CARS, DATA, SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM & POST-FUTURISM, DIESEL BANS, ANGRY YELLOW VESTS & ARTIFICIAL INTELLECT
Since the Futurists praised the automobile as the ultimate tool for human progress, it has become one of the most determinant consumer goods of the 20th century. With the rise of nationalism in Europe, Futurism blended in with the enthusiasm for war that characterised many intellectual and artistic groups on the threshold of the First World War. Industrialisation, speed, noise, aggression and technical innovations, were sources of several manifestos that got published between 1909 and 1914. With the publication of Filippo Marinetti’s Manifesto del Futurismo on the front-page of Le Figaro in 1909, the era of industrialization got kicked off and the avant-garde was born racing itself forward into the future.
It was Futurism that announced a fundamental aspect of Modernity, that is an almost religious belief in the future. In the second part of the nineteenth century, and in the first part of the twentieth, the myth of the future reached its peak. Based on this belief in a prosperous future, political action was also being formed; liberalism and social democracy, nationalism, communism and even anarchism shared at least one common security, that despite the darkness of the present, the future would be bright and better. Future seemed enduring for a long time, until an increasing awareness of the finitude of growth in the 1970’s arose. The settlement of neoliberal economic practice, imposed by Great-Brittain’s iron lady Margaret Thatcher and later by U.S president Ronald Reagan put an end to the collective belief in a prosperous future.
As the Italian media theorist Franco Berardi described in ‘After the Future’ (2011), we entered the era beyond the future, the era of the post-futurism. Berardi does not focus on the year 1989 with the fall of communism, but on 1977 as the year when the future ended—when a certain modern western conception of the future as a linear, progressive development came to an end. In 1977, as Berardi notes, the RAF campaign resulted in the German Autumn and in the rise of Punk with its Sex Pistols’ screaming “No Future for you – No Future for me”, as well as in the Autonomia movement in Italy.
Parallel to these rather
politics-driven developments, technological discovery also caused the collapse
of the idea of the future. The speed of the external machines moved to the
information domain and every centimetre of our living environment has been
colonised. Future is not only a dimension of time, but also a dimension of
space. It’s promise lied in the space that we did not know yet, that we could
discover and exploit. Although this space did shift to the unknown
possibilities of cyberspace – as a new territory of exploration where the
concept of the future could continue to exist – cyberspace has now especially
become the domain of tech-giants Google, Apple and Facebook. As the oil-age
shaped, and ruined, the environment, the digital area now threatens to destroy
politics and society.
The car has always strongly
symbolized the belief in progress. It is a symbol of freedom, creating space
for individuality and independence. To this day, it serves as an object with
which one can identify and represent oneself. The car industry defined the way
cities were arranged and how they are still being redeveloped today. In Cologne, car industry has a long
tradition. On the right side of the Rhine-river in the Deutz district,
Cologne-Mulheim, the world’s first motorcycle factory was founded in 1864. At
the Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz AG, later Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz AG the first
engine was made. The car industry still is a keystone of German prosperity.
Among the approximately 65 million adults in Germany there are according to
statistics almost 46,5 million cars in 2018.
Until recently, the car industry
did not suffer from political and economic crises. And even when Western faith
in the future crumbled in the 1980s, the car remained our most reliable tool.
The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk described driving as a world religion
and the car as a rolling uterus. In the same article he continues: “the car is
a platonic cave that offers views of a world that glides past. Besides there
are also phallic and anal components on the car: the primitive-aggressive
competitive behaviour, the showing-off and the overtaking, in which the other,
the slower, almost like a bowel movement, is turned into a repelled excrement.”
(Der Spiegel, 20-02-1995).
Now, this same car is rapidly
becoming an outdated and polluting product, that, most of the time, is stuck in
long traffic jams. The car as an individual serving speedmachine is being
overtaken by big data on the digital superhighway. Increasing connectivity is
the new wonder drug to save the automotive industry from ruin. For instance by
connecting the car with the mobile phone and navigation devices that store
entire moving profiles in order to collect data. The ‘platonic cave’ is being
reinvented into a self-thinking product. It is getting intertwined with for instance
Google’s ‘Android Auto’, Apple’s ‘Carplay’ or Amazon’s Alexa and her location
based routines, with its driver as a information source. The automible that
used to offer private space and the physical experience of self-determination,
is transformed into a source of collecting moving profiles and other valuable
consumer patterns. This transformation matches a broader process where data are
being gathered from human experiences in order to predict and influence our
coming behaviour. In this prediction lies the new profit. Economist Soshanna
Zuboff aptly describes this as Surveillance Capitalism.
What does this mean for the future of our memories?
What does this mean for the future of our memories? of our memories? How authentic and private will they be? How much manipulation do we allow artificial intelligence to take on our memories?
Leading professor at the German
Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence described his favourite intelligent
machine as followed: “An automated diary that stores my experiences in
sound and image and makes them traceable at any time. That would be a
tremendous enrichment. So that schoolchildren of today could later see what
their parents said for the graduation ceremony. I think we will realize such a
diary within the next ten years.” prof. Wolfgang Wahlster in ‘Aufbruch’ –
Google Magazine, October 2018
Now the euphoria of the early
years has been forgotten and instead increasing consideration is being given to
the environmental compatibility of automobiles. Alternatives to reduce road
traffic are no longer marginal phenomena. Think off bike sharing, with Ford
ironically being the largest supplier of bikesharing in Cologne; a plan to
trial free public transport in NRW cities such as Bonn and Essen; reducing
traffic by working in the cloud; the transition to durable energy with electric
cars; the banning of diesel engines to counter the exceeding pollutant limit
values in inner cities and car sharing now even made available at discounters
of Aldi and Lidl. The policy is being tightened up, the top of the German car
industry is being dismantled with a growing number of Dieselgate scandals.
Soon we are no longer able to control our cars like
we’re used to. In terms of navigating, pulling up to the bumper, speeding up,
taking curves, getting in trouble, getting lost and being on our own. Forget
the dream of individuality and independence.