Simulated realities

(Or, why boxers and Artificial Intelligence scientists do mostly the same thing)

Authored by: Steve G. Hoffman

The Routledge Companion to Visual Organization

Print publication date:  August  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415783675
eBook ISBN: 9780203725610
Adobe ISBN: 9781135005474


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Simulations are a strikingly regular feature of group life, organizational practice, and popular culture, yet most analyses of them completely miss how widespread they have become. Simulations are more than just sophisticated computer techniques for testing scientific theories. The social analysis of simulation is anemic if we only conceive of them as metaphor for symbolic economy and referential ambiguity. At both a more mundane and profound level, simulations are a central way that groups, organizations, and workplaces confront difficult tasks when direct experience is hard to come by. This chapter explores how two quite different groups develop and use simulation techniques and technologies to manage (although just as often exacerbate or create de novo) core organizational problems. That is, when Artificial Intelligence scientists and boxing coaches develop simulations, whether to study human-level intelligence or to prepare for an upcoming competitive match, they engage in a process of reality control that transforms particular organizational ambiguities into legible and tractable bits. This chapter shows the distinctive mechanisms of this process and argues that these simplified solutions develop complex social lives all their own. It concludes with a discussion of how the empirical study of simulated realities can help draw out a deep synthesis between the physical and the virtual, visual representation and organizational process, and lay and scientific expertise.

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