Summer Research Report: William Morgan

30 Aug, 2022

Summer Research Report: William Morgan

We're thrilled to support our students in their summer research. Read about William Morgan's work on cybernetics and AI in science fiction!

Thanks to a generous grant from the Berkeley Center for New Media, I was able to attend the Summer School in Global Studies and Critical Theory at the Dipartimento di Storia Culture Civiltà, University of Bologna.

At the Summer School and in keeping with its 2022 theme of “the sea”, I worked on developing a historical perspective on technological development, specifically how the deep sea ship invents a new way of sensing the world, how it entails a new medium of crafting politically organization, and in a cybernetic vein, how this wards off entropy in a novel manner. This line of thought, which was developed with the help of Marcus Rediker, co-author of The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary, was challenged by Denise Ferreira da Silva in her lecture about negative accumulation. During her talk, Professor da Silva argued against the evolutionary perspective on technological development and instead for the understanding that certain technologies negatively accumulate time into themselves, for example how financial technologies accumulate time into an infinite present, detached from the outside world and how they enmesh us in this negative accumulation as well.

After the Summer School, I traveled from Bologna to Naples to meet with my advisor Luciana Parisi, who I had not seen since the pandemic began. We discussed first her friend Professor da Silva’s talk at the summer school and how cybernetics as a framework might help us to understand the negative accumulation as a hyper-technical form of negentropy. Afterwards, we visited a local museum, where a colleague of hers was showing an exhibition about submerged islands, shipwrecks and the (un)reliability of narrative.

During the summer school and afterwards, I conducted research for my solicited contribution for the journal Sustainability’s Special Issue "Foucault, Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Sustainability. The paper, provisionally entitled, “Finance Must Be Defended: Economic Security and Cybernetics” was enormously benefitted from my time in Bologna and Naples. Besides the talks already mentioned, I was also fortunate to meet and study with two research collectives, Into the Black Box and also Border Forensics. The former group was especially helpful in thinking through how logistics and finance intersect as control logics.

Finally, this grant also gave me time to prepare for the upcoming SLSA conference in October, where I will present a paper on the evolution of writings about AI perspective in science fiction, provisionally titled, “From Neuromancer to Murderbot: Evolving AI Perspectives in Science Fiction”