With the heaven-sent speed of Hermes, computers calculate in writing to shape the grammar of the world. Although analysable into binary algebra, the calculations of computers are more than mathematical, and more than mechanical. For if computers can be said to write the script of their mechanical operations, and to do so with a grammar that is uniquely their own, then the grammar of cybernetic engines must exceed beyond, and enter in so as to shape the motion of any machine. And if, in shaping this motion, computers continuously gesture beyond the immanent frame of their mechanical operations, then we should investigate the cybernetic grammar of the digital from its highest points.
It is this higher way of writing of the grammar of computers that we have begun to investigate. On Wednesday 14 June, we convened the Hyperdigital Designs workshop at the University of Cambridge for the purpose of exploring the hyperbolic cybernetic grammar of computers. This workshop was hosted by Cambridge Digital Humanities, and co-sponsored by the William Temple Foundation and the Diverse Intelligence Summer Institute (DISI).
Hyperdigital Designs Workshop
During the workshop, the ‘How to Play with Fire’ team of DISI 2022 hosted sixteen invited guest speakers to contribute papers reflecting on the significance of what we have begun to call the ‘hyperdigital’ for theology, philosophy, ethics, politics, and the arts.
The hyperdigital designates a higher or hyperbolic reflection on the creative origins and free use of the cybernetic grammar of computers. It can be called ‘hyper-digital’ in the sense of a ‘hyperbole’ (ὑπερβολή) or excess of signification, in which cybernetic judgments both exceed beyond and enter in to animate the free creation and use of digital techniques.
The hyperdigital can be doubly contrasted with the ‘digital’, which scripts the algebraic calculation of mechanical operations, and the ‘postdigital’, which reflects upon an indefinite bricolage of conceptually evacuated relations of material entanglement.
Beyond both the ‘digital’ and the ‘postdigital’, the ‘Hyperdigital’ is a hyperbolic cybernetic grammar, which, in the sense of a hyperbole, exceeds so as more radically to enter and accelerate the free use of digital computation and communication – whether among the creators of digital systems, or from the oldest creator of the idea of the digital itself.
The ‘hyperdigital’ had been conceived at the 2022 Diverse Intelligence Summer Institute (DISI 2022) at the University of St. Andrews by the ‘How to Play with Fire’ team, consisting of Ryan Haecker, Jenny Liu Zhang, and Brandon Yip, with the later addition of Olivia Thomas.
During the course of DISI 2022, we argued that the postdigital had failed to accommodate the higher reflections upon the creative source of the idea and calculation of the digital. Instead, it had recirculated the grammatical rupture and ontological violence of the digital in an apocalyptic rhetoric of the crash and release of the coherence of digital systems.
Since the conclusion of DISI 2022, the How to Play with Fire team has continued to meet for monthly discussions of recent developments in the philosophy of technology, especially as it relates to information, cybernetics, and the cybernetic grammar of computers.
At the conclusion of our year-long collaborative project, the How to Play with Fire team convened the Hyperdigital Designs workshop at the University of Cambridge, with financial and administrative assistance generously provided by Cambridge Digital Humanities.
We enjoyed a wonderfully thoughtful day examining the hyperdigital, as well as imagining solutions to promote human flourishing. Some key points of discussion included:
The videos, presentations, and photos from this workshop can be found in the links below:
Following the Hyperdigital Designs workshop, Ryan Haecker, a research fellow of the William Temple Foundation, has published a new peer-reviewed article in Postdigital Science and Education, titled ‘Via Digitalis: From the Postdigital to the Hyperdigital’. He argues three theses: the postdigital has failed; postdigital theology is incompatible with Christian theology; and, for mystical theology, the hyperdigital is the truth of the postdigital.
With the publication of this article, he has presented a summary of the year-long collaboration of the ‘How to Play with Fire’ team at the Diverse Intelligence Summit 2023 at the University of St. Andrews. A video recording of his talk can be found at the link below:
In the future, we hope to publish the proceedings of the Hyperdigital Designs workshop in an edited volume. We invite expressions of interest in collaborating on this future project.
Finally, to continue engaging with the lively threads inspired at this workshop, please join us in our new community Discord server, Hyperdigital Designs. We will use this as an online hub to discuss ideas, share publications and projects, and stay connected about all things related to human flourishing while navigating the hyperdigital.
The Hyperdigital Designs Team
Ryan Haecker (University of Austin)
Jenny Liu Zhang (University of Edinburgh)
Brandon Yip (Australian National University)
Olivia Thomas (University of Edinburgh)