Saturday, May 7, 2011

Kevin Kelly: The Technium vs The Singularity 1

Kevin Kelly questions the popular view of technological singularity.  Why?  At face value, when one reads his writings it would seem that be believes in some form of singularity.

Can humans transcend themselves and still remain human?  Kelly says no.  Humans can transcend certain of their limitations, but to transcend all their limitations, would be a contradiction and still remain human.

Kindle eBook
Common Tech Problems,
Windows, OS X

The Technium
To Kelly, the Technium involves all tools and technological inventions since the dawn of man's history.  In one place, he calls it "...the whole adaptive system of technology and culture."  It did not begin with the age of the Internet or of computers.  Kelly originates this technium back to the Big Bang, predating the formation of the Earth.  Of course by his definition, he would seem to believe that there is a universal "mind" that began, since the Big Bang to make "useful" things.  In this area he is very close to Terence McKenna's view of an evolving complexity directed by some evolutionary mind.  Yet Kelly's views are not identical to McKenna's Omega Point.

In fact Kelly agrees with Ted Kaczynski, aka, the Unabomber on one critical issue - technology is a "...dynamic holistic system."  When Kelly refers to technology as "wanting" anything, he means that it has tendencies towards certain things.   It has in a sense, a mind.   Kelly quotes Kaczynski's critical point as to how technology behaves.
It is not possible to make a LASTING compromise between technology and freedom, because technology is by far the more powerful social force and continually encroaches on freedom through REPEATED compromises. Another reason why technology is such a powerful social force is that, within the context of a given society, technological progress marches in only one direction; it can never be reversed. Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it.
Kaczynski's writings, have become an inspiration to an entire school of thought which is set against technology, called by many, Anarcho-Primitivism.  To those who are too young to remember who he was, or who have forgotten the details of his case we include part of an ABC News 20/20 segment on Kaczynski to revive the memory.  If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link:

Of course, the critical point where Kelly disagrees with the Unabomber is as to whether technology in its demands that individuals give up their privacy, provides less or more freedom to the individual.  To Kelly, it does, to the Unabomber, it doesn't.  Kelly states,
The Unabomber claims that technology robs people of freedom. But most people of the world find the opposite. They gravitate towards venues of increasing technology because they recognize 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 a plus of freedom, choices, and possibilities.
So what is the this technium Kelly speaks of?  He, defines the technium as,
...anything useful that a mind makes.  It does not even have to be a human mind, any mind.  So, that includes not just the gadgets, but it also includes the law, our writing, many aspects of civilization are part of the technium.  It's not just hardware.  I go on to say that in fact the greatest technology humans have ever invented is humanity itself.  We domesticated ourselves.  We turned ourselves into part of the technium because we cannot live as a species.  We cannot live without technology.  We've invented ourselves and it's our greatest invention so far.  Technology as a whole is deterministic.  It has an agenda.  There are certain aspects of it that are inevitable.  What our choices are, is, in how convivial we make them, whether we make them open or closed, whether we make them evolvable (or not), whether we make them prone to diversity (or not), so we have choices in the character of these technologies and not necessarily whether we have technologies (or not).
I am a little bit allergic to the idea of the Omega Point, that there is a single destiny. I am much more of a pluralist. I think that when evolution brings us - variety. We forget the fact that every living species that is alive today is as highly evolved as any other one.
Kevin Kelly 11/3/10
Kelly proposes a "pro-action approach to technology.  By this he means, that people have to use things in order to find out about them.  Kelly disagrees with the idea that we can control technology, a la science fiction debates as to whether humanity is ready for certain technological advances or not.  To Kelly, technology is a "cosmic force."  Kelly continues, this exotropic force, a force of self-organization, that is running through galaxies, stars and planets, runs through life and is extended into technology and that self-organizing living force is what we are having to ride.  What we're doing with the web is actually making a very large scale global organism that in a few decades, or so, we will be able to identify as an organism in every sense of the word.
Kelly also sees the technium affecting our evolutionary development, speeding it up.  He in this area falls within the minority camp of a certain view of evolution that has not been adopted by the majority of biologists.
...for many years the dogma was that evolution was offloaded from the genes into culture, that our bodies stopped evolving because culture took it over, but in fact it turns out that genetically we actually are accelerating in our evolution, that our genes are evolving faster because of technology.  Reading and writing permanently rewires the brain.  It's for sure we'll  see (with enough evidence) that people who use google and offload their memory to the cloud will affect our we are absolutely changing ourselves.
In our next installment in this series, we shall further discuss the technium and how it differs from McKenna's Omega Point and Kurzweil's Singularity. 

No comments: