Are language games also confidence tricks? Technology as embodied power and collective disempowerment

Christopher John Müller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/opinionpeer-review


Mark Coeckelbergh’s mobilisation of Wittgensteinian language games makes an important contribution to exposing the social dimension of machine use. This commentary asks to what extent this social dimension of meaning and the wider imaginary that forms around technological objects on account of the transparency of language is also part of a technological “confidence trick”. It suggests that philosophical anthropology, especially the perspectives developed by Günther Anders and Helmut Plessner, can offer additional resources to trace and critique the wider ownership structures and social relations of power that Mark Coecklebergh’s work productively exposes. It argues that language games alone cannot fully account for the hidden social relations (e.g. training data of a language algorithm) that are habitually presented to us as abilities of “smart”, “intelligent” machines. Here a language that defamiliarizes machines, tries to make them visible by using exaggerated, pessimistic and object-oriented perspectives can perhaps help to make these power-relationships more comprehensible, “obvious” and thereby resistible and open to debate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-880
Number of pages6
JournalFoundations of Science
Issue number3
Early online date30 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


  • Confidence
  • Embodiment
  • Language
  • Philosophical anthropology
  • Smart machines
  • Trickery


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