Vital Networks: The Biological Turn in Computation, Communication, and Control

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Robinson, Sandra
communication , sociology , science and technology studies , control , Deleuze , simulations , biological inspiration , microbial communication , assemblages , vital network
Networks, such as the Internet, are comprised of dense information flows with expansive, multi-directional reach that continuously change—and this changeability is what keeps the network active, relative, and vital. I call the form of network exhibiting those dynamic features the vital network. This form of network is not simply the outcome of connectivity and communication between affiliative objects and actors such as cell phones and humans that together convey a sense or feeling of ‘aliveness,’ it is the outcome of software programming goals for communication systems inspired by nonhuman, self-organizing biological life. The biological turn in computation produces an organizing logic for the vital network that self-propagates connections and disconnections, services, collectives, and structures proximal to forms that feel vital and dynamic. The vital network can do things, it has capacities to act, and different material consequences emerge out of the organization and coordination of communication with particular implications for human privacy, autonomy, and network transparency. I examine the biological turn in computing as a feature within a development program for the design of digital network control systems that rely on self-regulation and autonomous communication processes intentionally constructed to be non-transparent. I explore nonhuman models of control as a response to this requirement considered through three objects: microbe, simulation, and control, each understood in process terms that disclose what these things do and how they act. It is appropriate to the concerns of this dissertation to think of these as object-processes occurring within three moments or transverse becomings: first, in terms of Gilles Deleuze’s notion of differentiation from the one to the many; secondly, from organism to simulation through the use of models to describe microbial processes in informatic terms; and finally, from description to control through the progression in computing from an emphasis on structure and descriptive procedures, to processes of control. Given that so much of contemporary life is structured by communication technology, my study points to the need for an ethics of control to imagine how much and how deep control should go when considering the organization appropriate to our shared, technically enabled, sphere of communication.
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