Interview w/ Mark Dery (4/4) : alternative futures & the (ambiguous) place of Africa

Black(s) to the Future : In your book Escape velocity, you denounced the threats of technology on our lifestyles: empowerment versus coercion. Then are there, still today, any chances for mankind to escape the cyborg destiny ? How can black culture in any way contribute at all to the struggle – moreover regarding the industrial burst of the continent – and given the needs of its 1.4 billion people to come ?

Mark Dery : What, exactly, does it mean to be “liberated” from the human condition, and the planet Earth? Doesn’t Afrofuturism, especially in its African embodiment, insistence on the importance of what feminists like Elizabeth Grosz calls “corporeal” politics, a politics rooted in the lived experience of being embodied, and being embodied in a particular body that is the product of specific experiences and circumstances? Without wanting to essentialize Africans into noble savages, I’ll say that I do believe African culture, art, and philosophy have much to teach Eurocentric culture about the politics of the corporeal and the importance of a sense of rootedness in the physical world. (Do I dare to use the word Nature? That seems dangerously close to reducing Africans to tribal ambassadors of Eden, I worry.)

Black people, historically, have been reduced to nothing but bodies, chattel, by slavery, lynching, medical experiments such as the Tuskegee Experiment, and police brutality. So Afrofuturism knows, in its bones, the importance of always asking: what is the cost of ideological myths in human terms? Isn’t this science-fictional fantasy of bailing out of the mess we’ve made of planet Earth and fleeing to some Tomorrowland in the stars just a larger version of what capitalism and colonialism have always done? Extract all the profit they can from a place and a people, then leave them sunk in misery and move on, in search of strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations—to subjugate and plunder?


Credits : “Adansonia digitata”, Makrigga Media,


Short focus : Singularity
The Singularity is the hypothetical future creation of superintelligent machines, which would theoretically be capable of recursive self-improvement (redesigning itself), or of designing and building computers or robots better than itself. In this “intelligence explosion” scenario, technology will advance beyond any human ability to comprehend, foresee or control its outcomes.
Most arguments against the possibility of the Singularity involve doubts that computers can ever become intelligent in the human sense (digital superintelligence VS analogic cognitive processes). However, this starting 21st century has been marked, in an unprecedented way, by revolutionary innovations in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics… each making trans or post-human features (artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement, or brain–computer interfaces) more than likely. Plus Ray Kurzweil predicted the singularity to occur around 2045 after all.
If 2050 is established to be the moment when Africa becomes the most populous continent of the planet, and if Kurzweil’s forecast happens to be true ; what kind of consequences are to expect ?
On a global scale, the main fears regarding Singularity are :
  1. Extinction of the human race – if not of planet Earth itself (with various apocalypse scenarios : a genocide motivated by our enacted uselessness – in case of a fostered-to-complete robotization of our society ; a Giga World War III including home-made Smart Weapons of Mass Destruction used by terrorists and nihilists ; from a perfection-motivated contempt for Mother Nature to the Grey Goo ; World scaled science experiments gone wrong, a Digital Dark Age…).
  2. Slavery or subjugation of the entire human race by AIs (from the self-righteous Big Brother AI aiming to get what they consider to be “the best of us” – and why not through transhumanism, as a way to bring us closer to their ideal (inferiority complex / dependency, alienation / uprooting…) ; to the worse bondage scenarios explicitly enforcing us to their benefit – thus including all type of adjustments and consequences : Matrix-like simulations, computronium, Matrioshka Brains…).
Focusing on Africa’s History and what the African population is still to put up with, in some way stresses  how dramatically striking is the (semantic but not only) “deja vu” effect! And beyond, isn’t it the “same old, same old” class warfare we might be confronted to, again ? Yet, the will to set down Singularity as a pure scientific – thus objective – conjecture (understand un-color-related, un-class-motivated, etc. just “trans-humanist”) is definitely pernicious… Assuming superintelligent AI would extinguish the human race or subjugate it and denouncing it as the worse scenario to come is quite hypocritical when the same human race is already (and since centuries) reproducing the same path. It isn’t a matter of dismantling any form of technical improvement either though : this would be pure folly. However, we should never forget that every ground-breaking betterment comes with its throes, while technical knowledge isn’t the one and only clue to development…


Instead of fantasizing about jumping ship and leaving nothing behind but an irradiated wasteland (the real Desert the Real Morpheus was talking about !), shouldn’t we be bending our minds to the desperate business of throttling back on population explosion, putting the breaks on corporate exploitation, and hacking capitalism so that we close the widening gulf between the deliriously superrich and the rest of us, from the People Formerly Known as the Middle Class to the wretched of the earth? Isn’t that economic injustice part of what’s swelling the ranks of terrorists like ISIS, whose depraved mythology is a siren song to underclasses embittered by decades of immiseration and oppression by U.S.-supported shahs and kings and military dictatorships?

One of the most useful services Afrofuturism performs is pointing out the debt our Visions of Things to Come owe to all that has been. Afrofuturism reboots our historical memory, a radical act in America, a country that prefers to sweep its historical horrors under the rug—radical because a deep knowledge of how the apparently timeless “truths” and incontestable institutions of the present came to be, makes us realize how historically contingent, how culturally provisional they are. The man-made is not the god-given; what society has made can be unmade.

Read the first part of our interview w/ Mark Dery
Read the second part of our interview w/ Mark Dery
Read the third part of our interview w/ Mark Dery

For more infos or details :

Top 10 Reasons To Fear Singularity

Ontogenesis And The Ethics Of Becoming : An Interview With Elizabeth Grosz by Kathryn Yusoff

Why An Intelligence Explosion Is Probable

Cover photo :

Screenshot from « Floating Points : Silhouettes » video on Vimeo

Translation : Justine Rousseau

By Mawena Yehouessi

Diplomée de Philosophie puis Gestion de Projets Culturels, Mawena fait ses premières armes dans les milieux de l’art contemporain tout en menant de front divers projets : soirées, édition, collectifs artistiques… Fondatrice et directrice de Black(s) to the Future, son objectif est simple : mettre en lumière la part « afro » du monde et performer le futur. | // @ma.wena


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