematic time. Our new formula of data accumulating until it becomes simulation implies a different understanding of the metropolis and the image, requiring a shift from the singular medias of yesterday to the kinetic multimedia environments of today. In 1922 Lewis Richard published his Weather Prediction by Numerical Process, detailing a way to anticipate the actions of a system bound up in unpredictable factors and variables. His launching point is little different from sedentary control subjected to the plague city; his writings foreshadow directly the implications of the cybernetic hypothesis:
…he envisioned partitioning the earth’s surface into 3,200 hundred meteorological cells, relaying current observations by telegraph to the arched galleries and sunken amphitheater of a great hall, where some 64,000 human computers would continuously evaluate the equations governing each cell’s relations with its immediate neighbors, maintaining a numerical model of the atmosphere in real time.xv
Richardson’s model did not reach fruition due to the limitations of the technology of his time, but his projected grid world describes the establishment of a simulation derived from an immense data input system wholly contingent on a spatial partitioning of geographical planes. Partitioning becomes a digital representation whose data flows are indistinguishable from reality, a lesson that was not lost on John von Neumann, who decades later would resurrect Richardson’s work in his own interest in meteorological modeling. More importantly, the grid partitions that Richardson longed for found a new form in von Neumann’s theories of cellular automata, discrete models based on grids of cells which appear to evolve in chaotic fashions before morphing in stable systems. The cellular automata’s application is now to be found in the computer sciences and cryptography, biological chemistry, and all sciences relying on error correction. John Horton Conway’s 1972 The Game of Life adopted von Neumann’s ideas to illustrate adaptability, emergence and self-organizing principles as the underlier of any complex, evolution-based system; sitting in front of the game on an Apple II computer, Chris Langton had his brush with the simulation when he felt a “presence,” a spirit of universality, within the shifts of the cells.xvi
Langton’s epiphany jump-started the field of artificial intelligence, and he could soon be found at the Santa Fe Institute alongside von Neumann’s close friend and proto-neoliberal economist Kenneth Arrow, applying the sciences of complex systems to innovations in computer technology and economic modeling. He lent his hand there to the development of the Cellular Automata Model (CAM), first applied to stakeholder relationships to corporate governance systems, then to the fluctuations of traffic in urban regions, population dynamics (Foucault’s biopower raises its head again), wireless networks, drug therapy, mathematical physics, biological morphogenesis… is this not the projection of media object and its extended network formation, the collision of hardware and software with an architectural infrastructure, unimaginable networks of wires and cables, all rushing to produce a singular point where all is information is to be understood, to be applied, to be worked into a finalized product?
Capital does not accumulate into image. Capital is information, and information is environment. A notion of the metropolis seems miniscule here, but it is there where this dynamic system finds both its laboratory and its petri dish. What then, is life, if not only signals flickering out in space?
iEmily Parkhurst “Cloud City: Local tech firms building world’s biggest ‘cloud’ cluster” Puget Sound Business Journal February 28th, 2014 http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/print-edition/2014/02/28/cloud-city-tech-cos-cloud-community.html?page=all
ii“Cumulative Global Investment in Smart Government Technologies Will Reach $4.8 Billion Through 2017” Navigant Research, May 3rd, 2012 http://www.navigantresearch.com/newsroom/cumulative-global-investment-in-smart-government-technologies-will-reach-4-8-billion-through-2017
iiiGilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia University of Minnesota Press, 1987, pg. 421
ivStephen Graham Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism Verso, 2010
viMichel Foucault Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason Vintage Books, 1988 (reprint edition), pg. 7
viiMichel Foucault Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison Vintage Books, 1995 (reprint edition) pg. 195
viiiIbid, pg. 196
ixIbid, pg. 198
xiCritical Art Ensemble The Electronic Disturbance Autonomedia, 1994, pg. 11
xiiMichel Foucault Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978 Picador, 2009, pg. 101
xiiiDeleuze and Guattari A Thousand Plateaus
xivIbid, pg. 343
xvGeorge Dyson Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe Vintage, 2012, pg. 158
xvi Harry Henderson Mathematics: Powerful Patterns in Nature and Society Chelsea House Publishing, 2007, pg. 121