More Insight

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Seventh Kingdom

Keven Kelly discusses the evolution of the seventh kingdom (in addition to Bacteria, Archaea, Protista, Fungi, Animalia, Plantae).

He discusses how the evolution of technology mirrors the evolution of life, towards:
  • Ubiquity
  • Diversity
  • Specialization
  • Complexity
  • Socialization

(think of these five trends in relation to hammers, or armor, for example)

"The emergent system of the technium — what we often mean by 'Technology' with a capital T — has its own inherent agenda and urges, as does any large complex system, indeed, as does life itself. That is, an individual technological organism has one kind of response, but in an ecology comprised of co-evolving species of technology we find an elevated entity — the technium — that behaves very differently from an individual species. The technium is a superorganism of technology. It has its own force that it exerts. That force is part cultural (influenced by and influencing of humans), but it's also partly non-human, partly indigenous to the physics of technology itself...

"We are reaching down deep into the culture so that everybody has to ask these very big questions. It's no longer the job of philosophers, nor avante guard artists — but ordinary citizens. With each new headline in USA Today, everyone is being asked, What is a human? A vernacular theology, in a certain sense, is one of unanticipated aspects of this technological culture.

"This constant identity crisis can make people depressed and it may be one of the factors driving people toward religion, since religion, especially fundamentalist religion, believe it has definite answers to some of these questions. But religion, especially fundamentalist religion, has no real answers the specific questions of say whether enhancement is humane, whether AI is good, whether we should remain one species or many, and even what precisely it means to be human. Therefore this large scale technological identity crisis is going to be the recurring theme of this century...

"Technology is not merely a human-derived entity. The roots of technology go all the way back to the Big Bang. It's part of the same line that I call extropic systems that extend back through living systems, self-regulating planets, auto-coalescing star systems and so on. Extropic systems might also be called near-equilibrium sustainable systems. They run in the opposite direction from entropic systems. These are complex, sustainable systems that always teeter on the edge of falling over, but keep going. Over cosmic time, a type will gradually build up more complexity sustained on the edge of collapse. We see extropic systems in galaxy formation, planet formation, life formation, intelligence formation, and I believe, in technology formation.

"In this way the technium shares many characteristics with biological life, mind, and other near-equilibrium self-sustaining extropic systems. Technology, therefore, can be understood in a cosmic scale as an outgrowth of the Big Bang. Because we have some clues about what it has in common with these relatives of life, we can begin to dissect and understand it through the lens of extropic systems. I believe when we view the technium in the context of life-like systems, we can make some guesses about its trajectory and how we can use it...

"We can show evolution through mutations in the technium, and major transitions of change in technological organization. We can see a large scale move, as in life, from the general to the specific. Technology also follows life in a cosmic scale migration towards greater complexity, diversity, and energy density. So we can think of the technium as a 7th kingdom of life...

"I would argue that, in a certain sense, we have a moral obligation to increase the technology of the world — of the universe — to insure that the genius of every person born will have some way to express its fullness. In the end, this is what the technium wants, too. What the other six kingdoms of life want. What we want. To increase choices. To open up new freedoms. To expand the possible."


Mikerobiology said...

This is philosophically beautiful. I like to think that as the human mind evolves, we evolve the ability to create new features. We don't have to wait for mutations to yield advantages any longer.

Adapting to our environments via new abilities/features is apart of evolution. We don't need to sprout wings when we can invent planes; likewise for gills and scuba.

It makes me think about "The Matrix" though, when we'd be harvested and used for energy by our technologies. I am a little frightened about that possibility. But hey, that's evolution, right?

Frederick said...

Evolution is da Devil! /snark

Mikerobiology said...

then we're all going to Hell...