In order to reconquer the machine and subdue it to human purposes, one must first understand it and assimilate it. So far, we have embraced the machine without fully understanding it, or, like the weaker romantics, we have rejected the machine without first seeing how much of it we could intelligently assimilate. — Lewis Mumford

While alienation is nothing new for the human, its modern form is distinct, as evidenced by an onslaught of literature since the times of industrialisation. What separates modern alienation from past forms is its entrenchment within a sphere of accelerated complexity. Advances in technological, economic, and social sophistication have eclipsed our unaided ability to map and steer a world increasingly shaped by these very forces: Algorithms execute trades faster than thought; mine your Facebook page for advertising; and monitor our communications for the NSA. Technologies may be indifferent, but they are not neutral. While the traces of history have defined their social implementation for good and ill, a unilateral move towards de-technologized conditions would not fail to provoke other, potentially more catastrophic traumas.

Given this Faustian bargain, we are lead to extract three general questions: 1. How do we distinguish between the potentials and pitfalls emerging from these new landscapes? 2. Assuming that we can recognize potential benefits, how do we gain traction and mobilize otherwise, engineering the constraints of this condition towards positive transformation? 3. How does the adoption of this new conceptual horizon affect our practices across the domains of science, politics, and the arts?

Following these queries, and more specific to the topic of this talk, what role does the problem of Alienation play in the construction of our future — is it a condition to be eliminated or augmented? What impact does augmentation have on our relation to the question of representation? Finally, to what degree does the augmentation of our capacities constrain or enable human freedom?

Contributor Biographies +

Joshua Johnson is a New York based artist and writer. He works across a diverse range of media including sculpture, video, online-media, installation, and research based practices. His art has been shown at Outlet Gallery, Parallel Arts Space, Louis B. James (all NY), amongst others. He has contributed writing to The Third Rail and has presented papers at Parsons School for Design and the Montreal Biennale (2014). In 2015, he founded the ongoing research and resource hub Uberty ( In 2013, he organized and edited Dark Trajectories: Politics of the Outside ([NAME] Publications), a compilation of recent philosophy. He is engaged in several collaborative projects, including Office for Applied Complexity, and was a 2016 Artist’s Alliance resident artist.
Patricia Reed is an artist and writer. Exhibitions have included those at South Kiosk (UK); Home Works 7 (LB); Witte de With (NL); Haus der Kulturen der Welt (DE); Württembergische Kunstverein (DE); Audain Gallery (CA); and 0047 (NO), amongst others. As a writer she has contributed to several books and periodicals including: Dea Ex Machina; Mould Magazine; #ACCELERATE – The Accelerationist Reader; The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism Vol. II; Intangible Economies; Cognitive Architecture; and Fillip Journal. Lectures have included those at Goldsmith’s (UK); Ashkal Alwan (LB); Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers (FR); Maerz Musik (DE); Konstfack (SE); Aleppo (BE); Gertrude Contemporary (AU); The Institute of Modern Art (AU); The Future Summit (CA); Tate Britain (UK, Speculative Tate); University of Westminster (UK); Artists Space (US); MIT (US); abc Berlin (DE); Archive Kabinett (DE); and The Winter School Middle East (KW). She sits on the board/teaches at the New Centre for Research & Practice; and is part of the Laboria Cuboniks and the Office for Applied Complexity (OfAC) working groups.
Keith Tilford is an artist and writer living in New York. Utilizing drawing, 3D modeling and animation his art explores themes from geology, architecture, science fiction and abstraction. His animations have been included in screenings at Speculative Tate (Tate Britain, UK), and his current research examines the convergences between cognitive engineering, art, the philosophy of scientific models, and the transformation of concepts in modern systems of knowledge. Recent presentations of his research include Judd Foundation, NY, Montreal Biennale (2014), Künstlerhaus, Halle für Kunst & Medien, Graz, and Newcastle University, UK. He is a founding member of Fixing the Future and Office for Applied Complexity (OfAC).


Parsons School of Design
Starr Foundation Hall, UL102
University Center
63 5th Avenue
New York, NY 1003


Mar 01, 2016


Augmentation and Alienation: Between Emancipation and Control