Saturday, November 18, 2006

Computers are no longer just tools but complex systems

Disappearances chapter 1 (code and the pentecostal condition) by Richard Carlson by Rich on Fri 17 Nov 2006 10:53 AM PST Permanent Link
The similarities and differences of speech to writing to code are complex and are still being discovered and defined by theorist. Below are some instances of the differences between the speech, writing and code which N.Katherine Hayles highlights in her book “My Mother was a Computer” (2006)
In contrast to Derrida's critique of writing, machine code can not endlessly defer and differ for it has precise meanings in terms of binary systems of 1s and 0s. Code however, must be unambiguous and therefore can not tolerate floating signifiers.
Code also assumes the semiotic relationship of signifiers to signifieds . In machine code voltages can be seen as signifiers which are interpreted by a higher level language (compiler) as a signified.
Codes can not be transposed into other systems of codes. e.g. Unlike written language in which an older version can be translated into contemporary language (ex. Old English- e.g. Chaucer - can easily translated into modern English) one can not run out dated versions of software on new hardware, or have it interpreted by the newest operating systems. For example, one can't run a program for DOS on Windows software.
Unlike other forms of language codes exists in clearly differentiated versions which are executable. They are subject to processes contingent of the interpretations by higher level languages of binary code, and their execution on hardware platforms.
The community of speakers in a code largely determined by the operating system they use, e.g Microsoft or common networking languages they use such as HTML or Java
Although code may inherent little of baggage from metaphysics (it does not contain signifiers which only refer to themselves e.g. transcendental signified )it is permeated throughout with the politics and economics of capitalism along with embedded assumptions, resistant practices, and hegemonic re-inscriptions. Although the historical context of code does not present a troublesome metaphysical problem, it present a troublesome problem in the way assembly codes rely on historical practices to be created. For example, ASCII is encode in bit patterns which are physically presented in the shape of a teletype bell. The form of the teletype bell was created years ago when teletypes were state of the art technology however, the physical form of the code has not evolved because it is less troublesome to adapt subsequent versions of the code to the actual form as to change the historic form of the code itself.
An aspect of code not mentioned by Saussure and Derrida is digitization or the transmission of information in discrete packets. All code must be discrete by the process of rectification the voltage errors are rendered in terms of discrete ones and zeros.
As Derrida argues writing exceeds speech, Hayles argues that code exceeds writing in that in its compiling ability it enables communication between the natural languages of human and the electronic language of intelligent machines.
Like speech and writing computer behaviors can be interpreted by human users at multiple levels and in diverse ways, but this activity comes after the computer activity of compiling code and executing programs
Not all codes are alike and some mirror more closely natural languages than others. Unlike procedural languages such as FORTRAN and BASIC which relies on modularize procedures as can be represented in a flow chart (ex. Put the grommet in the bin,,, “set the bot in the chip that means the relay will close) C++ however, instantiates a shift in that as an object oriented program it uses code in terms of more natural language. C++ uses the same language of translating machine behaviors and human commands. C++ uses late binding in which the compiler ensure the function exists and checks its form for accuracy but the actual address of the code is not used before the program is run.
Code is not a system of differences but the calculation of differences. (eg. The differences between 1's and 0s)
Computers are no longer just tools but complex systems that increasingly produce the conditions , ideologies, assumptions and practices that help to constitute what we call reality. As true for other forms of ideologies the interpolation of the user into the machinic system does not require his/her conscious recognition of how he or she is being disciplined by the machine to become a certain kind of subject.
References: Abram, David (1997) The Spell of the Sensuous, Random House Books, Vintage Books New York

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