The stimulus for this post comes from Greg Satell's piece on the Evolution of Intelligence. The work starts off quite nicely by posing critical questions about intelligence and then extending it into the machinic domain. Admirably, it does not shy back from some of the harder implications:
Nevertheless, intelligence is something we admire, both in ourselves and in others. It has been considered for most of history, to be a uniquely human virtue. So it is unnerving, even terrifying, when we encounter other types of intelligence. From crowdsourcing to computers performing human tasks, we’re going to have to learn to make our peace.The terror that the author describes has been of particular interest to me along with any ideas that point to the decentration of the human position (1, 2, 3, 4). Thus, it was all the more disheartening when the author acquiesced to the popular human tendency to flee such tension with his closing remark:
In the future, our world will driven by machine intelligence, but our choices will remain our own.
Interestingly, Satell's defense of his position through the use of Steven Johnson is all the more confusing when one examines the latter's claims. Johnson, a brilliant thinker and writer on a vast array of technologically related topics, has recently released a new book, Future Perfect, that seems to demonstrate the exact opposite of 'free personal choice.' In its place, one achieves the "peer progressive." To quote Johnson:
Inspired in many cases by the decentralization of the Internet, the movement uses the peer network as its organizing principle, with no single individual or group "in charge."Thus, it is unclear how--to use Satell's words--these "faceless masses" of decentralized networks propagating themselves with the very hardware that embodies the terrifying foreign intelligences could possibly uphold the individual wills of its constituents. The etymological parallels between decentration and decentralization should speak to the absurdity of this perspective.
Satell's claim that human intent may still exists in these networks seems more coherent. Yet, the folk conceptions of 'humanity' or any conception that can even marginally suggest the possibility of primitivism is certainly not a part of this coherence. Human without machine is a fantastical concept that, at best, belies mankind's over-attachment to their own personal meat puppets. Thus, when taken with a more sophisticated conception of the human-machine system, Satell's observation about intent is almost entirely devoid of content. Human intent is machine intent as there is no distinction of kind.
What it takes to "make our peace" with this budding new era of the 'peer progressive' is not an appeal to such time honoured ideas as "choice," but rather the annihilation of obsolete ideas like individuality, humanity, and even intelligence. There has never been an individual apart from the group, a human apart from their technologies, or an intellect apart from the vast collection of systems (e.g., emotion) that support and motivate it. These false dichotomies, though real and relevant in past characterizations of the world, hinder the current development of the species, if not its progress. It is not my goal to oppose them for that would simply perpetuate the dichotomy. Instead, I hope to indicate that we already know what they lead to and where they lead is not useful in a network-centric world.
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