What Technology Wants | Notes & Review

Posted on November 27, 2011


Kevin Kelly. What Technology Wants. Viking, 2010. (405 pages). http://www.kk.org/books/what-technology-wants.php. Video: http://www.qideas.org/video/what-technology-wants.aspx

1. My Question

Should we allow human cloning? Is constant texting making our kids dumb? Do we want automobiles to park themselves? But as my quest evolved, I realized that if we want to find satisfying answers to those questions, we first need to consider technology as a whole. Only by listening to technology’s story, divining its tendencies and biases, and tracing its current direction can we hope to solve our personal puzzles. (6)

Technology could be found everywhere in the ancient world except in the minds of humans. (7)

Mass production was unthinkable to the classical mind, and not just for technical reasons. – Carl Mitcham

The chief glory of the later Middle Ages was not its cathedrals or its epics or its scholasticism: it was the building for the first time in history of a complex civilization which rested not on the backs of sweating slaves or coolies but primarily on non-human power. – Lynn White

Machines were becoming our coolies. (8)

Each new invention requires the viability of previous inventions to keep going. (8)

However you define life, its essence does not reside in material forms like DNA, tissue, or flesh, but in the intangible organization of the energy and information contained in those material forms. And as technology was unveiled from its shroud of atoms, we could see that at its core, it, too, is about ideas and information. Both life and technology seem to be based on immaterial flows of information. (10)

Is technology human or nonhuman? (10)

Even if we acknowledge that technology can exist in disembodied form, such as software, we tend not to include in this category paintings, literature, music, dance, poetry, ad the arts in general. But we should. If a thousand lines of letters in UNIX qualifies as a technology (the computer code for a web page), then a thousand lines of letters in English (Hamlet) must qualify as well. They both can change our behavior, alter the course of events, or enable future inventions. A Shakespeare sonnet and a Bach fugue, then, are in the same category as Google’s search engine and the iPod: They are something useful produced by a mind. We can’t separate out the multiple overlapping technologies responsible for a Lord of the Rings movie. The literary rendering of the original novel is as much an invention as the digital rendering of its fantastical creatures. Both are useful works of the human imagination. Both influence audiences powerfully. Both are technological. (11)

…I’ve somewhat reluctantly coined a word to designate the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us. I call it the technium. The technium extends beyond shiny hardware to include culture, art, social institutions, and intellectual creations of all types. It includes intangibles like software, law, and philosophical concepts. And most important, it includes the generative impulses of our inventions to encourage more tool making, more technology invention, and more self-enhancing connections. (12)

The qualities we hold dearest in the universe are all extremely slippery at the edges. Life, mind, consciousness, order, complexity, free will, and autonomy are all terms that have multiple, paradoxical, and inadequate definitions. No one can agree on exactly where life or mind or consciousness or autonomy begins and where it ends. The best we can agree on is that these states are not binary. They exist on a continuum. (13)

…a small fraction of what the technium communicates originates not from any of its known human-made nodes but from the system at large. The technium is whispering to itself. (14)

Because the technium is an outgrowth of the human mind, it is also an outgrowth of life, and by extension it is also an outgrowth of the physical an chemical self-organization that first led to life. The technium shares a deep common root not only with the human mind, but with ancient life and other self-organized systems as well. And just as a mind must obey not only the principles governing cognition but also the laws governing life and self-organization, so the technium must obey the laws of mind, life, and self-organization — as well as our human minds. Thus out of all the spheres of influence upon the technium the human mind is only one. And this influence may even be the weakest one. (15)

With the technium, want does not mean thoughtful decisions….but rather tendencies. Leanings. Urges. Trajectories. (16)

This book is my report on what technology wants. My hope is that it will help others find their own way to optimize technology’s blessings and minimize its costs. (17)


2. Inventing Ourselves

What were our lives like without technology? The problem with this line of questioning is that technology predated our humanness. (21)

Humans are animals — no argument. But humans are also not-animals — no argument. This contradictory nature is at the core of our identity. Likewise, technology is unnatural — by definition. And technology is natural — by a wider definition. This contradiction is also core to human identity. (22)

The ability of Sapiens to rapidly improve their tools allowed them to adapt to new ecological niches at a much faster rate than genetic evolution could ever allow. (25) [VIA: KEY]

A number of scientists…think that the “something” that happened 50,000 years ago was the invention of language. …The creation of language was the first singularity for humans. It changed everything. Life after language was unimaginable to those on the far side before it. (26)

Language is a trick that allows the mind to question itself; a magic mirror that reveals to the mind what the mind thinks; a handle that turns a mind into a tool. (26)

If our minds can’t tell stories, we can’t consciously create; we can only create by accident. Until we tame the mind with an organization tool capable of communicating to itself, we have stray thoughts without a narrative. We have a feral mind. We have smartness without a tool. (27)

Grandparents are the conduits of culture, and without them culture stagnates. …Language upended this tight constriction by enabling ideas both to coalesce and to be communicated. (32)

Caspari claims that the most fundamental biological factor that underlies the behavioral innovations of modernity may be the increase in adult survivorship. It is no coincidence that increased longevity is the most measurable consequence of the acquisition of technology. it is also the most consequential. (33)

[VIA: technology = diversity]

A world without technology had enough to sustain survival but not enough to transcend it. only when the mind, liberated by language and enabled by the technium, transcended the constraints of nature 50,000 years ago did greater realms of possibility open up. There was a price to pay for this transcendence, but what we gained by this embrace was civilization and progress. (37)

As fast as we remake our tools, we remake ourselves. We are coevolving with our technology, and so we have become deeply depended upon it. …We are now symbiotic with technology. (37)

The clock divided an unbroken stream of time into measurable units, and once it had a face, time became a tyrant, ordering our lives. (40)

Technology will in the near and in the farther future increasingly turn from problems of intensity, substance, and energy, to problems of structure, organization, information, and control – John von Neumann

No longer a noun, technology was becoming a force — a vital spirit that throws us forward or pushes against us. Not a thing, but a verb. (41)

3. History of the Seventh Kingdom

Technology is not just a human invention; it was also born from life. (43)

The extended human is the technium. …Our technological creations are great extrapolations of the bodies that our genes build. …If technology is an extension of humans, it is not an extension of our genes but of our minds. Technology is therefore the extended body for ideas. (44)

The major transitions in the technium are:

Primate communication → Language
Oral lore → Writing/mathematical notation
Scripts → Printing
Book knowledge → Scientific method
Artisan production → Mass production
Industrial culture → Ubiquitous global communication

No transition in technology has affected our species, or the world at large, more than the first one, the creation of language. Language enabled information to be stored in a memory greater than an individual’s recall. …From a systems point of view, language enabled humans to adapt and transmit learning faster than genes. (47)

The invention of language marks the last major transformation in the natural world and also the first transformation in the manufactured world. Words, ideas, and concepts are the most complex things social animals (like us) make, and also the simplest foundation for any type of technology. Thus language bridges the two sequences of major transitions and unites them into one continuous sequence, so that natural evolution flows into technological evolution. (48)

With very few exceptions, technologies don’t die. In this way they differ from biological species, which in the long term inevitably go extinct. Technologies are idea based, and culture is their memory. They can be resurrected if forgotten, and can be recorded (by increasingly better means) so that they won’t be overlooked. Technologies are forever. They are the enduring edge of the seventh kingdom of life (56)

4. The Rise of Exotropy

Of all the sustainable things in the universe, from a planet to a star, from a daisy to an automobile, from a brain to an eye, the thing that is able to conduct the highest density of power — the most energy flowing through a gram of matter each second — lies at the core of your laptop. …Energywise, a Pentium chip may be better thought of as a very slow nuclear explosion. (59)

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that in the initial femtoseconds of creation there was only one thing in the universe, one superdense power that ruled all, and this solitary power expanded and cooled into thousands of variations of itself. The history of the cosmos thus proceeds from unity to diversity. (61)

While the rest of the material cosmos slips down to the frozen basement, only a few remarkable few will catch a wave of energy to rise up and dance. This rising flow of sustainable difference is the inversion of entropy. For the sake of this narrative, call it exotropy — a turning outward. …Exotropy can be thought of as a force in its own right that flings forward an unbroken sequence of unlikely existences. | Exotropy is neither wave nor particle, nor pure energy, nor supernatural miracle. It is an immaterial flow that is very much like information. Since exotropy is defined as negative entropy — the reversal of disorder — it is, by definition, an increase in order. …The best we can say is that exotropy resembles, but is not equivalent to, information and that it entails self-organization. (63)

We are steadily substituting intangible design, flexibility, innovation, and smartness for rigid, heavy atoms. In a very real sense our entry into a service- and idea- based economy is a continuation of a trend that began at the big bang. (68)

Despite the technium’s reputation for dumping hardware and material gizmos into our laps, the technium is the most intangible and immaterial process yet unleashed. …The powers of our minds can be only slightly increased by mindful self-reflection; thinking about thoughts will only make us marginally smarter. The power of the technium, however, can be increased indefinitely by reflecting its transforming nature upon itself. (68)

Technology’s dominance ultimately stems not from its birth in human minds but from its origin in the same self-organization that brought galaxies, planets, life, and minds into existence. It is part of a great asymmetrical arc that begins at the big bang and extend into ever more abstract and immaterial forms over time. The arc is the slow yet irreversible liberation from the ancient imperative of matter and energy. [VIA: to freedom? pure mind?]


5. Deep Progress

The steady destruction of good things and people seems relentless. And it is. (73)

But the steady stream of good things is relentless as well. …I think there is evidence that on average and over time, the new solutions outweigh the new problems. (74)

There is more good than evil in the world — but not by much – Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Unexpectedly, “not much” is all that’s needed when you have the leverage of compound interest at work — which is what the technium is. The world does not need to be perfectly utopian to see progress. …if we create only 1 percent or 2 percent (or even one-tenth of 1 percent) more positive stuff than we destroy, then we have progress. This differential could be so small as to be almost imperceptible, and this may be why progress is not universally acknowledged. When measured against the large-scale imperfections of our society, 1 percent better seems trivial. Yet this tiny, slim, shy discrepancy generates progress when compounded by the ratchet of culture. Over time a few percent “not much better” accumulates into civilization. (74)

I think there are five pools of evidence for this trend.

One is the long-term rise in the longevity, education, health, and wealth of an average person. (74)

[Two] is the obvious wave of positive technological development. (75)

Higher income earners are happier. Citizens in higher-earning countries tend to be more satisfied on average. | My interpretation of this newest research — which also matches our intuitive impressions — is that what money brings is increased choices, rather than merely increased stuff (although more stuff comes with the territory). We don’t find happiness in more gadgets and experiences. We do find happiness in having some control of our time and work, a chance for real leisure, in the escape from the uncertainties of war, poverty, and corruption, and in a chance to pursue individual freedoms — all of which come with increased affluence. (78)

I’ve been to many places in the world, the poorest and the richest spots, the oldest and the newest cities, the fastest and the slowest cultures, and it is my observation that when given a chance, people who walk will buy a bicycle, people who ride a bike will get a scooter, people riding a scooter will upgrade to a car, and those with a car dream of a plane. Farmers everywhere trade their ox plows for tractors, their gourd bowls for tin ones, their sandals for shoes. Always. Insignificantly few ever go back. (78)

[Three] resides in the moral sphere.

If the golden rule of morality and ethics is to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” then we are constantly expanding our notion of “others.” This is evidence for moral progress. (80)

[Four is] a large and still expanding body of scientific literature spotlights the immense distance life has traveled in its four-billion-year journey from extremely simple organisms to extremely complex and social animals. (80)

[Five] is the rush toward urbanization.

Cities are technological artifacts, the largest technology we make. (81)

Cities are wealth creators; they have always been. – Stewart Brand

The poor move into the city for the same reason the rich move into the technological future — to head toward possibilities and increased freedoms. (87)

A common misconception about human evolution is that historic tribes and prehistoric clans of early Sapiens achieved a level of egalitarian justice, freedom, liberty, and harmony that has only declined since then. in this view, the human inclination to make tools (and weapons) has only introduced trouble. Each new invention unleashes new power that can be concentrated, wielded asymmetrically, or corrupted, and therefore the history of civilization is one long devolution. By this account, human nature is fixed, unyielding. If that is true, then attempts to alter human nature will only lead to evil. (88)

The reality is the opposite. Human nature is malleable. We use our minds to change our values, expectations, and definition of ourselves. We have changed our nature since our hominin days, and once changed, we will continue to change ourselves even more. (89)

In all cultures prior to the 17th century or so, the quiet, incremental drift of progress was attributed to the gods, or to the one God. It wasn’t until progress was liberated from the divine and assigned to ourselves that it began to feed upon itself. (89) [VIA: ?]

Once you invent science — which allows you to quickly invent many things — you have a grand lever that can propel you forward very quickly. That’s what happened in the West starting approximately in the 17th century. Science catapulted society into a rapid learning. By the 18th century, science had launched the Industrial Revolution, and progress was noticeable in the growing spread of cities, increasing longevity and literacy, and the acceleration of future discoveries. (91)

Outside the reign of science and technology a growing population will collapse upon itself as it meets Malthusian limits. But inside the reign of science a growing population creates a positive feedback loop wherein more people participate in scientific innovation and purchase the results, driving more innovation, which brings better nutrition, more surplus, and more population, which feed the cycle further. (91)

Historian Niall Ferguson believes that on the global scale, the origins of progress lie only in expanding population. According to this theory, in order to elevate populations beyond Malthusian limits you need science, yet it is the increase in the number of humans that ultimately drives science, and then prosperity. In this virtuous circle more human minds invent more things and in turn buy more inventions, including tools, techniques, and methods that will support more humans. Therefore, more human minds equal more progress. (93)

Whether a population growth is the prime cause of progress or only a factor, population growth assists progress growth in two ways. First, a million individual minds applied to a problem are better than one. it’s more likely someone will find a solution. Second, and more important, science is a collective action, and the emergent intelligence of shared knowledge is often superior to even a million individuals. The solitary scientific genius is a myth. Science is both the way we personally know things and the way we collectively know. (93)

The future as unsoiled technological perfection is unattainable; the future as a territory of continuously expanding possibilities is not only attainable but also exactly the road we are on now. (101)

Progress is not some noxious by-product of the terminally optimistic, but simply part of our reality. – Simon Conway Morris

6. Ordained Becoming

We might think of the technium as “evolution accelerated.” (103)

I make the case in this chapter that the course of biological evolution is not a random drift in the cosmos, which is the claim of current textbook orthodoxy. Rather, evolution — and by extension, the technium — has an inherent direction, shaped by the nature of matter and energy. This direction introduces inevitabilities into the shape of life. (103)

But does the six-time independent self-assembly of the camera eye signal a supreme degree of improbability, sort of like tossing six million pennies in a row heads? Or does the multiple invention mean that the eye is a natural funnel that attracts evolution, like water in a well at the bottom of a valley? (104)

…it seems that life, at least as we know it on this planet, is almost indecently eager to evolve eyes …There are only so many ways to make an eye, and life as we know it may well have found them all. – Richard Dawkins

Are there certain forms — natural states — that evolution tends to gravitate toward? This question has immense bearing on the technium, because if evolution displays an attraction to universal solutions, then so will technology, its accelerated extension. (104)

With some perplexity biologists file in the bottom drawer of their desks an ever-growing list of identical phenomenon that have kept reappearing in life on Earth. They’re not sure what to do with these curious cases. But a few scientists believe these recurring inventions are biological “vortices,” or familiar patterns that emerge from the complex interactions in evolution. …Out of this exhaustive recombination, evolution keeps converging upon similar characteristics in far-flung branches in the tree of life. This attraction to recurring forms is called convergent evolution. (105)

The evolution of the ichthyosaur or porpoise morphology is not trivial. It can be correctly described as nothing less than astonishing that a group of land-dwelling tetrapods, complete with four legs and a tail, could devolve their appendages and their tails back into fins like those of a fish. Highly unlikely, if not impossible? Yet it happened twice, convergently in the reptiles and the mammals, two groups of animals that are not closely related. We have to go back in time as far as the Carboniferous to find a common ancestor for them; thus, their genetic legacies are very, very different. Nonetheless, the ichthyosaur and the porpoise both have independently re-evolved fins. – George McGhee in “Convergent Evolution”

If the same protein, or “contingent” form, is evolved twice, it is obvious that every step of the way cannot be random. The prime guidance for these parallel journeys is their common environment. (109)

…but why, then, doesn’t every similar desert in the world produce a kangaroo rat, or jerboa, and why aren’t all desert rodents some version of kangaroo rats? The orthodox answer is that evolution is a highly contingent process, where random events and pure luck change the course, so that even within parallel environments it is very rare to arrive at the same morphological solution. Contingency and luck are so strong in evolution that the marvel is that convergence ever happens. (110)

But a hundred, or a thousand, cases of isolated significant convergent evolution suggest something else at work. Some other force pushes the self-organization of evolution toward recurring solutions. A different dynamic besides the lottery of natural selection steers the course of evolution so that it can reach an unlikely remote destination more than once. It is not a supernatural force but a fundamental dynamic as simple at its core as evolution itself. And it is the same force that funnels convergence in technology and culture. | Evolution is driven toward certain recurring and inevitable forms by two pressures:

  1. The negative constraints cast by the laws of geometry and physics, which limit the scope of life’s possibilities.
  2. The positive constraints produced by the self-organizing complexity of interlinked genes and metabolic pathways, which generate a few repeating new possibilities. (11)

If we acknowledge no supernatural force working outside evolution, then all these structures — and more — must in some sense be contained within the structure of DNA. Where else could they come from? The details of all oak lineages and future species of oak are resident, in some fashion, in the original acorn of DNA. And if we acknowledge no supernatural force working outside evolution, then our minds — which all descended from the same original first cell — must also have been encoded implicitly in DNA. And if our minds, then what about the technium? (114)

Again and again evolution returns to a few solutions that work. (118)

The constraints of physics, chemistry, and geometry have governed life from its origins onward — and even into the technium …Life, rather than being boundless and unlimited in every direction, is bounded and limited in many directions by the nature of matter itself. | I will argue that the same constraints bind technology. (118)

In the old view, the internal (the source of mutation) created change, while the external ( the environmental source of adaptation) selected or directed it; in the new view, the external (physical and chemical constraints) creates forms, while the internal (self-organization) selects or directs them. (120)

…the creative engine of evolution stands on three legs: the adaptive (the classic agent), plus the contingent and the inevitable. (120)

It is almost as if life has an imperative. It “wants” to materialize certain patterns. Even the physical world seems biased in that direction. (125)

…the laws of nature are rigged in favor of life. …life emerges froma soup in the same dependable way that a crystal emerges from a saturated solution, with its final from [sic] (form?) predetermined by the interatomic forces. – Paul Davies

there are inherent properties in the atoms and molecules which seem to direct the synthesis [toward life] – Cyril Ponnamperuma

…not we the accidental but we the expected. The evolution of life, if it is based on a derivable physical principle, must be considered an inevitable process. – Manfred Eigen

Life is the product of deterministic forces. Life was bound to arise under the prevailing conditions, and it will arise similarly wherever and whenever the same conditions obtain … Life and mind emerge not as the result of freakish accidents, but as natural manifestations of matter, written into the fabric of the univers. – Christian de Duve

Instead of getting novelty each time, you get what one scientific paper calls “the convergence of multiple evolving lines on similar phenotypes.” (127)

Evolution can and does repeat itself at the levels of structures and patterns, as well as of individual genes … This repetition overthrows the notion that if we rewound and replayed this history of life, all outcomes would be different. – Sean Carroll

We can rewind the tape of life, and when we do in a constant environment, it often turns out roughly the same. (127)

The incredible complexity of life disguises its singularity. There is only one life. All life today is descended along an unbroken line of duplication from one ancient molecule that worked inside one primeval cell that worked. (127)

In this way, life is an inevitable improbability. And most of life’s archetypal forms and stages are also inevitable improbabilities, or, we might say, improbable inevitabilities. | This means that something like a human mind is also the improbable inevitability of evolution.

Homo sapiens is a tendency, not an entity.

Humanity is a process. Always was, always will be. Every living organism is on its way to becoming. And the human organism even more so, because among all living beings (that we know about) we are the most open-ended. We have just started our evolution as Homo spiens. As both parent and child of the technium — evolution accelerated — we are nothing more and nothing less than an evolutionary ordained becoming. (128)

The technium is a tendency, not an entity. The technium and its constituent technologies are more like a grand process than a grand artifact. Nothing is complete, all is in flux, and the only thing that counts is the direction of movement. So if the technium has a direction, where is it pointed? If the greater forms of technologies are inevitable, what is next? (128)

7. Convergence

not an electrical invention of any importance has been made but that the honor of its origin has been claimed by more than one person – Park Benjamin, “The Age of Electricity”

The whole history of inventions is one endless chain of parallel instances – Alfred Kroeber

While many people claim to believe the notion of technological determinism is wrong (in either sense of that word) they don’t act that way. No matter what they rationally think about inevitability, in my experience all inventors and creators act as if their own invention and discovery is imminently simultaneous. Every creator, inventor, and discoverer that I have known is rushing their ideas into distribution before someone else does, or they are in a mad hurry to patent before their competition does, or they are dashing to finish their masterpiece before something similar shows up. (140)

Because a lot of money swirls around Harry Potter we have discovered that, strange as it sounds, stories of boy wizards in magical schools with pet owls who enter their otherworlds through railway station platforms are inevitable at this point in Western culture. | Just as in technology, the abstract core of an art form will crystallize into any culture when the solvent is ready. (146)

Without a reliable time machine, there’ll be no indisputable proof, but we do have three types of evidence strongly suggesting that the paths of technologies are inevitable:

  1. In all times we find that most inventions and discoveries have been made independently by more than one person.
  2. In ancient times we find independent timelines of technology on different continents converging upon a set order.
  3. In modern times we find sequences of improvement that are difficult to stop, derail, or alter.

As technology invariably does, one invention prepares the ground for the next, and every corner of the technium evolves in a seemingly predetermined sequence. | In essence, the direction of technological development is the same anytime it happens. (151)

We can conclude that in historic times as well as in prehistory, technologies with globally distinct origins converge along the same developmental path. Independent of the different cultures that host it, or the diverse political systems that rule it, or the different reserves of natural resources that feed it, the technium develops along a universal path. The large-scale outlines of technology’s course are predetermined. (152)

Inventions are culturally determined – Alfred Kroeber

It means only that when all the required conditions generated by previous technologies are in place, the next technology can arise. (152)

Discoveries become virtually inevitable when prerequisite kinds of knowledge and tools accumulate – Robert Merton

The birth of any species depends on an ecosystem of other species in place to support, divert, and goad its metamorphosis. We call it coevolution because of the reciprocal influence of one species upon another. In the technium many discoveries await the invention of another technological species: the proper tool or platform. (153)

In addition to instruments and tools, a discovery needs the proper beliefs, expectations, vocabulary, explanation, know-how, resources, funds, and appreciation to appear. But these, too, are fueled by new technologies. | An invention or discovery that is too far ahead of its time is worthless; no one can follow. Ideally, an innovation opens up only the next adjacent step from what is known and invites the culture to move forward one hope. (153)

The technium’s inherent sequence makes leapfrogging ahead very difficult. (153)

Most of our brain’s activity is spent on primitive processes — like walking — that we can’t even perceive consciously. Instead, we are aware of only a thin, newly evolved layer of cognition that sits on and depends upon the reliable workings of older processes. you can’t do calculus unless you do counting. Likewise, you can’t do cell phones unless you do wires. You can’t do digital infrastructure unless you do industrial. (154)

Countries that failed to adopt old technologies are at a disadvantage when it comes to new ones. – The Economist

Just like the predominance of lower functions in our brains, industrial processes predominate in the technium, even though they are gilded with informational veneers. …As the technium progresses, it embeds information in materials, in the same way that information and order is embedded in the atoms of a DNA molecule. Advanced high technology is the seamless fusion of bits and atoms. It is adding intelligence to industry, rather than removing industry and leaving only information. | Technologies are like organisms that require a sequence of developments to reach a particular stage. …The progression of inventions is in many ways the march toward forms dictated by physics and chemistry in a sequence determined by the rules of complexity. We might call this technology’s imperative. (155)

8. Listen to the Technology

Moore’s Law has come to represent the principle of an accelerating future that underpins our expectations of the technium. (161)

Moore’s Law is really about economics. …[it] is really about people’s belief system, it’s not a law of physics, it’s about human belief, and when people believe in something, they’ll put energy behind it to make it come to pass. – Carver Mead

An unobserved constant operating in five distinct paradigms of technology for over a century must be more than an industry road map. It suggests that the nature of these ratios is baked deep into the fabric of the technium (165)

Whether Moore’s Law — as the count of transistor density — has one, two, or three decades left to zoom and drive our economy, we can be sure it will peter out as other past trends have by being sublimated into another rising trend. (169)

The slow demise of the more-transistors-per-chip trend is inevitable. But on average, digital technologies will roughly double in performance every two years for the foreseeable future. That means our most culturally important devices and systems will get faster, cheaper, better by 50 percent every year. Imagine if you got half again smarter every year or could remember 50 percent more this year than last. Embedded deep in the technium (as we now know it) is the remarkable capacity of half-again annual improvement. The optimism of our age rests on the reliable advance of Moore’s promise: that stuff will get significantly, seriously, desirably better and cheaper tomorrow. If the things we make will get better the next time, that means that the golden age is ahead of us, and not in the past. (171)

9. Choosing the Inevitable

Does any technology lurch forward on its own inertia as “a self-propelling, self-sustaining, ineluctable flow,” in the words of technology critic Langdon Winner, or do we have clear free-will choice in the sequence of technological change, a stance that makes us (individually or corporately) responsible for each step? (177)

…these two factors are cofactors in the strongest sense of the word — they determine each other. Your environment (like what you eat) can affect your genetic code, and your code will steer you into certain environments — making untangling the two influences a conundrum. (178)

So every new development in the technium is contingent upon the historical antecedents of previous technologies. In biology this effect is called coevolution… (179)

It is no coincidence that the triadic nature of the technium is the same as the triadic nature of biological evolution. (182)

But in the technium the adaptive function is not unconscious, as it is in natural selection. Instead it is open to human free will and choice. …In biological evolution there is no designer, but in the technium there is an intelligent designer — Sapiens. And of course, this conscious open design (shown as the top corner) is why the technium has become the most powerful force in the world. (183)

Humans are both master and slave to the technium, and our fate is to remain in this uncomfortable dual role. Therefore, we will always be conflicted about technology and find making our choices difficult. (187)

But our concern should not be about whether to embrace it. We are beyond embrace; we are already symbiotic with it. At a macroscale, the technium is following its inevitable progression. Yet at the microscale, volition rules. Our choice is to align ourselves with this direction, to expand choice and possibilities for everyone and everything, and to play out the details with grace and beauty. Or we can choose (unwisely, I believe0 to resist our second self. | The conflict that the technium triggers in our hearts is due to our refusal to accept our nature — the truth is that we are continuous with the machines we create. We are self-made humans, our own best invention. When we reject technology as a whole, it is a brand of self-hatred. (188)

We trust in nature, but we hope in technology – Brian Arthur

That hope lies in embracing our own natures. By aligning ourselves with the imperative of the technium, we can be more prepared to steer it where we can and more aware of where we are going. By following what technology wants, we can be more ready to capture its full gifts. (188)


10. The Unabomber Was Right

…the aeroplane will help peace in more ways than one — in particular I think it will have a tendency to make war impossible. – Orville Wright, 1917

My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions – Alfred Nobel

Radio will serve to make the concept of Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men a reality. – General James Harbord, 1925

Someday we will build up a world telephone system, making necessary to all peoples the use of a common language or common understanding of languages, which will join all the people of the Earth into one brotherhood. There will be heard throughout the Earth a great voice coming out of the ether which will proclaim, “Peace on Earth, good will towards men.” – John J. Carty

Each new form of communication, from the telegraph and telephone to radio, film, television and the internet, has been heralded as the guarantor of free speech and the unfettered movement of ideas. – David Nye

It is not that all these inventions are without benefits — even benefits toward democracy. Rather, it’s the case that each new technology creates more problems than it solves. (192)

Problems are the answers to solutions – Brian Arthur

How much of what we readily identify as “progress” in the urban-industrial society is really the undoing of evils inherited from the last round of technological innovation? – Theodore Roszak

If we embrace technology, we need to confront its costs. (193)

Our ability to impact has expanded beyond our ability to care. (193)

As the most powerful force in the world, technology tends to dominate our thinking. Because of its ubiquity, it monopolizes any activity and questions any nontechnological solution as unreliable or impotent. (193)

Once the machine is built we discover, always to our surprise — that it has ideas of its own; that it is quite capable not only of changing our habits but … of changing our habits of mind. – Neil Postman

Since we can detect no limit to how biophilic technology can become, this open-ended horizon indicates to us that the nature of technology is inherently prolife. The technium is, at its most fundamental level, potentially compatible with life. It just needs to grow into that potential. (196)

Insofar as men pour their own life into the apparatus, their own vitality is that much diminished. The transference of human energy and character leaves men empty, although they may never acknowledge the void. – Langdon Winner

As machines take over more of what humans once did, we tend to do less of the familiar. (197)

Duplicating vital human capacities can have one of only two consequences: atrophying the capacities or creating competition between Homo sapiens and machine. Neither of these is savory to self-respecting members of the former. – Eric Brende

Technology chips away at our human dignity, calling into question our role in the world and our own nature. (197)

About 10,000 years ago, humans passed a tipping point where our ability to modify the biosphere exceeded the planet’s ability to modify us. That threshold was the beginning of the technium. We are at a second tipping point where the technium’s ability to alter us exceeds our ability to alter the technium. (197)

…baked into the nature of this vast complex of technological systems are self-serving aspects — technologies that enable more technology, and systems that preserve themselves — as well as inherent biases that lead the technium in certain direction, outside human desire. (198)

As best I understand, the Unabomber’s argument goes like this:

  • Personal freedoms are constrained by society, as they must be in any civilization for the sake of order.
  • The stronger that technology makes the society, the less individual freedom there is.
  • Technology destroys nature, strengthening itself further.
  • But because it is destroying nature, the technium will ultimately collapse.
  • In the meantime, the ratchet of technological self-amplification is stronger than politics.
  • Using technology to try to tame the system only strengthens the technium.
  • Because it cannot be tamed, technological civilization must be destroyed rather than reformed.
  • Since it cannot be destroyed by technology or politics, humans must push the technium toward its inevitable self-collapse.
  • Then we should pounce on it when it is down and kill it before it rises again.

It is easy to sympathize with Kaczynski’s plight as a dissenter. you politely try to escape the squeeze of technological civilization by retreating to its furthest reaches, where you establish a relatively techno-free lifestyle — and then the beast of civilization/development/industrial technology stalks you and destroys your paradise. Is there no escape? The machine is ubiquitous! It is relentless! It must be stopped! (202)

Kaczynski argues that it is impossible to escape the ratcheting clutches of industrial technology for several reasons: one, because if you use any part of the technium, the system demands servitude; two, because technology does not “reverse” itself, never releasing what is in its hold; and three, because we don’t have a choice of what technology to use in the long run. (203)

The problem is that Kaczynski’s most basic premise, the first axiom in his argument, is not true. The Unabomber claims that technology robs people of freedom. But most people of the world find the opposite. They gravitate toward technology because they recognize that they have more freedoms when they are empowered with it. They (that is, we) realistically weigh the fact that yes, indeed, some options are closed off when adopting new technology, but many others are opened, so that the net gain is an increase in freedom, choices, and possibilities. (207)

Kaczynski confused latitude with freedom. (208)

If technology is so rotten, why do we keep grabbing it, even after Ted Kaczynski has exposed its true nature? …One theory: The technium’s rampant materialism outlaws greater meaning in life by focusing our spirits on stuff. (213)

“Needing more to be satisfied less” is one definition of addiction. (213)

Perhaps we are addicted to the dopamine rush of the new. (213) All addictions are fixed by effecting change not in the offending pleasure but in the person addicted. …In the end they are liberated not by changing the nature of television, the internet, gambling machines, or alcohol but by changing their relation to it. Those who overcome addictions do so by assuming power over their powerlessness. If the technium is an addiction, we can’t solve this addiction by trying to change the technium. (214)

A variant of this explanation is that we are addicted but unaware of our addiction. We are bewitched. Hypnotized by glitter. …a consensual hallucination… (214) But by this logic we should expect the least technologically cultured people to be the least duped and to be the most aware of the plainly visible dangers. …On the other hand, it is often the most technologically mediated people, those experts driving Priuses, blogging, and twittering, who “see” or believe in the presence of the technium’s spell. This reversal does not add up for me. (215)

That leaves one remaining theory: We willingly choose technology, with its great defects an obvious detriments, because we unconsciously calculate its virtues. In an entirely wordless calculus, we note the addictions in others, the degradations in the environment, the distractions in our own lives, the confusion about character that various technologies generate, and then we sum these up against the benefits. I don’t believe this is a wholly rational procedure; I think we also tell each other stories about technology, and these are added in with as much weight as the pluses and minuses. But in a real way we do a risk-benefit analysis. …And most of the time, after we’ve weighed downsides and upsides in the balance of our experience, we find that technology offers a great benefit, but not by much. In other words, we freely choose to embrace it — and pay the price. (215)

To improve our chances of making better decisions, we need — I almost hate to say it — more technology. The way to reveal the full costs of technology and deflate its hype is with better information tool and processes. (215)

Finally, a true articulation of each particular technology’s vices will allow us to see that our embrace of the technium is done willingly, and is neither an addiction nor a spell. (216)

11. Lessons of Amish Hackers

…while an “Amish website” sounds like the punch line to a joke, there are actually quite a few of them. (222)

No looming decision is riveting the Amish themselves as much as the question of whether they should accept cell phones. (223)

For people who live off the grid, without TV, internet, or books beyond one Bible, the Amish are perplexingly well informed. (223)

We don’t want to stop progress, we just want to slow it down – one Amish man

  1. They are selective. They know how to say no and are not afraid to refuse new things. They ignore more than they adopt.
  2. They evaluate new things by experience instead of by theory. They let the early adopters get their jollies by pioneering new stuff under watchful eyes.
  3. They have criteria by which to make choices: Technologies must enhance family and community and distance themselves from the outside world.
  4. The choices are not individual but communal. The community shapes and enforces technological direction.

In short, the Amish depend on the outside world for the way they currently live. Their choice of minimal technology adoption is a choice — but a choice enabled by the technium. Their lifestyle is within the technium, not outside it. (231)

I highly recommend elective poverty and minimalism as a fantastic education, not least because it will help you sort out your technology priorities. But I have observed that simplicity’s fullest potential requires that one consider minimalism one phase of many (even if a recurring phase, as is meditation or the Sabbath). …The honest truth is that as the technium explodes with new self-made options, we find it harder to find fulfillment. How can we be fulfilled when we don’t know what is being filled? (233)

I believe these two different routes for technological lifestyle — either optimizing contentment or optimizing choices — come down to very different ideas of what humans are to be. (233)

Technology is anything that was invented after you were born. – Alan Kay

We have domesticated our humanity as much as we have domesticated our horses. …We know that genetically our bodies are changing faster now than at any time in the past million years. …We need new jobs in part because we are new people at our core. | We are different physical beings from our ancestors. (235)

The more advanced the technology, on the whole, the more possible it is for a considerable number of human beings to imagine being somebody else. – David Riesman, 1950

Our mission as humans is not only to discover our fullest selves in the technium, and to find full contentment, but to expand the possibilities for others. Greater technology will selfishly unleash our talents, but it will also unselfishly unleash others: our children, and all children to come. (237)

I owe the Amish hackers a large debt because through their lives I now see the technium’s dilemma very clearly: To maximize our own contentment, we seek the minimum amount of technology in our lives. Yet to maximize the contentment of others, we must maximize the amount of technology in the world. Indeed, we can only find our own minimal tools if others have created a sufficient maximum pool of options we can choose from. The dilemma remains in how we can personally minimize stuff close to us while trying to expand it globally. (238)

12. Seeking Conviviality

So the whole question comes down to this: Can the human mind master what the human mind has made? – Paul Valery

Very few great ideas start out headed toward the greatness they eventually achieve. That means that projecting what harm may come from a technology before it “is” is almost impossible. | With few exceptions technologies don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. (244)

One year after Edison constructed the first phonograph, he was still trying to figure out what his invention might be used for. Edison knew more about this invention than anyone, but his speculations were all over the map. He thought his idea might birth dictation machines or audiobooks for the blind or talking clocks or music boxes or spelling lessons or recording devices for dying words or answering machines. In a list he drew up of possible uses for the phonograph, Edison added at the end, almost as an afterthought, the idea of playing recorded music. | Lasers were developed to industrial strength to shoot missiles down, but they are made in the billions primarily to read bar codes and movie DVDs. Transistors were created to replace vacuum tubes in room-sized computers, but most transistors manufactured today fill the tiny brains in cameras, phones, and communication equipment. Mobile phones began as…well, mobile phones. And for the first few decades that’s what they were. But in its maturity, cell-phone technology is becoming a mobile computing platform for tablets, e-books, and video players. Switching occupations is the norm for technology. (244)

The greater the number of ideas and technologies already in the world, the more possible combinations an secondary reactions there will be when we introduce a new one. Forecasting consequences in a technium where millions of new ideas are introduced each year becomes mathematically intractable. (245)

We make prediction more difficult because our immediate tendency is to imagine the new thing doing an old job better. (245)

Technologies shift as they thrive. They are remade as they are used. They unleash second- and third-order consequences as they disseminate. And almost always, they bring completely unpredicted effects as they near ubiquity. (246)

If we examine technologies honestly, each one has its faults as well as its virtues. There are no technologies without vices and none that are neutral. …The greater the promise of a new technology, the greater its potential for harm as well.  …If a new technology is likely to birth a never-before-seen benefit, it will also likely birth a never-before-seen problem. (246)

The obvious remedy for this dilemma is to expect the worst…the Precautionary Principle. (246) When an innovation appears, we should pause. (247) | Unfortunately, …

The precautionary principle is very, very good for one thing — stopping technological process. – Max More

We must challenge the Precautionary Principle not because it leads in bad directions, but because read for all it is worth, it leads in no direction at all. – Cass R. Sunstein

In general the Precautionary Principle is biased against anything new. (250)

Technology always does more than we intend; we know this so well that it has actually become part of our intentions – Langdon Winner

Technologies are nearly living things. Like all evolving entities, they must be tested in action, by action. (254)

The principle of constant engagement is called the Proactionary Principle. …The five proactions are:

  1. Anticipation
  2. Continual Assessment
  3. Prioritization of Risks, Including Natural Ones
  4. Rapid Correction of Harm
  5. Not Prohibition but Redirection

We have the choice of how we treat our creations, where we place them, and how we train them with our values. The most helpful metaphor for understanding technology may be to consider humans as the parents of our technological children. (257)

The more autonomy our children (technological as well as biological) have, the more freedom they have to make mistakes. Our children’s ability to create a disaster (or create a masterpiece) may even exceed our own, which is why parenting is both the most frustrating and the most rewarding thing we can do. (258)

As in raising our children, the real question — and disagreement — lies in what values we want to transmit over generations. This is worth discussing, and I suspect that, as in real life, we won’t all agree on the answers. (262)

The message of the technium is that any choice is way better than no choice. That’s why technology tends to tip the scales slightly toward the good, even though it produces so many problems. … It compounds the good in the world because in addition to the direct good it brings, the arc of the technium keeps increasing choices, possibilities, freedom, and free will in the world, and that is an even greater good. (263)

In the end, technology is a type of thinking: a technology is a thought expressed. Not all thoughts or technologies are equal. Clearly, there are silly theories, wrong answers, and dumb ideas. While a military laser and Gandhi’s act of civil disobedience are both useful works of human imagination and thus both technological, there is a difference between the two. Some possibilities restrict future choices, and some possibilities are pregnant with other possibilities. | However, the proper response to a lousy idea is not to stop thinking. It is to come up with a better idea. Indeed, we should prefer a bad idea to no ideas at all, because a bad idea can at least be reformed, while not thinking offers no hope. (263)

Convivial is a great word whose roots mean “compatible with life.” (263)

But I am convinced by my study of the technium’s imperative that conviviality resides not in the nature of a particular technology but in the job assignment, in the context, in the expression we construct for the technology. (264) [VIA: This sounds awesomely parallel to John Walton’s work on the “functional ontology” of Genesis.]


13. Technology’s Trajectories

So what does technology want? Technology wants what we want — the same long list of merits we crave. When a technology has found its ideal role in the world, it becomes an active agent in increasing the options, choices, and possibilities of others. (269)

I propose that the greater the number of exotropic traits we observe in a particular expression of technology, the greater its inevitability and its conviviality. (270)

Extrapolated, technology wants what life wants:

Increasing efficiency
Increasing opportunity
Increasing emergence
Increasing complexity
Increasing diversity
Increasing specialization
Increasing ubiquity
Increasing freedom
Increasing mutualism
Increasing beauty
Increasing sentience
Increasing structure
Increasing evolvability

It may seem like I am painting a picture of a supernatural force, akin to a pantheistic spirit roaming the universe. But what I am outlining is almost the opposite. Like gravity, this force is embedded in the fabric of matter and energy. It follows the path of physics and obeys the ultimate law of entropy. The force that is waiting to erupt into the technologies of the technium was first pushed by exotropy, built up by self-organization, and gradually thrown from the inert world into life, and from life into minds, and from minds into the creation of our minds. It is an observable force found in the intersection of information, matter, and energy, and it can be repeated and measured, though it has only recently been surveyed. (273)

COMPLEXITY. Creation moves from the ultimate simplicity after the big bang to a slow buildup of molecules in a few hot spots til the first tiny spark of life appears, and then an ever-increasing parade of more complex beings, from single cells to monkeys, and then the rush from simple brains to complex technology. (274)

In other words, complexity preceded biology. (275) [VIA: This sounds metaphysical.]

Nature will sometimes simplify, but it rarely devolves down a level. (277)

The long arc of complexity began before evolution, worked through the four billion years of life, and now continues through the technium. (282)

Technologies have a social dimension beyond their mere mechanical performance. We adopt new technologies largely because of what they do for us, but also in part because of what they mean to us. Often we refuse to adopt technology for the same reason: because of how the avoidance reinforces or shapes our identity. (291)

SPECIALIZATION. As we look into the future, specialization will continue to increase. (294) Technology is born in generality and grows to specificity. (296)

UBIQUITY. From the perspective of the planetary biosphere, the most ubiquitous technology on Earth is agriculture. …The second most plentiful planetary technology is roads and buildings. (297) Usually what happens to a ubiquitous technology is that it disappears. (300)

In addition to a deep embeddedness, ubiquity also breeds certainty. (303) [VIA: I wonder if this has also affected modern philosophical “certitude?”]

In essence, the haves fund the evolution of technology for the have-laters. (305)

The significant threshold of technological development lies at the boundary between commonplace and ubiquity, between the have-laters and the “all have.” (306)

If you want to worry about something, don’t worry about the folks who are currently offline. they’ll stampede on faster than you think. Instead you should worry about what we are going to do when everyone is online. When the internet has six billion people, and they are all e-mailing at once, when no one is disconnected and always on day and night, when everything is digital and nothing offline, when the internet is ubiquitous. That will produce unintended consequences worth worrying about.

FREEDOM. Some theoretical physicists, including Freeman Dyson, argue that free will occurs in atomic particles, and therefore free choice was born in the great fire of the big bang and has been expanding ever since. (307)

The only mathematical or logical option left is free will. The particle simple chooses in a way that is indistinguishable from the tiniest quantum bit of free will. (307)

Where there are free wills there are mistakes. …In other words, technology teaches us how to make innovative kinds of mistakes we could not make before. (309)

MUTUALISM. More than half of the living species on this planet are parasitic. …Parasitism is just a single degree along a wide continuum of mutualism. (311)

  1. As life evolves, it becomes increasingly dependent on other life.
  2. As life evolves, nature creates more opportunities for dependencies between species.
  3. As life evolves, possibilities for cooperation between members of the same species increase.

Human life is immersed in all three mutualisms. First, we are remarkably dependent on other life for survival. We eat plants and other animals. Second, there is no other species on this planet that uses the variety and number of other living species that we do to stay healthy and prosperous. And third, we are famously a social animal, requiring others of our species to raise us, teach us how to survive, and keep us sane. In this way our life is deeply symbiotic; we live inside of other life. (312)

The technium is moving toward increased symbiosis between humans and machines. (313)

Sharing serves as the foundation for the next higher level of communal engagement: cooperation. (315)

Evolution engineers mutualism into biology because its benefits are win-win. Individuals gain and the group gains. (315)

The drift toward mutualism in the technium is moving us toward an old dream: to maximize both individual human autonomy and the power of people working together. (316)

BEAUTY. Most evolved things are beautiful, and the most beautiful are the most highly evolved. (317)

We think with the objects we love, and we love the objects we thing with – Sherry Turkle

Our technophilia is driven by the inherent beauty of the technium. (323)

Technology does not want to remain utilitarian. It wants to become art, to be beautiful and “useless.” (324)

I am willing to bet that in the not-too-distant future the magnificence of certain patches of the technium will rival the splendor of the natural world. We will rhapsodize about this or that technology’s charms and marvel at its subtlety. We will travel to it with children in tow to sit in silence beneath its towers. (325)

SENTIENCE. Technology wants mindfulness. (328)

  1. Mind infiltrates matter as ubiquitously as possible.
  2. Exotropy continues to organize more complex types of intelligences.
  3. Sentience diversifies into as many types of minds as possible.

If the technium continues to prevail, some level of sentience will find its way into everything it creates. (329)

The technium’s job is to invent a million, or a billion, varieties of comprehension. | This is not as mystical as it sounds. Minds are highly evolved ways of structuring the bits of information that form reality. (333)

STRUCTURE. We are accumulating information so rapidly that it is the fastest increasing quantity on this planet. (334)

Despite its own rhetoric, science is not built to increase either the “truthfulness” or the total volume of information. It is designed to increase the order and organization of knowledge we generate about the world. …”Truth” is really only a measure of how well specific facts can be built upon, extended, and interconnected. (335)

We casually talk about the “discovery of America” in 1492 or the “discovery of gorillas” in 1856 or the “discovery of vaccines” in 1796 …These supposed “discoveries” seem imperialistic and condescending — and often are. …They “discovered” previously locally known knowledge by adding it to the growing pool of structured global knowledge. Nowadays we would call that accumulating of structured knowledge science. (335-336)

The reason science absorbs local knowledge and not the other way around is because science is a machine we have invented to connect information. It is built to integrate new knowledge with the web of the old. If a new insight is presented with too many “facts” that don’t fit into what is already known, then the new knowledge is rejected until those facts can be explained. (This is an oversimplification of Thomas Kuhn’s theory of the overthrow of scientific paradigms.) A new theory does not need to have every unexpected detail explained (and rarely does) but it must be woven to some satisfaction into the established order. Every strand of conjecture, assumption, observation is subject to scrutiny, testing, skepticism, and verification. (337)

Each strand of enlightenment enhances not only the facts of gorillas, but also the strength of the whole cloth of human knowledge. The strength of those connections is what we call truth. (337)

Currently science has no way to accept these strands of spiritual information and weave them into the current consilience, and so their truth remains “undiscovered.” (337)

The evolution of knowledge began with relatively simple arrangements of information. the most simple organization was the invention of the fact. Facts, in fact, were invented. Not by science but by the European legal system, in the 1500s. …This complex apparatus for relating new information to old knowledge is what we call science. | The scientific method is not one uniform “method.” It is a collection of scores of techniques and processes that has evolved over centuries (and continues to evolve). Each method is one small step that incrementally increases the unity of knowledge in society. (338)

The achievement of science is to discover new things; the evolution of science is to organize the discoveries in new ways. …The thrust of the technium’s trajectory is to further organize the avalanche of information and tools we are generating and to increase the structure of the made world. (340)

EVOLVABILITY. So evolution generates complexity and diversity and millions of beings to give itself material and room to evolve into a more powerful evolver. | If we think of each living species as an answer to the question “How does something survive in this environment?,” then evolution is a formula that provides concrete answers that are embodied in matter and energy. We might say that evolution is a search method for living solutions; it searches by endlessly trying out possibilities until it finds a design that works. (341-342)

If what minds are good for is learning and adaptation, then learning how to learn will accelerate your learning. So the presence of sentience in life vastly increased its evolvability. | Technology is how human minds explore the pace of possibilities and change the methods of searching for solutions. (342)

This is simply more than simply the most powerful force in the world; the evolution of evolution is the most powerful force in the universe. (344)

14. Playing the Infinite Game

The technium is reinventing us, but does any of this complicated technology make us any better as humans? Are there any manifestations of human thought anywhere than [sic (that?)] can make men better? (348)

How can technology make a person better? Only in this way: by providing each person with chances. A chance to excel at the unique mixture of talents he or she was born with, a chance to excel at the unique mixture of talents he or she was born with, a chance to encounter new ideas and new minds, a chance to be different from his or her parents, a chance to create something his or her own. (348)

Choice works best when it has values to guide it. | …Choices without values yield little, this is true; but values without choices are equally dry. We need the full spectrum of choices won by the technium to unleash our own maximum potential. (348)

Popular culture wrongly fixates on proven star roles as the destiny of anyone successful. In fact, those positions of prominence and stardom can be prisons, straitjackets defined by how someone else excelled. (349)

Ideally, we would find a position of excellence tailored specifically for everyone born. | However, if we fail to enlarge the possibilities for other people, we diminish them, and that is unforgivable. Enlarging the scope of creativity for others, then, is an obligation. We enlarge others by enlarging the possibilities of the technium — by developing more technology and more convivial expressions of it. (349) [VIA: משפט]

Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries – James Carse

If there is a God, the arc of the technium is aimed right at him. (354)

I bring up God here at the end because it seems unfair to speak about autocreation without mentioning God — the paragon of autocreation. The only other alternative to an endless string of creations triggered by previous creation is a creation that emerges from its own self-causation. That prime self-causation, which is not preceded but instead first makes itself before it makes either time or nothingness, is the most logical definition of God. This view of a mutable God does not escape the paradoxes of self-creation that infect all levels of self-organization, but rather it embraces them as necessary paradoxes. God or not, self-creation is a mystery. (355)

What I hope I have shown in this book is that a single thread of self-generation ties the cosmos, the bios, and the technos together into one creation. Life is less a miracle than a necessity for matter and energy. The technium is less an adversary to life than its extension. Humans are not the culmination of this trajectory but an intermediary, smack in the middle between the born and the made. (356)

For several thousand years, humans have looked to the organic world, the world of the living, for clues about the nature of creation and even of a creator. Life was a reflection of the divine. Humans in particular were deemed to be made in the image of God. But if you believe humans are made in the image of God, the autocreator, then we have done well, because we have just birthed our own creation: the technium. (356)

As we turn from the galaxies to the swarming cells of our own being, which toil for something, some entity beyond their grasp, let us remember man, the self-fabricator who came across an ice age to look into the mirrors and magic of science. Surely he did not come to see himself or his wild visage only. He came because he is at heart a listener and a searcher for some transcendent realm beyond himself. – Loren Eiseley

The universe knew we were coming – Freeman Dyson

When we alter the genetics in our veins, will this not reroute our sense of a soul? Can we cross over into the quantum realm, where one bit of matter can be in two places at once, and still not believe in angels? (358)

Look what is coming: Technology is stitching together all the minds of the living, wrapping the planet in a vibrant cloak of electronic nerves, entire continents of machines conversing with one another, the whole aggregation watching itself through a million cameras posted daily. How can this not stir that organ in us that is sensitive to something larger than ourselves?

For as long as the wind has blown and the grass grown, people have sat beneath trees in the wilderness for enlightenment — to see God. They have looked to the natural world for a hint of their origins. In the filigree of fern and feather they find a shadow of an infinite source. Even those who have no use for God study the evolving world of the born for clues to why we are here. For most people, nature is either a happy long-term accident or a very detailed reflection of its creator. For the latter, every species can be read as a four-billion-year-long encounter with God. (358)

Yet we can see more of God in a cell phone than in a tree frog. …Someday we may believe the most convivial technology we can make is not a testament to human ingenuity but a testimony of the holy. (358)

— VIA —

Brilliant. Part cultural anthropology, part philosophy, part history, quite a bit of journalism, …and all brilliant insight into the human condition. There are moments of feeling transcendent when reading this book, and there are moments of pure awe.

No doubt people of faith will have a difficult time with this book, but it is why I add this to my blog. Monotheists, — or people of any belief or sense of the transcendent — need to embrace this book, and the ideas in it as Jacob embraced the angel at Bethel, and refuse to let it go until he received a blessing. And like Jacob, you may ask for its name. You may ask for a way to reduce the technium to an entity you can easily identify, control, and manipulate. And like the angel, the technium will simply ask you why you ask.

And hopefully, as you understand what technology wants, it will radically transform what you want, what you desire, how you perceive the human condition, the soul, and ultimately, how you live.