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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

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