Politics of the Machines: Lifelikeness & beyond

Call for Track-Topics and Formats

Deadline Call for Track-Topics and Formats: 01 April 2023

The Call for Papers will follow after the Call for Track-Topics has closed.

The 4th POM Conference

Lifelikeness & beyond
RWTH Aachen University
KäteHamburger Kolleg:
Cultures of Research (c:o/re).
April 22-26, 2024

Life is in crisis. In society, this crisis has generated an uncertainty entangled with environmental injustices, health emergencies and the many faces of right-wing movements around the world – to mention some examples. Uncertainty might blurry the future and our capacity to make decisions, but it also opens up a space of possibilities. In this fragmented framework a new field for contingencies emerges. If we are unsure about what might be, alternative but unstable scenarios become possible. How does society react to those alternative scenarios? How are scientific and artistic communities responding to the various contingencies of the present?

In the wake of this era, we have been witnessing, in biomolecular research, the developments of programmable biosensors, synthetic biology and diverse biological entities that are aimed to be made programmable. These advancements amount to the crisis of life. These new phenomena in life-research have, for example, transformed the way in which we think about organisms and how life has evolved and transformed on earth.

At the same time, the fields of life-like robotics and computational evolution, which produce artificial entities modeled after living organisms – like self-reproductive algorithms and artificial neural networks – have brought to light questions regarding the qualities defining what is life at all. Life is being redefined by the parameters of its artificial models, so we are forced to rethink the question: what is the logic of living? The borders between machines and biological systems are being negotiated across the sciences and the arts at large, and novel questions and modes of thinking are emerging from these ontological reorganizations. Faced with these situations, one cannot help pondering on the limits of the possible and the limits of life.

Nowadays, machines can perform as agents that respond to contingent scenarios, they act as if they were alive. If life enters the space of formal logic and probability, if it is modeled, engineered and designed, does it follow the laws of logical inference? It is not only the difference between the organic and the inorganic that gets blurry, but also the one between the natural and the animated as well as the boundaries between necessity and contingency. What kind of models of contingency can be brought about that are helpful to respond to the crisis of life? What must technologies and artistic practices that cooperate with the living look like? How does this change life itself?

In our times, social ecologies are steered following automated systems and models. Images of what the future of a warming planet might be are at the center of political decisions, and bodies in the street are demanding accountability to those who have been taking those decisions. What is the motivation for caring for life? Computational systems have become the basis for decisions on which forms of life are worth preserving, which ones have the right to have rights – as Hannah Arendt would put it – and what forms of life are purposeful to maintain and support. The care for life is found between environmental reactionary views on nature as the origin of place-based identities, and questions of locality and global solidarity; from colonialism to racial and economic justice. How can these models serve to respond to the needs of social groups, communities and the collective?

What effect has data on decisions on what lives we care for? On the one hand, biotechnology opens up spaces of possibility, on the other hand, it also holds the danger of new forms of control, which may be utilized in nation-state politics, for example, in the form of border control biometric technologies. Automated decisions are made over life and death in zones of war. Personal data is stored to keep the metabolic networks of capital flowing. Data is, however, at the same time, used for feminist aims and as a tool to identify urban spaces where harm and death are a threat. Communication technologies have shown to be crucial for marginalized groups for creating networks of care, support and self-defense. Thus, it seems that the same technological shifts that seem to serve necropolitical aims are the ones bringing about new forms of the collective.

With the overarching theme “Lifelikeness & Beyond” the Politics of the Machines conference organized by Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research at Aachen University seeks to bring together researchers and practitioners from a wide range of fields across the sciences, technology and the arts to develop imaginaries for possibilities that are still to be realized and new ideas of what the contingency of life is. The call also seeks to question what the limits between reality, fiction and imagination can be when we look for sources of action or new forms of collective action and of creating collectivities. What kind of imaginaries are needed to think of new forms of research and practice that effectively act as a counterbalance to the many crises of the present? What can we learn from a performed contingency about the community of the living and the non-living? How is the idea of contingency transformed when life and non-life are embedded within each other? PoM Aachen welcomes proposals for conference sub-tracks that look into transdisciplinary research at large in creating unrealized futures.

Full Call for Tracks and Submission: https://www.pomconference.org/pom-aachen-2024/