Minding Machines: A Note on Alienation

  • Sascha Engel


This paper discusses an underrepresented dimension of contemporary alienation: that of machines, and particularly of computing machines. The term ‘machine' is understood here in the broadest sense, spanning anything from agricultural harvesters to cars and planes. Likewise, 'computing machine' is understood broadly, from homeostatic machines, such as thermostats, to algorithmic universal machines, such as smartphones. I suggest that a form of alienation manifests in the functionalist use and description of machines in general; that is, in descriptions of machines as mere tools or testaments to human ingenuity. Such descriptions ignore the real and often capricious existence of machines as everyday material entities. To restore this dimension, I first suggest an analytics of alienating machines – machines contributing to human alienation – and then an analytics of alienated machines – machinic alienation in its own right. From the latter, I derive some possible approaches for reducing machinic alienation. I conclude with some thoughts on its benefits in the context of so-called ‘Artificial Intelligence'.

Author Biography

Sascha Engel
Sascha Engel is Visiting Simpson Scholar at the University of Wyoming. He holds a PhD from the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) at Virginia Tech as well as an M.A. in Political Theory from the Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany). Sascha's research focus is the Eurozone Crisis, along with its broader implications for the analysis of global financial and institutional economics.


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