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Introduction

Virtual Entity is a philosophical research starting from the assumption that the concepts of authenticity, ownership, uniqueness and seriality are, within the digital domain, no longer valid. In fact there is no substantial difference between copy and original on the Web, and these two categories are not relevant. Since any file can generate an infinite number of entities identical to itself, there is no scarcity on the Net, and any resource is indefinitely available. Assuming possession is related to the numerical proportion between resources (objects) and potential owners (subjects), then, whereas resources are not limited, the concept of ownership and the idea of property become superfluous.

If socialist and communist experiments in real world were limited by the presence of state ownership, Virtual Entity is proposing the implementation of a non-property system within the digital domain.

The practical method to achieve such result is a new radical software being specifically developed to release, license, and catalogue digital files. This system, transforming the traditional approach towards metadata, is based on the idea that any file is an independent creation living its own life and experiencing various levels of transformation and progressive generation (of meaning, shape, and entities) in the course of its virtual existence. This way digital resources, interpreted as cultural units, are considered the main actors of the web.

Cosmogony

Digital artificial world is structured by specific rules that are somewhat different from those expressed and manifested in the physical world we normally experience. One relevant difference is the definition of identity. Since every ‘singularity’ is reproducible in infinite number of identical copies, and there is no substantial difference between copy and original, because the copy of a copy is exactly the same as the copy of the original, the basic distinction between copy and original is not relevant, and digital identity is not unique. Comparing this to any analogue reality, we can immediately perceive that some of the values applying to physical world are to be reconsidered within the digital domain. For example, an analogue tape recorded from a vinyl record will play a different quality of music than that of the vinyl, and the quality of the incision will be more and more compromised if we continue copying the same track from one tape to another. This quality decrease structures an inversely proportional relation with the distance from the original content. Reproduction always depends on the system used, both in case of analogue and of digital carriers. Speakers, amplifiers and players reproducing a sound can affect the quality of the result. But, in the case of an .aiff audio file, for example, any copy will perform the same music, given an identical system to be played from. Although this argument is rather obvious, it leads to the idea that, since there is no constitutional uniqueness inside ‘digitality’, there is no relevant reason to limit the amount of copies that are to be created. From another perspective, this example shows a peculiar fragility that electronic content implies. In fact, any electronic resource is depending on a certain variety of elements to be reproduced and perceived (a player, an hard disc, a computer, a mini disc, and so forth). Any damage to a single part of such complex system is compromising the fruition of the entire. If a photographic picture on paper can be visible when a corner of the image is corrupted, it will be very difficult to display a file whereas a small part of it is damaged. Although electronic and digital creatures have certain properties in common, Virtual Entity is focusing on digital entities living in the net, so to say digital files online. The possibility to define these as ‘immaterial’ lays on the fact that the region where these are perceived is often very far from the server they are laying on. People belonging to generations not educated to a basic computer literation often think mails are physically landing on their specific machine, missing the point internet is basically ‘sitting’ somewhere else and simply copied and/or displayed on local terminals. This apparent immateriality and cohereness renders the perception of the internet obfuscated by common beliefs. There is a specific moment when a file is created, and there exists a very first instantiation of any file that is uploaded, published and shared online. Once this poiesis is performed, the entity is free to proliferate indefinitely. Virtual Entity names this very first file that reaches the internet a ‘native file’, or master. There is no way to distinguish it from all its ‘nemesis’, after the act of creation. Since identity appears to be distributed rather than concentrated, digital identity requires a specific approach according to its essence. Virtual Entity is a project structured by a double nature, and these two perspectives interweave a dialogic relation. While a theoretical reflection on ‘digitality’ and its constitution is taking place in the background, the development of a practical system to license and identify files online has begun.

Substances

Any copy of a file can be defined as an instance of the file entity. The main idea of Virtual Entity is that, any time a native file is created and uploaded to the Net, it is possible to initiate a Soul for this file. The Soul of a file, according to Ve’s imaginary, is the combination of a set of Metadata plus editable space for information interchange, not very dissimilar from a wiki. Digital entities are subdivided in four main substances, that are Text, Audio, Video and Image. All entities are either natural born analogue or natural born digital. An interesting process to be taken into account is ‘transmutation’: what happens when content is mutating substance, or carrier, from analogue to digital, and vice-versa? Substances are always immanent, and an entity can be defined in accordance to more than one substance, because this identification depends on the specific approach to content, rather than on a supposed unique matter. A number of critical examples and ambiguities can be analysed and tested. If software, as source code, is considered text, an executable is something more malicious, composed, an ‘organon’ creating a different functioning. Be software a daemon, or a polumetis spirit, it is not a simple entity.

Metadata

An important and problematic element of digital content management is the organisation of Metadata, that is information about information. Main issue is establishing a compatible form that is firm through time. One critical aspect is that, if metadata are stored inside a file, when information is updated on one copy of the file, all other copies are not accessing the new data. Another problem is the lack of persistence through successive codification, encoding, editing and transformation. Storing metadata inside the Soul of a file, that is a database separated from any instance and independent from a specific file structure, is a technical proposal to overpass some of the limits the use of metadata encountered so far. In such structure information would be accessible from any instance of the file, because the repository of metadata is always providing the latest version. The idea of dividing entities in four groups is useful also in this: a core metadata set listing a certain number of fields that are substance independent, is combined to other fields that are substance specific. A possible approach to define these basic elements of description can be the following: metadata have to be, as much as possible, both machine and human understandable. To be optimised, only a minimal amount of necessary information is to be considered relevant; permanent and global characteristics are preferred to local, non permanent methods of description. Inspiring researches are the Latent Semantic Analysis on one side, that focus on the relationships, in vectorial semantics, between a set of documents and the terms they contain, and the symbol abstractor named Singular Value Decomposition, an algebraic method to describe the peculiarity of an object.


The noise margin

We all use to be enthusiastic about this possibility of copying and copying and copying. So we all think the copy is just the same as the original. Maybe the copy is in fact the ‘original’, but how many originals are there? Any entity can have more than one Soul, and any Soul is connected to ‘n’ amount of copies existing. Every copy is original. So, how many originals do we have? Answer: we have ‘n’ originals. Well, then: are those original all the ‘same’? A definition of ‘sameness’ would help. Let’s see what is at hand:

1_The quality or condition of being the same. and same·ness (sām′nis)

noun

1. the state or quality of being the same; identity or uniformity
2. lack of change or variety; monotony

We don’t know much more yet. The question is, can we really consider all those copies as something identical? Probably not. Compression, re-compression, singularity, noise, instantiation, difference, error, bandwidth, accident, player, screen, monitor, glasses, psychoactive substances, operating systems, servers, hard-drives, time, space. Everything is singular, the experience, the system performing it (hardware), the meat-ware receiving it, the copy in itself, which is indeed, SINGULAR. Every copy is a ‘original’ on its own. There is no ‘original’, originality is status a-priori, it is never actual in the virtual world. There are only copies in the virtual world, and every copy is unique, every instance includes differentiation. The whole concept of identity is to be re-described. In philosophy, identity (also called sameness) is whatever makes an entity definable and recognizable, in terms of possessing a set of qualities or characteristics that distinguish it from entities of a different type, states wikipedia. But are those sets of qualities relevant and distributed to the extent that makes and renders indiscernibility? If this is not the case, identity can, thus, be performed as difference, not repetition but progressive differentiation. The noise margin baptizes any copy a new, unique, original.


Technique

Virtual Entity is software for archiving digital files. Metadata are usually stored inside the header of a file. Virtual Entity is a utility to store Metadata in a de-centralized database online. This set of information is called, in Virtual Entity’s terminology, ‘Soul’.

This method features the possibility to access the same Metadata from any instance of a file ( which was previously instantiated with a Soul). If Metadata are successively edited, even a file copied long time before can access the up-to-date information.

After reading the Soul of a file it is possible to expand it, adding information in an adjacent space, open to anyone, which is called ‘Aura’. This is the space where the interaction of the file entity with the real world can be recorded; a special attention is given to the relations between different files, and these relations can be semantic or genetic.

Two files have a semantic relation when they share some characteristics on the level of meaning. A genetic relation is rather different: if a file contains a fragment of another file, i.e. a video contains few minutes of an .mp3 audio file, then the audio file is an ancestor of the video file, and the video is a descendant of the audio file.

Souls are stored in a MYSQL database online, files and Souls are coupled using the MD5 algorithm. The same content with a different encoding, let’s say the same videos ‘example.mov’ and ‘example.avi’, can share the same Soul. Technically speaking, an additional table of the database keeps track of the different MD5 codes which belong to the same Soul.

The software is currently working at a prototype level, and no problem without solution was encountered so far. The technical structure and the design of the software are shaped on the philosophical and theoretical assumptions which are integral part, and skeleton, of this project.

The software is, at this stage, a command line application in Python; it uses SQL calls to talk to the database.


History

This is theoretical software. The project started articulating on September 2007. The technical implementation is a consequence of xname’s philosophical approach. The Soul of a File is a proposal to solve the problem of metadata compatibility (December 2007). The concept of independent entity without owners is a step towards a non-state of non-property.

Read old documentation to follow the history of the development of this project.


Quotes

Hardt & Negri. Empire. 2000.

The passage from the virtual through the possible to the real is the fundamental act of creation. Ontology is not an abstract science. Now the new virtualities, the naked life of the present, have the capacity to take control of the processes of machinic metamorphosis.

Mikhail Bakhtin. The pre-history of novelistic discourse.

Everything new is born out of the death of something old

monoglossia is always in essence relative. After all, one’s own language is never a single language: in it there are always survivals of the past and a potential for other-languagedness, that is more or less sharply perceived by the working literary and language consciousness

is the history of the appropriation, re-working and imitation of some else’s property.

-→ intentional hybrid

Spinoza. Ethics.

From the Axioms:
I. All things which exist, exist either in themselves or in something else.
V. Things that have nothing in common reciprocally cannot be comprehended reciprocally trough each other, or, the conception of the one does not involve the conception of the other.
VII. The essence of that which can be conceived as not existing does not involve existence.

From the Porpositions:
I. A substance is prior in nature to its modifications.
IV. Two or more distinct things are distinguished one from the other either by the difference of the attributes of substances or by the difference of their modifications.
V. There cannot exist in the universe two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.
VI. One substance cannot be produced by another.
VII. Existence appertains to the nature of substance.
VIII. Every substance is necessarily infinite.

-→ virtual digital world requires a totally new form of ethics.

Deleuze’s lesson on ‘Ontology - Ethics’ dates 21/12/1980

When it is suggested to us that, between you and me, between two persons, between a person and an animal, betweenan animal and a thing, there is ethically, that is ontologically, only a quantitative distinction, what quantity is involved?

A camel can go without drinking for a long time. It is a passion of the camel.

From the point of view of an ethics, all that exist, all beings [etants] are related to a quantitative scale which is that of power [puissance]. This differentiable quantity is power. And if there is no general essence, it is because, at this level of power, everything is singular.

Atsushi Takenouchi. Butoh dancer.


Sea, mountain, grass and trees,
even machine, car, gasoline, computer—
—they do not belong to people.
They are already alive. Even our body is not ours.
We are simply lives facing one another …