Nov 6, 2010

Hating Technology is Hating Yourself

Posted by in categories: human trajectories, robotics/AI

Kevin Kelly concluded a chapter in his new book What Technology Wants with the declaration that if you hate technology, you basically hate yourself.

The rationale is twofold:

1. As many have observed before, technology–and Kelly’s superset “technium”–is in many ways the natural successor to biological evolution. In other words, human change is primarily through various symbiotic and feedback-looped systems that comprise human culture.

2. It all started with biology, but humans throughout their entire history have defined and been defined by their tools and information technologies. I wrote an essay a few months ago called “What Bruce Campbell Taught Me About Robotics” concerning human co-evolution with tools and the mind’s plastic self-models. And of course there’s the whole co-evolution with or transition to language-based societies.

So if the premise that human culture is a result of taking the path of technologies is true, then to reject technology as a whole would be reject human culture as it has always been. If the premise that our biological framework is a result of a back-and-forth relationship with tools and/or information, then you have another reason to say that hating technology is hating yourself (assuming you are human).

In his book, Kelly argues against the noble savage concept. Even though there are many useless implementations of technology, the tech that is good is extremely good and all humans adopt them when they can. Some examples Kelly provides are telephones, antibiotics and other medicines, and…chainsaws. Low-tech villagers continue to swarm to slums of higher-tech cities, not because they are forced, but because they want their children to have better opportunities.

So is it a straw man that actually hates technology? Certainly people hate certain implementations of technology. Certainly it is ok, and perhaps needed more than ever, to reject useless technology artifacts. I think one place where you can definitely find some technology haters are the ones afraid of obviously transformative technologies, in other words the ones that purposely and radically alter humans. And they are only “transformative” in an anachronistic sense–e.g., if you compare two different time periods in history, you can see drastic differences.

Also, although perhaps not outright hate in most cases, there are many who have been infected by the meme that artificial creatures such as robots and/or super-smart computers (and/or super-smart networks of computers) present a competition to humans as they exist now. This meme is perhaps more dangerous than any computer could be because it tries to divorce humans from the technium.

Image credit: whokilledbambi


Comments — comments are now closed.

  1. Jon says:

    I disagree that super-smart computers pose no threat or competition to humans. If they decided that humans were no longer needed, they could easily wipe us out. And programming them to feel otherwise is no easy task; any machine that was sufficiently motivated could change its programming.

    Clashes between high-tech civilizations and low-tech civilizations have not ended well for the underdog in the past. I fail to see why this would be fundamentally different.

  2. Everything can pose a threat if used maliciously or without any quality or security control. My essay refers to the premise that technology and humanity are not divided, and that transformation occurs over time, not instantaneously. Even if human culture changes radically in one day, it’s still a systemwide change. Comparing our situation today to a situation that is exactly like today but with the one single change of supercomputers hooked up to physical machinery that can cause mass homicide running programs that lead to a goal of murdering all instances of a particular type of animal on Earth is fiction. Perhaps worthwhile fiction, but still fiction.

    Your second paragraph is a deeply problematic matter which is very much something to worry about. In general I want all humans (or whatever we replace ourselves with) to have access to truly worthwhile subset of high-tech, and not be so far behind to be in an essentially different historic time of human evolution.

  3. John says:

    What a load of garbage.

    This reference describes what technological civilization in its current form is really all about.

    The “culture” thus created has inevitably created the situation described via this reference.