Hegelian Devices or Machines of Loving Grace?

by kiminogomi


I don't want a robot slave . . .

One [state of consciousness] is the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or be for another.  The former is Lord, the other is bondsman. — Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit

When we discuss the possibility of becoming cybernetic, we run the risk of confusing symbiosis with servitude; this is the problem embodied in our fantasies of AI rebellion.  Not that we would are robbing actual beings of freedom, for computers are not conscious and probably never will be.  But to be a Lord in Hegel’s sense is to be captured at the Imaginary level by a mediation, which in the case of another consciousness is subject to a mutual reversal: aware of its dependence, the Lord-consciousness becomes bound; aware of its bonds, the subjugated consciousness becomes independent.

But when consciousness is mediated by an object which simply pretends to be another consciousness, no reversal is possible.  Eternally relating to the world through another,the master is never free.

The alternative is to accept the machine as itself, to allow it to provide its own modalities and methods.  Or in less fanciful terms: not to expect technologies to be transparent.  The machine will not replace the book, any more than the book replaces the spoken word, but it may pretend to be a book — or it may offer its own tools on its own terms.  

The classic Hollywood film Forbidden Planet is the perfect allegory of the Hegelian device, wherein “pure instrumentality” and the perfect attainment of the object of desire through the machine results in capture and destruction of Morbius, the Master, not in the form of machine rebellion but as a result of the Master’s own repressed self.  The starship Captain can see this because he is in balance, having integrated both functions: the true captain is a servant as well as a master.  However, Robbie the Robot, having played the role of Trace in the main narrative (ie revealing the presence and function of the Krell knowledge as fulfillment of material desires) returns with the Captain  to Earth, either as ironic harbinger of doom or as Good Machine of grace.  The element of Krell civilization that survives is the robotic servant.  The dream of the instrumental device remains.