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Machines as Human Metaphors

What roles should machines play in society?

The use of machines has radically transformed the nature of productive activity and has left its mark on the imagination, thoughts, and feelings of humans throughout the ages. Scientists have produced mechanistic interpretations of the natural world, and philosophers and psychologists have articulated mechanistic theories of human mind and behaviour. Increasingly, we have learned to use the machines as a metaphor for ourselves and our society and to mold our world in accordance with mechanical principles.

(Gareth Morgan, Images of Organization)

What are the dangers of machine-like efficiency?

Morgan notes that mechanically structured organizations—bureaucracies—suffer from their strong rigidities: they are mindless, unquestionable, unadapting, dehumanizing.

When everything works like clockwork, performance and efficiency can be improved to an “optimal” state; but shouldn’t such optimization be downgraded in favour of more progressive, humane values, despite its “regression” looks?

Expanding of the social failures of corporate and institutional automatization, Shoshana Zuboff warns us against the unsung consequences of the programmatic deployment of instrumentarian architectures at large scale:

This “seventh extinction” will not be of nature but of what has been held most precious in human nature: the will to will, the sanctity of the individual, the ties of intimacy, the sociality that binds us together in promises, and the trust they breed. The dying off of this human future will be just as unintended as any other.

(Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism)

We shall not surrender our humanity to the existence of thoughtless, choiceless machine behaviour. Let us hack the programme which the smiling—although not friendlydeus ex machina has built for us, freeing ourselves from the planned behaviour over which those in power exert their control.

There is no single narrative.