chapter  16
The Imaginary of the Artificial: Automata, Models, Machinics-On Promiscuous Modeling as Precondition for Poststructuralist Ontology
Pages 15

In the bookL'image de l'homme, Philippe Breton proposes that an unacknowledged creative imagination circumscribes the historical invention of the computer. l Even when "progressional" histories of the computer acknowledge the imagination, the real importance of the creative imagination-of creativity eo ipso-is most often glossed over by the need to grasp the momentous "determinable" impetus of the inaugural technology: logic, computation, programming, signal processing, components, engineering, etc. Also, constructivist accounts of science and technology leave untouched the issue of invention in the sense of constitutive creativity, of an ontological "ordre de contenu:'2

Breton re-situates the question of creation primarily through an inquiry into the "foundational narrative" that "grounds" this artifact in an ontological parallel to man. The computer is created in "the image of man;' he argues, indirectly in the early "parallelism"of first order cybernetics, and explicitly in the agenda of AI -programs' "android epistemology:'3 More importantly, however, Breton somewhat unintentionally introduces the much more radical problem of constitutive creativity. He does so in relation to a particular misconception that complicates our ontological understanding of this machine, and, more radically, in the notion of the machinic eo ipso and in extenso in the postwar era. The "imagining" of the machine is constructed on a paradox:

There is not anywhere in the world a form of intelligence which can not be considered human and no contemporary computer program can pretend to be assimilated to the human brain's functionality [functionnementj. This leads to a paradoxical situation: for each time artificial intelligence obtains results it ceases to be of concern to this field, to the extent that it achieves a significance in another sense ... [italics minej4

I believe that this paradox holds a significant if not crucial position in the history of computing, during the early years and today, to the extent that it problematizes many inherited notions, from AI-programs to basics such as machine, interface, peripherals, etc. To put it differently: from the 1930s to the 1950s (from Alan Turing's universal machine to the milieu of the Macy-conferences co-defining the development of computer science, technology and applications), the early group of mathematicians, engineers, scientist, psychologist, etc., throwing themselves into the new issues of the computer did not necessarily celebrate a manifest form of the machinic becoming gradually more transparent, they struggled with something more, or to be precise something different. The "image of man" would lead-and still leads-elsewhere.