louis charron / sujet, objet, homme, machine

sujet, objet, homme, machine — a research project on the relationship between the subjective human and the objective machine

sujet, objet, homme, machine — a research project on the relationship between the subjective human and the objective machine


« If men create intelligent machines, or fantasize about them, it is either because they secretly despair of their own intelligence or because they are in danger of succumbing to the weight of a monstrous and useless intelligence which they seek to exorcize by transferring it to machines, where they can play with it and make fun of it. (…) What such machines offer is the spectacle of thought, and in manipulating them people devote themselves more to the spectacle of thought than to thought itself. »

Jean Baudrillard, Xenox and Infinity
Translated by James Benedict



the desire of the objective machine

the objective machine desire

To understand our own desire to use machine as a tool to produce objectivity, I started by studying Etienne-Jules Marey’s work. A century before our quantified self era, the French inventor designed machines of all kinds to measure living organisms (bird flying, human running, frog jumping, etc). He believed human measures were not precise enough and too limited therefore he started creating his own tools to improve perception of time and space.

His main tool is a graphical method that links observation to geometrical figures, reducing natural elements to lines and points, creating grids, patterns and rhythms. From the observation of animals movement he created mathematical graphs, transforming the reality into numbers, thereby creating objectivity.


↳ Muscular shock studies, Etienne-Jules Marey, 1879
Marey uses a graphic interface to interpret physical movements as mathematical objects.



language: where humans
and machines converge

language: where humans and machines converge

My main question here is to understand if that desire of objectivity that we put in machines is changing us as we are using digital machines more and more. Langage is key in our relationship with technological tools, and a linguistic capitalism does exists through Google Adwords, through all the autocorrects of our life and our current use of hashtags for exemple. The langage is changing, being slowly modified by bots writing Wikipedia pages or news digests, or translation softwares creating new expressions.

With the rise of voice interfaces the written text might disappear but the words gain more meaning as they become triggers for our vocal assistants, in an hybridization of our langage, made for humans and machines at the same time. As Baudrillard phrased it, a machine can’t exceed its task, not yet at least. Human langage goes beyond performativity, so maybe instead of a depletion of human langage we could imagine a futur where machine language acquires some form of subjectivity.


↳ 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968
In that famous scene of the movie, Dave, the astronaut is turning off HAL, the artificial intelligence. Dave is portraited as a machine, coldly killing HAL, as HAL weakens he is portraited with a sweet voice and imploring for his life.



cognitive capitalism

cognitive capitalism

Are digital technologies changing our brain? The digital world - and particularly its more advanced capitalistic form - brought us optimization and Taylorism: all the new apps are promising us to gain time and comfort. Only lags and bugs are leaving us with technology free time (or frustration). Notifications are creating an attention economy, forcing our brain to jump from one topic to the other and generating fear or missing out (FOMO).

But digital technologies, and specifically the internet, are creating also a lot of serendipity, feeding our brains with knowledge and poetry. For Nicolas Carr the main problem is the automatization, as we leave decision to machines we loose some control, and this is the control that digital technology companies are happy to gain. Behind each recommendation algorithm lays an industrial system, taking advantage of our brains to generate revenue.


↳ Amazon Warehouse 
Amazon Warehouse's building are designed by algorithms to improve products storage. A specific GPS tool help human workers to find there way in those mazes. Those spaces are designed for machines and populated by machines.



the machine's eye: quantifying
our world

the machine's eye: quantifying our world

As we are filling internet with images of our bodies and of our world. It is becoming a mirror, a tool that we use to watch and understand ourself and our environment. Google Earth is an amazing archive of our world as we see it, using algorithms to measure and build maps and 3D models of cities, moutains and oceans. A perfect mirror that only reveals its artificiality when bugs and glitches arise, revealing an uncanny world.

Google Streetview is also based on an objectivity promise: the whole world is there, accessible with one clic. But the millions of pictures taken through Google lenses are offering more than a precise coverage of all the streets in the world, they are facilitating stroll, wanders and games, offering beauty and crazyness to the human eye that knows to spot it.


↳ Postcard from Google Earth, Clement Valla, 2010 
"These images are not glitches. They are the absolute logical result of the system. They are an edge condition—an anomaly within the system, a nonstandard, an outlier, even, but not an error. These jarring moments expose how Google Earth works." Clement Valla

As programs built with limits, video games are a perfect example of environment, body and social norme quantification. In the video game The Sims — as in any other life simulation — the gameplay is based on building characters, buying goods, and developping a very coded social life. Every choice is based on a limited interactive menu. Capitalism is the only game mod.

For some games, finding the limits becomes a subjectivity exercice, as in Minecraft with some players trying the reach the limit of the quasi-infinite map. For others the subjectiviy is found by finding glitches or creating some by modding the game. The coded worlds of video games are also one of the strongest creator of subjectivity today.

What I learned

What I learned

I finished writing this thesis in 2015, when my interest for our relationship with machines started to really passionate me. Why are we - I - using technological tools so much? Usefulness can’t be the only reason. This Thesis a first step for me, helping me understand the question better and formulate into principle.

It was a chance for me to learn a lot on philosophy of the techniques and sociology. It made me discover artists and thinker producing incredible work on these topics. It motivated me to keep researching and thinking on human - machine interaction.

Master's Thesis
EnsAD 2015

Research and writing: Louis Charron
Thesis advisor: Stéphane Degoutin

© louis charron 2019,
built with Semplice

© louis charron 2019 — built with Semplice