Homo-Sapiens Only? Known Unknowns and Other Minds Beyond the Human
by Nathanael Bassett — University of Illinois at Chicago
January 04, 2017 – 23:29
Star Trek VI calls on Fukiyama (not so subtly) and Hegel to think about the insecurity contained in an unknown future. But every frontier begs to be explored, and we do this today through premediation, big data and predictive analytics. Starfleet (and human society) is only a "homo-sapiens only" club if we acknowledge people as being fundamentally technical beings. We explore space with the aid of spacecraft, and we explore the future with the aid of non-humans that help us to judge risks and map out possible futures. Technology is no instrumental actor, but a partner sometimes equally as alien as the Klingons. In Star Trek, it even has the capacity to suddenly come to life, as technology does again and again (the Nomad probe from TOS: "The Changeling", Data in The Next Generation, the Exocomps in TNG: "The Quality of Life", the Enterprise-D itself in TNG: "Emergence", and the Doctor over the course of Star Trek: Voyager).
Ecology always defines the relationships between forms of life. So what is the ecology of humans and non-humans? To investigate other minds futher, what is a machine ecology like? Star Trek often rests on technological instrumentalism as a prerequisite to a future utopia, that things are neutral and only serve the wishes of their users. But more often than not, we are at war with things, in our uncertainty and inability to relate to their capabilities. Graham Harman and object-oreinted-ontologists argue that things “retreat” from knowability. As the future becomes discovered by predictive analyics, the new undiscovered country is not ahead of us, but all around in the things and technics we depend on for survival. Must we have "faith" then, as Spock impores to Valaris?
Later in the film, Kirk laments his son’s death at the hands of Klingons. "I’ve never trusted Klingons, and I never will." Can we trust the Internet of Things, if it hacks us? Do we have faith in the news, despite the renewal of interest in techniques of propaganda (something Ellul warned us of)? If things have a mind, what is it to psychoanalyze the machine and its course in history? Are they as insecure of their persistance as we are of each other?