“How Smart Is a Rock? To appreciate the feasibility of
computing with no energy and no heat, consider the
computation that takes place in an ordinary rock. Although it
may appear that nothing much is going inside a rock, the
approximately 1025 (ten trillion trillion) atoms in a kilogram of
matter are actually extremely active. Despite the apparent
solidity of the objects, the atoms are all in motion, sharing
electrons back and forth, changing particle spins, and
generating rapidly moving electromagnetic fields. All this
activity represents computation, even if not very meaningfully
As an architect I am obviously very sensitive to the spatial consequences of technological innovation, but as a theorist I am constantly searching for a synthetic discourse allowing us to understand the main relationships between the sciences and the environment (including our very spatial and physical one).
So far, I have come to the conclusion that what defines these relationships is knowledge, mainly Digital Knowledge which should be considered in its widest meaning. It is abstract yet physical, scientific yet social, elitist yet popular and post-historical yet historical. Indeed, the rise of a global digital knowledge makes us leave behind most of the classical epistemological oppositions and makes us enter a new era of “computationalism”.
During the 4 lessons I will give through a highly interdisciplinary approach, I will address some of the main concepts I have built in the past 10 years around this global notion of Digital Knowledge. We will look at how computation (the raw power of computer), through its most advanced developments in various fields including finance, has sometimes unknown but extremely real (post)urban and geographical architectural consequences. We will look at our everyday life, our domestic environment where domestic means, above all, “immediate”, does not recognize the traditional distinctions between work/leisure, private sphere/public space, etc., anymore, and how this affects us. We will look at the rise of abstraction, of new kinds of relationships (for example man/robot relationships), of new kinds of aesthetics in High Art or in popular culture, we will look at artists as “theoretical entrepreneur” and see how they participate in redefining societies. We will see that a truly contemporary understanding of our world needs to rest not solely on the analysis of the physical (“the generic city”) or the visible (culture, communications, collective work), but also on the analysis of the frequently extremely abstract mechanisms of contemporary production. In fact, we will “simply” try to understand how the most radical invention of the XXth century, the Computer, is reshaping our lives in all their aspects including the most intimate ones.
Taking examples from today and ones from the history of architecture, art, science and technology, we will develop a 4-session course and workshop (1h30 course plus 2h30 workshop per session) to address
the profound impact of computation in all aspects of our now global digital knowledge-articulated society. We will make use of extremely diverse sources and supports. We will work on case studies from highly advanced technological domains but also on fundamental essays written by artists, architects and more globally from avant-garde intellectuals from XIXth, XXth and XXIth centuries.
Based on these extremely various sources, we expect to produce a series of highly speculative yet rigorous short essays (in relation to the former expertise of each “student”) documenting the nature of our current digital world.
1 Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, Viking, NY, 2005. p. 131.