Hardly anything in Vilém Flusser’s anthropology (and all his media theory is anthropology) contrasts more sharply with the human than the automatic. The adjectives he uses to characterize automata bear witness to this: obdurate, unintentional, functional, even “sub-human” (Into the Universe of Technical Images, 2011, p. 75). Flusser could be called a Luddite if automata, as a special case of apparatuses, were not strictly distinguished from machines. Machines are mechanical constructions to transmit power, while apparatuses do not process energy but information; they simulate, according to Flusser, thought. Automata are informed apparatuses – a form was prescribed for them; they were programmed. Their automatic quality is an especially obdurate kind of obedience: the functional unity of command and execution. Automata follow neither divine commandments nor human laws but rather technical programs. Where these programs simply continue to run, the automata become autonomous (they are no longer dependent on human intervention), but they remain unfree. For Flusser, freedom exists only in dialogue, in games, in the draft: in the encounter with the other. Automata, by contrast, produce the quasi-mechanical simulation of an impoverished thinking that no longer knows any outside. In blind, dumb inertia, they race on and on and in doing so produce (obdurately, unintentionally, automatically) ever-new coincidences, with perhaps catastrophic consequences. Automata are for Flusser asocial. Yet in his writings automation does sometimes emerge as a social utopia: as a possibility for human beings to save themselves from having to be obdurate, automatic receivers of commands, thus giving them the freedom to play, also with and in the apparatuses.
Original article by Roland Meyer in Flusseriana (2015)