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The political weight of semantics

Among the weekly readings we can easily point to the semantics as a common concern within the theoretical thinking of technologies.

In Yuk Hui’s article, the focus is on a command function. It isn't a place that we would imagine as a carrier of political weight, and more as what appears a functional technical tool.

It is not the first text that puts to light the fact that a tool is never “just a tool”, and the fact that it is considered as such makes it even more important to reflect and be critical upon it.

This abstract invites us to measure the social and political impact of the word “execution”, and the shift of the semantics with the democratisation of its use within the age of machine automation.

He develops hypotheses to answer “what does the change in semantics mean” and “how is one to understand “execution”in the age of machine automation?”

To open the paths of discussion around this term, he assimilates the semantic shift to different modes of thinking : linear and non linear one.

Linear thinking : the example of Descartes

Linear thinking is the one that corresponds to the mechanicanisation of the world, and that the author links to Descartes theories when analyzing in particular the automata.

The abstract of The Discourse on the Method is part of a text in which Descartes formulates a theory around the automata.

To reflect on what we would now consider a robot, he involves the animals, to identify what is human and what isn't. Deriving from this, what is or could be humanlike, or animal like and why.

It is striking to see how the text can be read today, holding astonishingly accurate reflections on our time, and in the same time, how much what is stated as an evident truth goes back and forth through time.

This appears in a clear way when talking about animals as having a reason, and as having a language and agency.

For him what distinguishes an animal from a human, is that the animal it is deprived of these characteristics. He states it as an absolute fact, in opposition to “ancient thinkers”:

“Neither must one imagine, as did ancient thinkers, that animals speak,although we do not understand their language. For if that were true, they would be able to make themselves understood by us, as well as by other members of their species, since they have many organs that correspond to ours”.

This would for the least create a debate nowadays, and in some parts, it could be scientifically proven wrong. Unless we are back at how “ancient thinkers” imagined the truth.

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