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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fear Not, The Technium Will Save Us!

Do you enjoy getting confused? If so, read on. Today's blog will certainly satisfy your taste.

I recently received a book from my son Nathan. He said he had just finished it and wanted me to read it. And so I have been doing just that this past week. My, oh my, oh my. The book is What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly.

In his daily blog, The Technium,  Kelly writes, 
"I've promised that my recent book, What Technology Wants, will be my last paper-native book. From now on my new books will be born digital. At the same time I am trying to move my existing books into as many ebook formats as possible. I am discovering this is easier said than done. Standards are slippery, conversion tools are sloppy, and there is much hand crafting and tweaking needed. . . "
I am about 1/3 through the paper edition of Kelly's book and struggling. As I read along I inevitably find myself asking, Who or what is this guy's 'god'? Chance? Luck? Technology? Evolution? Homo Sapiens? Natural law? Philosophy? Progress? The universe? Information? Science? Reason? The collective mind? Yes. All of it, wrapped up in what he calls the technium.

He bounces all over the place. One dare not look to him for a consistent use of language and terms or carefully defined meanings. I'm more than confused by what it is he is trying to say.  His terms have assumptions built into them, but they are slippery. He is an atheistic evolutionist who believes in a god called chance or luck. . . And yet, and yet, and yet he, he, he seems to believe in some kind of inevitable progress as promoted by the philosopher Hegel and the old communists. He also speaks about the immaterial and transcendence in an almost spiritual manner. I gather that the technium,  that greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us, is that immaterial something that will reverse the inevitable movement toward entropy—the winding down of the universe. Something called exotropy will ultimately save it all—I guess.

Note the use of verbs like evolve, create, make, generate, reveal and nouns like luck, chance, reality, progress, trend, transcendence. There is a philosophy, a belief system, even a theology lurking there. Examples: 
". . . all living species have evolved from predecessors for the same amount of time: four billion years ago." 
". . . hydrogen atoms . . . were created in the fires of the big bang and dispersed into the universe as a uniform warm mist." 
"One day, in a stroke of luck, the water molecule is captured by a chain of unusually active carbons in one pool." 
"As the universe stretched out, it made nothingness. As emptiness increased, so did coolness." 
". . . we don't really know what information is. . . more metaphor than anything else."
"Matter . . . generated gravity . . . The informational process we call life took control of the atmosphere of Earth several billion years ago." 
"The creation of language was the first singularity for humans. . . A few scientists believe that, in fact, it was technology that sparked language." 
"Our genes have co-evolved with our inventions." 
"Progress, even moral progress, is ultimately a human invention."
"We can view the long-term trajectory of exotropy as an escape from the material and a transcendence into the immaterial." 
"Martin Heidegger suggested that technology was an "unhiding"—a revealing—of an inner reality. That inner reality is the immaterial nature of anything manufactured." 
(Does he really know who Heidegger—who loved the Nazis— was or what he wrote? A large chunk of Plato and Aristotle lurks here as well)
"I think there are five pools of evidence for this trend (toward betterment). . . 1) the long-term rise in longevity, education, health and wealth of an average person . . . 2) . . . the obvious wave of positive technological development we have witnessed in our lifetimes. . . 3) . . . advance resides in the moral sphere. . . 4) . . . the immense distance life has traveled in its four billion-year journey from extremely simple organisms to extremely complex and social animals . . . 5) . . the rush toward urbanization. 
"Simultaneous, independent invention seems to be the rule in nature. . . In both realms, natural evolution and technological evolution, convergence creates inevitabilities. _______________
I could go on, but this is enough. In analyzing anyone's writing one must ask two questions about his guiding philosophy or theology:
1. What is his formal principle? 
2. What is his material principle? 
So far, I have only read the first 120 pages, but it is sufficient. His formal principle, that which guides, instructs and informs him, is science, atheistic philosophy and human reason. His material principle, what he believes is happening, is progress and an escape into the infinite immaterial reality. 

I pop to the end for a couple final quotes: 

"In his mythic book The Singularity Is Near  Ray Kurzweil, serial inventor, technology enthusiast, and unabashed atheist, announces: "Evolution moves toward greater complexity, greater elegance, greater knowledge, greater beauty, greater creativity, and greater levels of subtle attributes such as love. In every monotheistic tradition God is likewise described as all of these qualities, only without limitation . . . So evolution moves inexorably toward this conception of God, although never quite reaching this ideal." 

"If there is a God, the arc of the technium is aimed right at him . . . Look what is coming: Technology is stitching together all the minds of the living, wrapping the planet in a vibrating 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? 

". . . Technology amplifies the mind's urge toward the unity of all thought, it accelerates the connection among all people, and it will populate the world with all conceivable ways of comprehending the infinite . . . more options, more opportunities, more connection, more diversity, more unity, more thought, more beautiy, and more problems. Those add up to more good, an infinite game worth playing.

"That's what technology wants." 
So now you know: God's name is Technology or as Kelly calls it, the Technium. And before this infinite, hidden, transcendent good we bow in awesome wonder!  The Singularity is closing in upon us. The day is coming when the technium's ability to alter us will exceed our ability to alter the technium.

Amen. Hallelu-Technium! Come save us and the universe.