Future of the Web of the Future
Is our Web truly the best one of the possible Webs ?
Hidetaka Ishida (The University of Tokyo)
Before entering in my topic today, it would be better to explicit a little my background, two or three things perhaps useful for situating my talk. Engaged in adventure of media theory and media studies, I try to promote a field named Information Semiotics. My aim is to transform the Semiotics of 20 century based on the Saussurian and Peircian Model, which was operative with the Analog Media Revolution of 1900, but this model must be totally updated in Digital Media Revolution. My epistemological strategy, consists in returning to the baroque moment of Semiotics that is Leibniz’s Characteristica universalis and Locke’s Semeiotike.. The baroque Universal Semiotics was the name of the project for a Scientia generalis with research on philosophical language and logical calculation, origin of Computer Science today. And nowadays we live in the world universally equipped by semiotic machines in this sense.
I’m concerned by the question of the Web, also via the question of the Book and the Library, because of my humanist formation but more recently I was “Librarian of the university ” responsible for Hybrid Library Project. In this regard I will talk about Jorge Louis Borges as librarian and meta-literature.
I’m also interested in Art and Esthetics in New media. To interrogate the media condition for the critique of media condition, I think it is fundamental to think with media artists, so it is my method to think with artists the condition of our media experience. So in this regard I will illustrate my talk with a little help of my privileged artist Fujihata Masaki’s media art works. This is to conceive the media art as creation and critique of the media condition.
Last but not least, who talk about Leibniz about Borges can hardly ignore the China as topoi with theses authors. Why and how functions this heterotopic China for the Occidental or Universal Reason? This point will be also alluded in my talk.
I titled my talk today “The future of the web of the future : Is our Web truly the best one of possible Webs ?”. If the title is paronomatic, the subtitle is a bit esoteric, connoting “Le meilleur des mondes possibles” from Leibniz. But there is no enigma. I think another Web of the future must be possible and the actual one is far from be the best. Proof ? The election of the next US President for example ! Leibniz was wondering “If Cesar didn’t pass the Rubicon …”, and us now we are obliged to question : “If Trump wasn’t elected US President … ”, etc. This latest tragic example of the question of possible worlds was largely due – of course indirectly -- to the Digitally Mediated Universe today and the question of the best of possible webs. I try to address these questions in my talk in 5 moments.
I just begun to talk on Computer and Web in Leibnizian terminology. With Charateristica Universalis and Ars Combinatoria that were a universal Semiotics and Grammatology borrowing from Chinese binary system of Yijing, and also with invention of his Caliculating Machine, Leibniz is the archeological father of Computational Reason.
Leibniz was also vocational Librarian, conceiving an encyclopedia which will effectively realize with Diderot and d’Alembert, and designing an Universal Library project too.
It is not oversimplification to say that our digital knowledge environment today is realization of the Leibniz’ Project. We all are monads of this Universe called World Wide Web. In symbiosis with computer terminal, with IP address, each user as monad, never identical one another, enters in this Universe, that each monad expresses from her proper and singular point of view. Monad closed to herself is nonetheless related each other by universal network, one move even minimal and imperceptible can not not influence all constellation of monads: one can not not communicate in this Universe.
I don’t enter in details of Monadology here, I just underscore that the famous formulation on the monad “without door nor window” could be read as architectural illustration, or allegory, of media environment of the Baroque Age for the Mind-Brain-Body problem. Gilles Deleuze in his famous book on Leibniz Le Pli, Leibniz et le baroque (The Fold, Leibniz and the baroque), illustrated this by a allegory of “Baroque House”. The structure of the monade is configured in a mediated dispositive of two floors levels of baroque house: the lower floor, pierced with small holes of the fives senses lets enter and filter lights of the external world, these lights are mediated and introduced indirectly towards the upper floor that has no windows. It is a dark room or chamber decorated only with a stretched canvas diversified by folds, as if it were a living dermis or cerebral membranes. The perception is filtered by the sensitive organs in first level, and only lights are introduced in the inside of the monadic structure with textile or membrane for projection of Representations and production-vibrations of innate Ideas.
This allegory of the Baroque House illustrated by Deleuze explicates, for us media theorists, the media condition for Leibnizian Monadology. This is a optical media dispositive which permits the Monad to constitute herself in transcendental interiority “without window” but in communication with the universe. As we know, the optical technique like perspective, camera obscura, mirror room, anamorphosis, etc, composed the media condition of the baroque age, which made possible a monadic individuation closed to herself nonetheless expressing from proper point of view the universe by vibration of innate folds.
A quite analogous constellation of media condition can be found in our contemporary digital media environment, as we can observe in the treatment of optical problematique in Fujihata’s works. In our digitalized technical environment, a GPS panoramic vision could replace a perspective; a “non optical image” can be generated by laser beam scanning; an anamorphosis is obtained by computer rendering; an “unreflexive mirror” can be placed in virtual world, etc. The media condition for the fives senses, so for the esthetic level, is not of course the same, but the artistic activity can be interpreted also in a quite analogous problematique of individuation by and through media technological environment. I think we can define the monad, following Deleuze as “unity of individuation containing in power (puissance) an infinite multiplicity”. In digital environment, our semiotic life takes place in perpetual interface; I theorize this relation by a schema named “double semiotic pyramid”, which I have no time to explain, but you can see the upper level of human semiosis is always already doubled by the lower level of information processing.
II Universal Library and WWW
As humanist scholar, I have a hard time giving up the library. When I was librarian of the university, I was told several times of the End of Book, the End of Library. And my reply was categorical and hyperbolical.
We have entered in the Hyper Gutenberg Galaxy and a huge Library is under construction, which has dimension of Universe, as literally says the incipit of Jorge Louis Borges’ the Library of Babel: “The universe (that others call the Library)”). Deleuze said Borges is disciple of Leibniz. The Library of Babel indeed just as the monadic room of Leibniz, has no window nor door, a pur interior like the Studiolo of Florence.
Too see the continuity of the structure of Library to WWW, we need just remember the history of Computer and Menemotechnology since the middle of 20th century. The Memex (MEMory EXtender) by Vannevar Bush, considered as a prototype of hypertext system was a sort of reading desk for what one begun to call “knowledge base”. While the text became Hypertext, the WWW by Tim Berners-Lee was invention for a world wide scientific writing project for the CERN. Google has its origin in a new library project for Stanford University. Page(Larry), what a providential patronymic, with Sergey Brin, presented their doctoral thesis “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine” as result of research for “the Stanford Integrated Digital Library Project”.
For better understanding of the world universally mediated by the World Wide Web, it is fundamental that we don’t overlook this continuity of the Library problematique. Recently I wrote a chapter for a book about this question.
The universal librarization going on is absolutely systematic: Google is so vector of this librarization with its search engine; Amazon is bookseller; Facebook is literally a book for interfacial networking; Apple vender for book reader and slate for writing. So the GAFA(Google Apple Facebook Amazon) All these so called Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the digital Age are book or more precisely “book” industries in expansion. McLuhan and Media theorists were wrong, we didn’t exit the Gutenberg Universe but entered the Hyper Gutenberg Universe. Now all products and commodities are entering ontologically in bookish categories. When you are asked “but Amazon sells any things now”, your reply is “theses products and commodities became all books”; looking at people with smartphones or tablet terminal, you say “yes, they all now reading with a sort of Greek style tablets”.
This is not a joke but a methodological hyperbole to operate an epoché of our digital condition. We are so digitalized in our natural attitude that this thought experiment may give hint to think – phaenomenologically “bracketing” the natural attitude -- our digitalized lifeworld.
III Monadologic Reduction
If we reduce our digitally mediated universe of WWW to the Borgesian Universal Library problematique, you obtain several digital phenomena that are interesting themes of reflection. And this reduction will be monadologic, because of the monadologic constitution of the universe of the Universal Library. We can wonder whether the slate type interface as that of ancient Greek reader and nowadays I-Pad or Kindle readers are appropriate for reading the fold structure of the book; one could ask monadologic implication of hypertext and hyperlink; PageRank is a good example of monadology, relations of magnitude between gross monads and small monads, etc, etc.
We can also get a cognitive benefit from artistic experience. The “Beyond Pages” of Fujihata is an installation with a projected and interactive image of book, that is in my sense exactly a monadic cabinet of reading with a book which is not exactly a book, I wrote an article about this piece titling “Ceci n’est pas un livre /This is not a book”. His recent complete works so called “anarchive” in form of AR book which is not a book nor archive but in itself an interrogation about digital media condition of book and archive: this “Book” envelop digital images documents which are read through IPad interface which read markers of the paper book, but the paper book with commentary and critical texts reads in turn the digital images, etc, This is a praxis of hybrid reading or Augmented Reading.
If we are enclosed in our natural attitude in this digitalized universe, certain types of artistic experimentation give us possibility to operate critique of our media condition. Especially the Media Art (New Media Art) in case of these works cited here are praxis of critique of media condition so that it becomes even genuine production of new media, the Beyond Pages is creation of e-book beyond existent e-book, the Anarchive is creation of digital archive beyond existent digital archive.
IV Problems with the current WWW
We all know that today we have many problems with our Web. In this universe, you are enclosed, oriented and regulated in constant correlation with marketing technology (ex. Amazon Recommendation); with relational technology, your interpersonal relations are engineered by Facebook for example; Google ranking algorithms, as Frederic Kaplan alerts provoke the commodification of languages at a global scale by “linguistic capitalism”; while being interface for individualization, a terminal like an IPad is a tool to capture human attention, which could des-individuate her psyche.
My aim today is not to propose any remedy, but, with modesty, try to see how we can formulate in continuity of reflexion on Library-WWW these difficult questions.
The stake here is to show how make better the individuation -- or in terms of G. Simondon and B. Stiegler -- the trans-individuation with WWW. In this regard, the general theme of this symposium “Forces of reticulation”, I would articulate it with this monadologic problematique. I remind the definition by Deleuze of the monad “unity of individuation containing in power (puissance) an infinite multiplicity”, that is exactly the situation of the “psychic and collective individuation” of the user in WWW. The “force of reticulation” is in this context the “power(puissance)” contained as multiplicity that each page envelops virtually in herself. We can concretely conceive the situation in which a page in hypertext contains virtual multiplicity of tags or folds for links, by which the page envelops and develops other multiples pages linked together. This is the logic of fold of hypertext page.
In this regard, I would like to submit three or four remarks on the hypertext to your reflection.
1) That a page in hypertext is in power (puissance) is a well known banality, if you remember the “Cent mille milliards de poèmes” by Raymond Queneau. This banality diminish a little when we remember the epigraph : “Seule une machine peut apprécier un sonnet écrit par une autre machine (Only a machine can appreciate a sonnet written by another machine) ” attributed to Alan Turing.
2) There was a very active period of discussion on hypertext in 1990’s. There was an epistemological quid pro quo which is rather frequent in theory. When theorists intensively discussed hypertext, there was not yet hypertext transferred communication. When the WWW began to be operating, that was a period that the development of WWW coincided with the generalization of the GUI with Windows 95. Microsoft open the Windows while that was contrary to the principle of monadology for which the monad has no window nor door! And the GUI blinded the theory on hypertext and the hypertext became quite unconscious in theory.
3) More fundamentally, we must ask what is the problem with HTTP and HTML for the ontology of the page. Because that is the very technological point where the ontology of the book and that of the communication transferred by HTTP join. As would say Turing, while a page written by a human can be read by another human, once the same page is transformed in hypertext only a machine can “appreciate” it.
And with HTML by Tim Berners-Lee, the hyperlink is one directional. A link on one page transfers to another page. This is a logic of envelopment in leibnizien terms. The rapport is not reciprocal. The page linked subsumes or envelops the page linking. That gave principle of a Page Rank which is monadologic: a page-monad which envelope the other is grosser than the other page-monad which hyperlinks toward it.
This uni-dimensional limitation of the hypertext is contested by Ted Nelson’s Xanadu for whom the hypertext is much more radical and fundamentally monadological in my sense. The envelopment must be reciprocal, each monad must have possibility to subsume – so to envelop -- the developments of all other monads.
4) There is another dimension of the problem of hypertext, concerning the terminal and the interface. From the window of monitor screen to the slate of touch panel, our current interface is not sufficiently elastic: there is no fold nor pleat. In the dialog Nouveaux Essais sur l’entendement humain, the question of the metaphor of the mind opposes Locke and Leibniz. For Locke, as well known, the mind is a blank slate in camera obscura, but Leibniz replaces this metaphor by a textile metaphor with innate folds. If your mind is blank slate, the interface with an IPad would be complete; you can write, sketch and erase your representations as you may think ! , the metaphor will be perfectly cognitivist. But from the Leibnizien view, the textile metaphor will be followed by a deconstructive déjà-vu repeating “il n’y a pas hors texte du texteé (there is no outside-text of text)”.
V “Le meilleur des webs possibles”
My talk is not to reenter the anachronic debate of the last decade of the last century.
To think what is wrong with the current web, let’s return to the question of the borgesian Universal Library. In this huge Library, it is said: “There is no combination of characters one can make- dhcmrlchtdj, for example- that the divine Library has not foreseen and that in one or more of its secret tongues does not hide a terrible significance”. This Universe “that others call Library” is an enormous combinatory – Ars Combinatoria of Leibniz – in which all combination cannot not have a sense with its singular possible world. The multiplicity of infinite possible worlds necessitates the infinite expansion of the universe.
In this borgesian architecture, there is none “best of possible worlds”: all combinations are compossible: with Adam not committing sin, Cesar not passing Rubicon, Trump not elected, etc. etc. In this huge Library, you can finally find the famous Chinese encyclopedia Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge containing the ontology of 14 heteroclite categories with which Michel Foucault open his Les Mots et les Choses (The Oder of Things).
On the other hand, with our current Universal Library alias WWW, the architecture is quite the same. But was introduced an enormous asymmetry between the human finitude and the infinite power of machine as that was remarked by Turing about the sonnet.
To illustrate the problem, let’s return to a very recent example.
In US Presidential Campaign, it was remarked that “Fact Checkers Proved That 91% of the Things Donald Trump Says were False”. The question of fiduciality, I think, can be asked in terms of Leibnizian compossibility question. I have no time to enter in concrete examination of the case in terms of Leibniz’s modal metaphysics. I try to say how we could formulate this question by transforming Leibniz’s perspective to apply it to the Trump’s case or anything else.
Trump is an example, I guess, similar for example to Sextus Tarquinius in Leibniz’s Theodicy, personage known by his perfidy and the rape of Lucretia, finally entailing the fall of the kingship. The case is so similar.
The great difference with the Theodicy, consists in that we have no more the God: in democracy, the decision is not divine but self-organizing of monadologic universe. Each monad expresses thus the universe from her proper point of view, founded in visions of her proper possible worlds. The reticulation in this regard is self-organizing process of infinite multiplicity and the verdict of vote decides finally the “best” of possible worlds.
My concern is not the “best of possible worlds” but the “best of possible webs”. The two layers of question, level of world and level of medium, are different but it is also true that anyone knows more than more their inextricability.
In Leibniz’s system, the possible worlds system is pyramidal. At the top, the best world and below different possible worlds. The best world is that whose compossibility subsumes all possible worlds. The preetablished harmonie (l’harmonie préétablie) has been abolished in our world, many possible worlds are mixed and configurated in the universe of mediation, of which more than more the Web is the master platform. In the world where the flows of information is so huge and so rapid, you cannot control all 91 percent of lies that constellate assembly of multiple visions of possible worlds. I think the Tag cloud (word cloud, or weighted list in visual design) represents well this changing configuration of the universe expressed. And if from this informationally self-organized constellation the triumph of the possible world of liar is elected, if by his sophistic and not sophisticate media performativity he obtained the same ontological transformation by which Cesar passed the Rubicon, that is due to the constellation reflecting the instantaneous convergence of possible worlds of clouds of monads each of them expressing from her point of view the universe.
To return to the question about the architecture of the Web, I think that not exclusively the WWW but all media condition today are responsible for this incoherent election of possible worlds. But what is wrong with the hypertext transfer protocol and hypertext markup language in current general condition ?
The WWW means that all pages of all books in the universe were decomposed and reduced to huge number of hypertext networks that only machine can read.
The question of the Chinese heterotopia reappears in this WWW of Babel. The ontology of the Chinese Encyclopedia is possible in this universe, not as an odd nor a paradoxical table of ontological categories. But as shows the Tag cloud, we can imagine the heteroclite as intelligent expression of the collective intelligence. If Trump was not a name, but an apparently incoherent Tag cloud of monades expressing from their proper point of view the Universe. In the WWW of Babel, we are constantly in the Chinese garden of Forking paths. And with the Google translate, we are always in the Chinese room of John Searle.
For our ontological troubles and confusions are also these of automatic interconnections and interrelation of these infinite possible worlds of hypertext transfer networks. The question is not only of the Understanding for selection of possible worlds. Certainly there is the finitude of the human (la “finitude de l’homme” according Pascal) ; machines operate with almost speed of light as Google Search engine and they store with infinite memory. The human is infinitely slow in his reasoning, infinitely small and short in his memory and inference. Monads are absorbed in flows of information, which never cease to fluctuate and bifurcate.
Pascal said the human is a “Roseau pensant/ Thinking reed” vis-à-vis the abyss of the Universe. We are in analogous situation, with our monadology. But Pascal said also ““Les hommes sont si nécessairement fous, que ce serait être fou, par un autre tour de folie, de n'être pas fou.”/"Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness."
We must not desperate because a human can be also extended by media causing madness, today I couldn’t talk about this rather optimistic side of reticulation of the human, because I was so preoccupied by the Trump’s election.
Just modifying slightly the pascalien formula, I have habit to say nonetheless in this infinite Universe of Machine, we must become, by a sort of counter-Design of digital media environment, a “Réseau Pensant/ Thinking Network ”. We became mad because of our technological reticulation, but by an innovative and technological invention of another form of madness it will be possible not to be mad and to “trump” this madness.