Automation and transaction technologies: acting at a distance

In automation and transaction technologies a series of predefined actions has to be executed to allow a certain person to do something. Actually, in this case the person triggers a series of events. Sometimes one needs to use a certain object, like a credit card or a special key, and sometimes one is invested with special information, like passwords or encryption technologies. Once the trigger for transaction is given, a series of events automatically take place. How to interfere, and who can interfere, with these automation processes is often extremely unclear.

The drive behind these technologies is to be able to act in a place and at a time where one is not physically present and in doing so enable 'easy' and 'cheap' transactions between places and over time. Working hours and costs are saved by the automation of these triggered processes. The triggering and executing of a series of events that can no longer be interfered with has given rise to a great deal of concern about technological developments over the last few decades. Infrastructures have become so complex that it is often unclear who is responsible for the technology in the variety of the complexity of the systems. In a lecture about New York's infrastructure underground at the conference Doors of Perception 8 in New Delhi (India), David J. Burneynote 22 demonstrated that the different layers of New York's infrastructure influence each other, but no one is responsible, nor knowledgeable about, the total effect of the systems. 'Control' of technology is the concern of the companies that safeguard these infrastructures, but because of the complexity of the variety of systems, it is becoming more and more of an issue of a political nature. A possible collapse and dangerous side effects of complex technology infrastructures are seldom formulated in a language of human rights, although many political activists try to influence this.

When a person triggers a series of events that he or she can no longer control, it is a matter of debate as to whether we still consider this to be an action this person is liable for. Usually when I act, I am present, and it is clear that I am responsible and liable for my actions. Today I can act and not be present, I can trigger a series of events and not even know what they entail. How can I be liable? Why do I expect certain outcomes? I learn to adapt to certain systems that I do not control, nor do I know who does control them, but I participate anyway since they apparently work. To be present in these systems is a prerequisite for being able to act to trigger, after which it no longer matters where I am or even whether I am alive at all. Internet banking, for example, makes me participate in systems beyond my understanding. As long as certain feedback from the system lives up to my expectations I will continue to participate and actually it may make my business flourish.