“All is algorithm!”
With the dissolution of the last utopian project of Man in the name of Communism, thegreat specter that once haunted Europe and the rest of the world has all but vanished, leaving in its wake an ideological vacuum that is now being filled by the tentacles of globalization withits ecumenical ambition. As humanity has become mesmerized by the triumphant spell of capitalism, what remains less apparent in the aftermath of this dissolution is that the world ismoving incipiently toward a threshold that is far more radical and fantastic than any utopic vision since the dawn of the Enlightenment. Once again, the world is witnessing the rumblingsof a Promethean fire that is destined to irrupt into the universe of humanity, calling into question the nature and function of life world relations as they so far have existed. Theserumblings, stemming in large measure from the convergence of computation and biogenetics in the latter part of the twentieth century, have already begun to invoke gravid visions of theunthinkable: the unmasking of the primordial veil of reality.
The evolution of life and intelligence on Earth has finally reached the point where it isnow deemed possible to engender something almost out of nothing.ii In principle, a universe of possible worlds based on generative principles inherent within nature and the physicaluniverse is considered to be within the realm of the computable once quantum computing systems become a reality. For the first time, mankind is finally in possession of the power tochange and transform the genetic constitution of biological species, which, without a doubt, has profound implications for the future of life on Earth. By bringing into the foreground thehidden reservoir of life in all its potential manifestations through the manipulation of the genetic code, the unmasking or the transgression of what could be considered the firstprinciple of prohibition – the taking into possession of what was once presumed to be the power of God to create life – may lead to conditions that are so precarious and treacherous asto even threaten the future viability of the species, Homo sapiens, on Earth. At the same time, depending on how mankind navigates into the universe of possible worlds that are aboutto be siphoned through computation, it could once again bring forth a poetic re-enchantment of the world, one that resonates with all the attributes of a pre-modern era derived, in thisinstance, from the intersection of the seemingly irreconcilable domains of logos and mythos. Organically interconnected to form a new plane of immanence that is digital, computation isthe modern equivalent of a global alchemical system destined to transform the world into the sphere of hyper-intelligent beings.
Yet, what is the nature of computation that is destined to change the world includingarchitecture? No instrumental concept or logic of implementation since the invention of the wheel has fostered so much enthusiasm and promise as computation has. Beyond thenormative conception of computing machines as mere instruments for calculation, fabrication and communication, it is important to recognize the nature of the underlying ambitions ofcomputation and its relation to architecture. As controversial and provocative as it may seem, the underlying ambitions of computation are already apparent: the embodiment of artificial lifeand intelligence systems through abstract machines along with biomachinic mutation of organic and inorganic substances, and, most significantly, the subsequent sublimation ofphysical and actual worlds into higher forms of organic intelligence by extending into the computable domain of possible worlds. At the most prosaic level however, computation, likenatural languages, deals with information in its most general form. Computation functions as manipulator of integers, graphs, programs, and many other kinds of entities. In reality,however, computation only manipulates strings of symbols that represent the objects. It should also be pointed out that, according to the late Richard Feynman, computing systemscould be constructed at the atomic scale: swarms of nanobots, each functioning in accordance to a simple set of rules, could be made to infiltrate into host organisms or environmentsincluding the human body. In its simplest form, computation is a system that processes information through a discrete sequence of steps by taking the results of its preceding stageand transforming it to the next stage in accordance to a recursive function. Such an iterative procedure based on recursion has proved to be astonishingly powerful and is classified asbelonging to a class of machines having universal properties.
The power of computation is already evident in the fact that in less than seventy yearssince the inception of the Universal Turing Machine,iii it has ushered in the Information Revolution by giving rise to one of the most significant and now indispensable phenomenon inthe history of communication: the Internet, or, what could also be characterized as the universe of the Adjacent Possible.iv Stuart Kauffman defines the Adjacent Possible as theexpansion of the networks of reaction graphs within an interactive system into the neighborhood domain of connectivity which until then remain only in a state of purepotentiality. Kauffman suggests,
“The Universe has not explored all possible kinds of people, legal systems,economies or other complex systems,” and that “autonomous Agents tend to arrange work and coordination so that they are expanding into the AdjacentPossible as fast as they can get away with it.”5
Like every phase transition, the Internet marks a new world order by re-configuring the planetwith a virtual, albeit an interactive matrix that is becoming increasingly spatial, intelligent and autonomous: a global self-synthesizing organ bustling with neural intelligence possiblydetectable from every corner of the Milky Way and beyond. It is at the level of the construction of possible worlds that the implications for architecture are most pronounced.The thesis that will be advanced is that architecture is becoming increasingly dependent on genetic computation: the generative construction and the mutual coexistence of possibleworlds within the computable domain of modal space.
- Chaitin, Gregory, Leibniz, Information, Math and Physics. 2003. p. 9.
- Wolfram, Stephen, A New Kind of Science. (Champaign: Wolfram Research, 2002), p. 41.
- Turing, Alan, On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, ser 2, vol. 42 (1936). Alan Turing developed the conceptual blue print for an abstract machine now called the Turing machine inthe above mentioned paper for the first time.
- Kauffman, Stuart, Investigations. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2000). p. 142-144. Kauffman’s concept of the Adjacent Possible was applied in the context of his investigations into the originof life based on autocatalytic systems, which are derived from random interactions of nodes within Boolean networks.
- Kauffman, Stuart.