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10 October 2013

The rise of the infoborgs: post-humanism and materiality in the age of ubiquitous information

Location: Meeting Room 10, 2nd Floor, JLB
Time: 12:30pm - 13:45pm

We live in an age which is often described as the information age, and information is all-pervasive in our society. Very many objects and phenomena which were previously considered as material are now considered in terms of information: just a few examples include money, music and friendship. We also live in an age where ubiquitous computing has shifted from being an aspiration of computer scientists to being the lived experience of very many people in society (at least in developed countries). Smartphones, tablet computers and small laptops, combined with widespread networking, have brought computing power to the pockets of most of us. This is likely to be extended considerably further with the rise of wearable computers, such as Google Glass. Following Donna Haraway’s terminology, it might be argued that ubiquitous computing is turning us into cyborgs, blended beings so dependent on our computers that we have become a single organism. I will argue in this talk that this is the wrong focus – that we should look not at the devices but at what they convey: ubiquitous information. In this sense we are turning not into cyborgs but into ‘infoborgs’. Massive amounts of information is being created by and about us, stored in networks of large data-servers (the cloud). This shift of our lives to being information-driven, enabled by connected devices, is exciting to some but deeply threatening to others. It raises many questions (some of which have been asked in different ways previously by figures such as Katherine Hayles) about what it means to be human, and what is the nature of materiality. For the past six years, I have worked with David Chapman, along with a number of colleagues from Computing & Communications, on a project to study the nature of information as discussed in a range of disciplines. This work has taken place in three workshops (two international), and has produced an edited book and special issue of a journal, among other outputs. As well as discussing the concept of ubiquituous information and the infoborg, this talk will discuss the Nature of Information project and its key findings to date. Biographical statement Magnus Ramage is a lecturer in information systems in the Computing & Communications Dept. His research interests are in the nature of information as it appears in many different disciplines; and in the history of cybernetics and systems. Since mid-2012, he has been editor-in-chief of the long-running journal Kybernetes. He is co-author of the book Systems Thinkers (Springer, 2009), which describes the lives and ideas of thirty key thinkers in cybernetics and systems. He has written distance-learning course materials, and chaired courses teams, in sociotechnical systems design, the evolution of information systems, and various aspects of systems thinking. He has a PhD in information systems from Lancaster University, UK.

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Contact: mailto:h.c.sharp@open.ac.uk