A brief history of our enslavement to technology, by James Bridle

In his visionary essay “A New Age of Darkness”, the British visual artist and author reveals the historical and philosophical process that has brought new technologies to dominate the world.

James Bridle is best known for his work as an artist – his video and sound installations that reveal how cultural, political and social habitus shape technology, and how new technologies in turn shape our understanding of the world. It is also this kind of significant overlapping between fields of knowledge and practices that are a priori unrelated that nourish the reflection ofA new age of darkness, the 300-page essay that Bridle devotes, as he indicates in the subtitle, to “technology and the end of the future”.

A necessary critical step back

The book first traces the recent history of machines, computers, internet networks, from the first supercomputers to the algorithms, databases and other automated software of the 21st century.and century. He then deconstructs the disturbing influence of new technologies on our way of perceiving what surrounds us and even what constitutes us, like this sort of extension of ourselves that our mobile phones have become.

“What we need are not new technologies but new metaphors”

For Bridle, the pitfall that lies in wait for any thought of machines is its reduction to the object it strives to grasp, for the sake of efficiency. This “computational thinking”, as he calls it, consists in imitating the very movement of machines, without taking the necessary critical distance. “It is the belief that any problem can be solved through computerized calculation.”

William S. Burroughs tried in his time, through the words he put together, his literature and his poetry, to create a virus inside the very system of our rigid thoughts, in order to make it dysfunctional. Without citing the author of naked feast, James Bridle follows a similar intuition here: “What we need, writes Bridle, they are not new technologies but new metaphors: a metalanguage used to describe the world to which complex systems have given rise.”

Thinking with these new technologies

This is what he does by telling, for example, how we have come to entrust our most intimate data, our identity, our (virtual) memory to these mechanical databases stored on giga-servers, either called the cloud, this cloud which has nothing natural or evanescent about it.

It is not a question of thinking against but well with these new technologies. “As tools, he specifies, computational systems underscore one of the strongest aspects of humanity: our ability to actually affect the world and shape it according to our desires.”

The author thus recalls this epic match recently won by a computer trained in the game of go against one of the world’s best players in this sport. The computer won it, not because it was one step ahead of man, but because it had “thought out” a move that all of our intelligence, our greatest powers of understanding, of reasoning and all of our imagination combined may never be able to figure it out.

A New Age of Darkness – La technology and the end of the future of James Bridle (Éditions Allia), translated from English by Benjamin Saltel, 320 pages, €18. In bookstore.

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