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Uncertainty Reloaded

Following the critically acclaimed “Mutamorphosis” conference  in Prague (Dec. 2012), I published a detailed report on Noemalab Blog and edited, with the assistance of Marco Mancuso, a peer reviewed issue of the Journal Digimag titled Uncertainty Reloaded

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From my editorial, Digimag 74

“On December 2012, several scholars, artists and scientists with common interests in the intersection of art, science and technology gathered in Prague (Mutamorphosis, an event on mutant futures, Dec 6-8) to discuss a topic that has become increasingly important during our uncertain times: The event was entitled “Tribute to Uncertainty”.

According to Louis Bec, who wrote the introductive paper to which attractors (the organizers of the thematic streams) and participants were encouraged to respond, Uncertainty should be “contextualized in a world undergoing a complete mutation, jolting at all its points of articulation, whether political, economic, diplomatic, geographic, ecological, technological or communicative.” For Bec, Uncertainty functions as a symbol of today’s political changes and mutations, signaling the transformation of a world “whose hierarchies are being shaken, whose disparate social organizations are being disrupted, a multicultural, hybrid, young, active and communicative world representing 7 billion human beings”.

Transformation neither veers towards the best nor can it be programmed or predicted. It presents us with something new, but this “new” is unknown, unpredictable, un-measurable, nonlinear. Transformation is marked by uncertainty.

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines Uncertainty as “the state of being uncertain” or “something that causes one to feel uncertain” : in both cases, uncertainty is virtual, or something that exists but that cannot be quite grasped or precisely contained; it is also potential, that is, something that might (or might not) occur in the near, or far, future. Uncertainty looks at the future, but makes us uncomfortable in the present. We can find its signs (and the anxieties produced by it) everywhere. Since the XVII century, Western culture has aimed to minimize this state, by means of statistics, visualization and info-graphics, predictions, classification and taxonomy, hierarchies etc… For instance, technologies of visibility are called upon as tools that filter and separate humankind from the fearful chaos of the world, by making every object visible and self-contained, yet maintaining it substantially virtual and, most importantly, keeping it at a safe distance, by means of interfaces, lenses, simulations, and other technological apparatuses . The classification of the various degrees and phases of uncertainty from Wikipedia testify to the same obsessive tendency to break everything down and locate it into well-separated categories.

But those very technologies and scientific innovations that we so much venerate and rely-upon for providing solutions and easing our research show us a world that is much more complex than we can (maybe) handle . Jonathan Sterne notes that computer technology typified by the epithet “new media”, similarly to “advanced medical procedures, missile defense, and other not-fully-accomplished technologies..” sort of works, “but not in a flawless or entirely predictable fashion”. In fact, these technologies “..are often built to solve problems that are only half understood”. Unlike the telephone or TV, new media and current technoscience are destined to constant change. Not only will they never reach stability, but they are also not designed to produce it. As a result, Uncertainty is always looming.”

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