The opening chapter of the fourth, technology-oriented section highlights how accustomed we humans are to approach computational machines – our own creations – from a very limited, anthropocentric perspective. The aim of Cléo Collomb and Samuel Goyet’s “Meeting the Machine Halfway” is thus to study how this anthropocentric conception of machines circulates in our daily life as well as to propose an alternative way of viewing the relationship between humans and machines.
The first part of the chapter offers a semiotic analysis of one page of Google Search results. The purpose of this analysis is to demonstrate how, in our minds and everyday actions, machines are reduced to simple tools whose functioning is represented in terms that serve humans specifically. The second part of the chapter goes against these assumptions and endeavors to pinpoint and describe the agency of machines in their own terms, as a specific mode of action. This computational agency can be made visible, for example, by analyzing the ways in which we think of writing: machines allow humans to write, but they are also capable of writing themselves – even if their writing is computational, rather than verbal, and thus unreadable to (most) humans. Therefore, one should make a clear distinction between the “textual writing” of humans and the “computational writing” of machines. If one wishes to uncover the marks of computers’ agency, one should target the semiotic characteristics of “computational writing”, such as bugs or glitches, rather than the human-friendly, human-designed interfaces.