For Vilém Flusser, the concept of the machine is closely connected to the concepts of apparatus and tool. The philosopher equates the apparatus with a specific kind of machine, which, in turn, is the extrapolation of instrumental simplicity. Tools are perceived as everything we use as extensions of our bodies to change the world around us. The functions of the human hand, for instance, can be extended by using a hammer, a fork, tweezers, or pliers. This understanding of technology is very close to Ernst Kapp’s concept of organ projection, and is also in agreement with Marshall McLuhan. In anthropological terms, it is also reminiscent of the philosophy of technology of Arnold Gehlen and Helmuth Plessner.
The machine is a tool that becomes more complex by incorporating scientific knowledge, thereby becoming more effective and faster – and more valuable. Over and above its technological materiality, the machine must be understood as a programmed, processual workow, which, based on formal knowledge, establishes a mode of activity that is embodied in forms such as a camera, a public institution, or a branch of industry: a dispositif of the machinic reminiscent of Jacques Ellul’s phénomène technique. This transition from the tool to the machine contributed to repositioning humans in their relationship to technology. Machines last longer, are more valuable than human beings, and thus turn them into easily replaceable functionaries.
As the machine no longer produces in an empirical manner, but only technologically, it cannot simply be considered a tool. To understand the machine, one needs to take into account the values and intentions codified therein. The machine automates processes that have specific political, ethical, and aesthetic dimensions. In the postindustrial context, these dimensions are increasingly important due to the transition of machines from producing things to producing symbols. In view of this fact, Flusser conceives these symbolic machines as apparatuses, which, instead of changing the world, add meaning to it. “Such as chess-playing machines, for instance. These machines go through possible moves, but not all – they are not God machines. They just make better decisions than we do. The machines are auto-generative; they learn from their own mistakes. It is only a matter of time until chess is played exclusively by machines.” (Kommunikologie weiter denken, 2009, p. 81; translated from the German).
Original article by Cesar Baio in Flusseriana