In this, the first
lecture in this subject we look at the future of the body and as a consequence
Post-humanism as a concept alerts us to what I consider a most important issue
for debate. We are currently well past the emerging stages of such a debate
and yet many are still blissfully unaware of the present and planned research
and development around the body, life, space and information which is taking
place in the nexus described by art, science and industry.
At this point in time, humans benefit from artificial hip joints, pacemakers
for the heart, cochlear implants for the deaf, retinal implants for the blind,
and many types of cosmetic surgery which are all part of the medical repetoire.
We can see through tissue and even bone (x ray). In fact we can even see through
clothing (low bandwith x ray used in Airport security).
The military have advanced the notion of cyborg trough assemblages where human
and machines are used to pilot fighter aircraft, tanks even infantry etc.
In short, we are as a species at the verge of what may be the greatest evolutionary
step: the constantly accelerating relationship between humans and mechnical/electronic
or computer devices or interfaces appears to be paving the way, via the augmented* human to the post-human.
*Augmentation: to make greater in size, amount, degree etc.
To put this in
perspective, lets look at some recent historical precedents:
Fiction: (before we
can make it we have to dream it):
- We have used
insulin drips to regulate the metabolisms of diabetics for several dacades.
- In 1953 a heart-lung
machine was used to control the blood circulation of an 18 year old girl.
- In 1958 the
first heart pacemaker was implanted into a 43 year old man (Surgeon: Dr. Christian
Barnard, South Africa)
- The worlds
first cyborg was a white lab rat, part of an experimental program at New York's
Rockland State Hospital in the late 1950's. The rat had implanted in it's
body a tiny osmotic pump that injected precisely controlled doses of chemicals
altering various of it's psychological parameters. It was part animal, part
- In 2001 Professor
Ehud Shapiro of the Weizman Institute in Israel announces success with a programmable
DNA computer. Input, output, software and hardware are all made of biomolecules.
DNA can hold more information in a cubic centimetre than a trillion CD ROMS.
- In January 2010 a woman received a donor windpipe after it was implanted in her arm for two years to overcome organ rejection.
- June 2011: A 3D printer-created lower jaw has been fitted to an 83-year-old woman's face in what doctors say is the first operation of its kind.The implant was made out of titanium powder - heated and fused together by a laser, one layer at a time.
Are we, as humans
a species gone wrong (nearing extinction) or are we nearing an old dream which
sees humans transend the limitations of their physical make-up ?
- Captain America
- The Bionic
Woman (Jaime Sommers)
- The 6 Milion
Dollar man (Steve Austin)
It seems we are getting ready to make the transition ....
models for post-humanism:
go.lem n [Yiddish goylem, fr. Heb golem shapeless mass] (1897) 1: an artificial
human being in Hebrew folklore endowed with life 2: something or someone resembling
a golem: as a: automaton b: blockhead
Little longer story : In Jewish folklore, an image endowed with life. The term
is used in the Bible (Psalms 139:16) and in Talmudic literature to refer to an
embryonic or incomplete substance. It assumed its present connotation in the Middle
Ages, when many legends arose of wise men who could bring effigies to life by
means of a charm or of a combination of letters forming a sacred word or one of
the names of God. The letters, written on paper, were placed in the golem's mouth
or affixed to its head. The letters' removal deanimated the golem. In early golem
tales the golem was usually a perfect servant, his only fault being a too literal
or mechanical fulfillment of his master's orders. In the 16th century the golem
acquired the character of protector of the Jews in time of persecution but also
had a frightening aspect. The most famous tale involves the golem created by the
16th-century rabbi Judah Löwben Bezulel of Prague. It was the basis for Gustav
Meyrink's novel Der Golem (1915) and for a classic of German silent films (1920),
which provided many details on the movement and behaviour of man-made monsters
that were later adopted in the popular American horror films on the Frankenstein
(read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein )
models for Post-humanism
There are presently
a range of experiments and theoretical models which might or might not converge
to facilitate the next evolutionary step: post-humanism. Some of these are listed
A cyborg is short for : cybernetic organism
A Cyborg is unlike it's mechanical ancesters, a information machine. Cyborgs
are embedded with circular causal systems, autonomos control mechanisms, information
Automatons with build-in autonomy.
The Human Genome (genetic) Project (HGP) is an international project and a 15-year effort begun in October 1990 to discover
all the 50,000 to 100,000 human genes (the human genome) and make them accessible
for further biological study. Another project goal is to determine the complete
sequence of the 3 billion DNA subunits (bases). As part of HGP, parallel studies
are being carried out on selected model organisms such as the bacterium E. coli
to help develop the technology and interpret human gene function. The DOE Human
Genome Program and the NIH National Center for Human Genome Research (NCHGR)together
make up the U.S. Human Genome Project.
Chemically alter a cerebal capabilities so we think better, faster or different.
A relativel new science which examines the possibility of building progressively
smaller machines, far smaller eventually than a microchip, perhaps the size
of individual encyme. Nanobots, the robots of nanotechnology will be able to
construct any object or being from atomic building blocks, or, repair extant
beings from within and if necessary, on a cell by cell level. (see K.Eric Drexler Engines of Creation)
Norbert Wiener wrote: Cybernetics and Control and Communication in the Animal
and machine in 1948. Wiener was a MIT mathematician who notced similarities
between a large group of different phenomena. Catching a ball, guiding a missile,
running a company, pumping blood around the body-all seemed to him to depend
on the transmission of "information", a concept floated by Bell Laboratories'
Claude Shannon in his founding work on Information theory. More specifically,
these processes seemed to depend on what the engineers had began to call "feedback".
Wiener's followers saw cybernetics as a science that would explain the world
as a set of feedback systems, allowing rational control of bodies, machines,
factories, communities and just about anything else.
What is cryonics?
Many people confuse the terms cryogenics, cryobiology, suspended animation,
cryonic suspension, and cryonics. Here are my definitions of these terms, which
I believe are pretty much standard.
The study of materials at very low temperatures (near absolute zero). Cryogenics
is a branch of physics.
The study of the effect of low temperatures (below the freezing point of water)
on biological systems. A primary goal of this field is the preservation and
long term storage of organ systems such as hearts, kidneys, etc. for use in
transplantation. This goal has not yet been reached and currently only individual
cells and organisms consisting of only a very few cells (such as embryos) can
be successfully treated, stored, and revived.
This term refers to the ability to start and stop, at will, a biological system
(usually a person) through some physical means (usually the use of cold temperatures).
Suspended animation does not currently exist.
A (currently non-standard) medical technique for attempting to prevent the permanent
cessation of life in individuals on the brink of death. It involves the use
of low temperatures to halt metabolic decay. A person who is cryonically suspended
can not be revived by current medical technology. The freezing process does
too much damage. What is accomplished is that once frozen the person's biological
state does not change. The reason for performing a cryonic suspension is the
belief that science, technology, and society will advance to the point where
revival of the person is both possible and desirable.
A branch of science that aims to develop reversible suspended animation. Until
suspended animation is achieved, most cryonicists favor the use of cryonic suspension
as a last ditch effort for people whose medical options have run out.
By the 1960's the U.S. airforce was spending millions on exosceletons, master-slave
robot arms and bio-feedback devices.
Wolfgang Von Kempelen built a chess-playing tin turk and became the toast of
Napoleonic Europe. He foreshaddowed the evolution of the robot. Derived from
the Czech word for work,a robot is a machine built to resemble a human in behaviour
as well as intelligence and sometimes also in appearance. Successful robots
tend to be limited to particular functions, like automatic pilots forroutine
flights of an airplane or machines on an assembly line replacing human operators.
A good resource page on Robotics
In a 1950 paper or machine intelligence, British mathematician Alan Turing wrote:"
I believe that by the end of the century the use of words and general educated
opinion will have alytered so much that one will be able to speak of machines
thinking without expecting to be contradicted".
In his paper Turing asked how we judge human intelligence and suggested that
we commonly judge people by the quality of their conversation. he then proposed
what he called an imitation game -which everyone now calls the Turing test
We are transhuman to the extent that we seek to become posthuman and take action
to prepare for a posthuman future. This involves learning about and making use
of new technologies that can increase our capacities and life expectancy, questioning
common assumptions, and transforming ourselves ready for the future, rising above
outmoded human beliefs and behaviors.
Philosophies of life (such as the Extropian philosophy) that seek the continuation
and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human
form and limits by means of science andtechnology, guided by life-promoting
principles and values, while avoiding religion and dogma.
Posthumans will be persons of unprecedented physical, intellectual, and psychological
ability, self-programming and self- defining, potentially immortal, unlimited
individuals. Posthumans have overcome the biological, neurological, and psychological
constraints evolved into humans. Extropians believe that the best strategy for
attaining posthumanity to be a combination of technology and determination,
rather than looking for it through psychic contacts, or extraterrestrial or
divine gift. Posthumans may be partly or mostly biological in form, but will
likely be partly or wholly postbiological -- our personalities having been transferred
"into" more durable, modifiable, and faster, and more powerful bodies and thinking
hardware. Some of the technologies that we currently expect to play a role in
allowing us to become posthuman include genetic engineering, neural-computer
integration, molecular nanotechnology, and cognitive science.
The use of METAPHORs ascribing human characteristics to non human forms- The
most blatant anthropomorphism concerns the belief in supernatural beings, e.g.,
spirits, gnomes, all of which tend to assume human or super-human powers. Anthropomorphisms
are most frequent in the ascription of intentions or purposes to causal phenomena,
e.g., "the stone hit me", "this accident was meant as a warning", "this car
doesn't like me".
The branch of computer science that studies how to program computers to exhibit
apparently intelligent behavior. The branches of artificial intelligence are
usually defined as pattern recognition, theorem proving,language processing,
and game playing. Simply stated, artificial intelligence, AI, is the study of
the abilities for computers to perform tasks which currently are better done
by humans. AI is an interdisciplinary field where computer science intersects
with philosophy, psychology, linguistics, engineering and other fields. Humans
make decisions basd upon experience and intuition. The essence of AI is the
integration of computers to mimic this learning process, simply known as artificial
intelligence integration. This site deals with disembodied AI which, as stated
above, is computer representation of human behavior without direct contact with
a human being. The two fundamental notions that involve computers and human
behavior are expert systems and neural networking. Expert Systems are intelligent
computer programs that use knowledge and inference procedures that normally
require significant human expertise for their solution.
images of the Cyborg reflect our cultural ambivalence about technology; it's
potentialities and dangers are embodied in conflicting narratives about the
cyborg as victim and agressor, hero and villain, seductress and saviour. The
cyborg traverses the discourses of medicine,robotics,cybernetics, science fiction,
artificial intelligence, and popular cultureand explores the bounday conditions
of what it means to be human. Where do we draw the line between humanoid robot
and the technologically augmented human?
Cybernetics sees the world as a collection of networks.
A term coined by Norbert Wiener in 1948. The name cybernetics comes from the
Greek word Kubernetes which means "steersman", based on the image of the classic
helmsman, hand on the rudder of a sailing ship, perfectly captures the essence
of Wieners idea.
Palinurus approaching trhe rocks, gets visual information of the ships position
and adjusts course accordingly. This isn't a single event but a constant flow
of information. Palinarus is part of a feedback loop, his brain getting imput
from the environment about windspeed, weather, and current, then sending signals
to his arms to nudge the ship out of danger.
The issue of identity
is undergoing a fundamental re-structuring since technology augmented humans can
conceal their specific(physical) gender, intelligence and appearance (avatars).
On-line and remote identity is manufactured and frequently changed as the situation
requires. Cybersex permits very intimate and personal relationships between individuals
who may change one or several aspects of their"hard-space" personae.
DNA studies are revealing the genetic code structures for personal traits such
as "compassion". This means in the not too distant future, personalities can be
created and altered chemically and nanotechnologically with and without the affected
The "human visible" and "woman visible" projects have allowed us to study the
most intimate anatomical detail of humans and create computer models for the body.
Once chemical analysis has provided specific compound information for each individual
region it is conceiveable to build a new human who has no parent (unlike cloning).
So, put simply, apart from the myriad of physical changes , perhaps the most profound
change introduced by the concepts of post-humanist evolution : the question "who
am I" and where is the"I" located?
with Post-humanist ideas:
"The Cyborg Manifesto"
(Haraway) and The Will to Provoke (SRL) are important, because they both claim
in very clear language that a cyborgian bond with technology is a liberating bond.
- Donna Haraway
- SRL (Survival
Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" attempts to describe a possible prosthetic
cyborg for the future of the world. According to her description, machines are
"prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves"(Haraway 178) The cyborg,
for her, is a person who is so intimate with her machine that she loses part of
her identity and develops a "perpetually partial identit[y]" (Haraway 154) This
is possibly an exaggeration of the condition experienced by a computer user who
becomes so engrosed in their work that they lose touch with the outside world.
One way that her proposed cyborg has lost touch with the world is that it, "has
no origin story in the Western sense."(Haraway) In other words, the cyborg has
somehow broken free from the phallocentric origin myth which has shaped the unequal
division of genders in western civilization. By breaking away from this history,
the cyborg becomes free of the oppression that such a history imposed on its human
self. Since this history is usually one of men opressing women, Haraway suggests
that the formation of a prosthetic cyborg can be especially empowering and liberating
for women. The obvious question would then be wheather or not this formation of
a cyborg is also as liberating for men
The male dominated Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) who also present the idea
that a prosthetic cyborg can be liberating. SRL presents their ideas through
real life demonstrations and videos of those performances. SRL's cyborgs are humans
operating machines through remote control. In many cases, these connections are
quite intimate considering that the people who operate the machies are often the
same people who have built the machines. Survival Research Laboratories suggest
that their performances create an arena of freedom in a world that is mainly filled
with oppresive governments. In "Will to Provoke", they specifically discuss the
populace of Amsterdam as a group controlled by a government's laws. They make
the claim that the anarchy and destruction that their machines create represents
a form of freedom from these oppresive governing bodies. We might try to compare
SRL with Harraway's cyborgs, but one comes across the problem that Haraway is
mainly focusing on women, while SRL is almost entirely composed of men. This is
a problem, because, according to Harraway's logic, a man would actually lose some
power by breaking free from a phallocentric origin myth. After all such a myth
is a large part of the reason he has power in the world. It would seem then that
in order for a man-machine connection to be beneficial for the man, some element
of that male dominated power structure should remain in the cyborg's consiousness.
SRL seems to prove such an assumption.
When SRL's machines fight each other in their circus-like setting, their goal
is to criticize the violence of the military industrial complex. They might succeed
in their criticism, they also end up using all of the weapons of the military
complex that they are criticizing. Thus, rather than reject the background that
created as well as oppressed them, SRL uses its male empowering background in
to free itself from its oppresive past.
Although, their logics might disagree, Donna Harraway and SRL both show us prosthetic
cyborgs that are liberated. Thus, we might conclude that something about a prosthetic
cyborg is inherently liberating to the human portion of the cyborg relationship.
The concept of liberation through the cyborg gets more complex when considering
cyborg procreation. In fact some media such as Society of the Spectacle (Debord)
and "Clockwork Orange" (Kubrick) suggest that there is nothing at all liberating
about being a cyborg.
The two major
areas of philosophical division and debate about Post-humanism :
(Luddites) vs Technophilia (Nerds) i.e. Kirkpatrick Sale vs. Nikolas Negroponte
The interview quoted below will give you a good idea of the Luddite position.
Nikolas Negroponte wrote a small paperback : Being Digital which explains the
vision of the pro-technology camp.
(see Max Moore)
Wired June 95
is a leader of the Neo-Luddites. Wired's Kevin Kelly wrote the book on neo-biological
technology. Food fight, anyone?
By Kevin Kelly
Other than arson and a lot of vandalism, what did the Luddites accomplish in
the long run?
Sale: The Luddites raised what was called at the time "the machinery question,"
and they raised it in such a forceful way that it could not ever go away: Whether
machinery was simply to be for greater production by the industrialists, regardless
of its consequences, or whether the people who were affected by these machines
had some say in the matter of how they were to be used. The Luddites also established
themselves as the symbol of those who resist the new technologies and demand
a voice in how they are to be used.
Kelly: Were they able in any way to alter the course of the Industrial Revolution?
Sale: To some extent
they were able to delay the adoption of machines in some of the textile branches.
Although there were some regional effects of the Luddites, in general they failed
to make any real impact on the rush of technology and industrialism.
Kelly: Do you consider yourself a modern-day Luddite?
Sale: I do, in the sense that we modern-day Luddites are not, or at least not
yet, taking up the sledgehammer and the torch and gun to resist the new machinery,
but rather taking up the book and the lecture and organizing people to raise
these issues. Most of the people who would today call themselves Luddites confine
their resistance, so far at any rate, to a kind of intellectual and political
Kelly: Yet you did smash a computer recently, right?
Sale: I did.
Kelly: I hope it made you feel better.
Sale: It was astonishing how good it made me feel! I cannot explain it to you.
I was on the stage of New York City's Town Hall with an audience of 1,500 people.
I was behind a lectern, and in front of the lectern was this computer. And I
gave a very short, minute-and-a-half description of what was wrong with the
technosphere, how it was destroying the biosphere. And then I walked over and
I got this very powerful sledgehammer and smashed the screen with one blow and
smashed the keyboard with another blow. It felt wonderful. The sound it made,
the spewing of the undoubtedly poisonous insides into the spotlight, the dust
that hung in the air ... some in the audience applauded. I bowed and returned
to my chair.
Kelly: So, what did you accomplish?
Sale: It was a statement. At other forums, I attempt to discuss the importance
of understanding new technologies and what they are doing to us. But at that
moment, when I had only four minutes to talk, I thought this was a statement
better than anything else I could possibly say.
Kelly: Violence is very powerful, isn't it?
Sale: And remarkably satisfying when it is injurious to property, not people.
Kelly: I find it instructive that most of this Neo-Luddite sentiment is arising
not from people who are out of jobs because of computers, but from over-educated
academic or author types. I don't detect much dissatisfaction among the unemployed
regarding computers, per se.
Sale: You're quite right that in these last 20 or 25 years, the immense effects
of automation on the labor force have not been met by resistance other than
the most trivial kind. What happened was that unions caved in and accepted strategies
of the corporations to give workers lifetime pay in return for having their
jobs automated. However, that luxury of lifetime pay is now no longer being
offered, so we have an estimated 6 million people who have lost their jobs to
automation, or to overseas shops, since 1988. These 6 million people have not
ventured forth with sledgehammers, but some of them are turning to crime, for
sure, and some of them are part of that dissatisfied, white male constituency
that voted for the Republicans last fall. So, instead of going to the sledgehammer,
they've gone to the ballot box, though I don't think that's going to achieve
what they think it will.
Kelly: But it's also leading them to study computers and to learn how to get
a job with computers. You mentioned 6 million jobs lost to computers, but the
number of jobs created by computers and technology is really more sizable. Where,
for instance, do you think the hundreds of millions of jobs in America in the
last 100 years have come from? They certainly didn't come from farming or handicrafts.
These jobs were made by industry.
Sale: There is no question that jobs are created, so long as an economy can
keep growing. But it's not the technology, or it's only indirectly and accidentally
the technology, that creates them. It's warfare, empire, government expansion,
resources exploitation, ecological exhaustion, consumption, and the manufacture
of needs. Today, in the second Industrial Revolution, it's just as it was back
in the first. The technology itself simply does put people out of jobs. And
anyway, the idea that the whole end of life is jobs and job creation is just
pathological. The question is, What do those jobs achieve and at what expense?
A job in itself is not a virtue.
Kelly: That's exactly right. Quality of jobs is vital. The Luddite cottagers
thought it was inhuman to be put out of work by machines. But what's really
inhuman is to have cloth made by human labor at all. Cloth should be made by
machines, because machines make much better cloth than humans. Making cloth
is not a good job for humans, unless they want to make a few pieces for art.
Sale: Well, they didn't think so. Nor do I: nothing is superior to handicrafts.
Kelly: One of the most revealing claims in your book is when you say, "The idea
that technology creates jobs is hogwash." That statement is nonsense itself.
Where did your own job come from, if it didn't come from the printing press?
Sale: To begin with, I don't have a job. And my work would be the same - writing
about the perils of our civilization - no matter what technologies were at hand.
But the real point about technology's impact over the last, say, 200 years is
that it puts people out of jobs when it's introduced, and that's why it's introduced.
The point of a new technology is to save on labor costs and all the attendant
costs with actual people.
Kelly: No, the point of technology is to make higher-quality and more diverse
products than we can make by hand.
Sale: No, quantity, quantity. We have a mass society, a mass market, and mass
production. Mass quantity is why we have computers.
Kelly: We have technology not just to make mass things but to make new things
we could not make other ways.
Sale: I regard that as trivial.
Kelly: OK, then you tell me. What was the effect of printing technology? Did
the invention of printing just allow us to make more books? Or did it allow
new and different kinds of books to be written? What did it do? It did both.
Sale: That wasn't mass society back then, but what it eventually achieved was
a vast increase in the number of books produced; and it vastly reduced forests
in Europe so as to produce them.
Kelly: I don't think so. The forests of Europe were not cut down to create books
for Europe. Printing allowed several things. It increased literacy. And it allowed
more varieties of books to be written - and faster. It allowed better communication.
Sale: Literacy does go hand in hand with industrialism, but at the same time,
it destroys orality. No oral traditions and no oral abilities.
Kelly: There's no doubt that technology obsoletes many things.
Sale: Right. So, let's not simply say how wonderful is literacy, without saying
what the price is for this literacy, without asking what is it that we are now
reading with all of this fancy literacy. The truth is that we are reading little
Kelly: I would say that in oral traditions, there was very little of merit said.
There is this tendency to think that the old things, the old times, the oral
traditions, the tribal traditions, were somehow more lofty, that people of those
times used things more judiciously, that they didn't gossip, that they didn't
use good things for trash. This is complete nonsense.
Sale: Sure, people gossiped, and sure, people said nasty things. At the same
time, these oral traditions were what kept these societies together for eons.
If we lose oral tradition and all that goes with it, we lose a due regard for
nature and the preservation of nature. The successive empires that have driven
civilizations for the last 6,000 years have had, almost uniformly, no regard
for nature. That's why they were as short-lived as they were: in addition to
having very little regard for the majority of their own population, they had
no regard for the rest of the living world. That is essential to the peril we're
Kelly: Do you see civilization as a catastrophe?
Kelly: All civilizations?
Sale: Yes. There are some presumed benefits, but civilizations as such are all
catastrophic, which is why they all end by destroying themselves and the natural
environment around them.
Kelly: You are quick to talk about the downsides of technological civilizations
and the upsides of tribal life. But you pay zero attention to the downsides
of tribal life or the upsides of civilizations. For instance, the downsides
of tribal life are infanticide, tribal warfare, intertribal rape, slavery, sexism.
Not to mention a very short life span, perpetual head lice, and diseases that
are easily cured by five cents' worth of medicine now. This is what you get
when you have tribal life with no civilization. This is what you want?
Sale: Tribal life does not have these mythical downsides that you describe.
What you are describing are tribal societies that have become pathological because
of the invasion of some outside force or other. In the case of the American
Indians and of Africa, it's the Europeans. Tribes have long-established practices
to keep themselves harmonious and stable, including the practice of birth control
so as not to exceed the carrying capacity of the places where they live. You
can call it infanticide if you like; they would understand it as birth control,
appropriate to their regard for nature.
Kelly: Yeah. I'm very glad not to be living in a tribal society.
Sale: Don't dismiss the virtues of that society. I think the sense of sodality
and comradeship and inner peace and harmony that we know happens in these traditional
societies is not to be lightly dismissed; even you might welcome it.
Kelly: Well, whatever romantic glories it may have, it all comes at a price.
You keep forgetting it comes at a price. And the price of tribal life is no
pianos, no violins, no paint, no telescope. No Mozart, no van Gogh. If a Beethoven
is born, he can only be a genius at finding tubers. That's the price of that
Sale: Well, if your clan thought that the violin was a useful and nonharmful
tool, you could choose to invent that.
Kelly: You can't have a violin without civilization. Look, what you get with
a nontechnological tribal society is a very constrained society. OK, the people
in a tribe adjust to those constraints and they adapt. But the advantages of
civilization are options and diversity. You have increasing opportunities for
people to be creative in new ways that you don't have in those tribal societies.
Sale: The way I like to come at this is with this quotation from Herbert Read:
"Only a people serving an apprenticeship to nature can be trusted with machines.
Only such people will so contrive and control those machines that their products
are an enhancement of biological needs, and not a denial of them."
Kelly: I agree with the idea of making technology more biological and making
it express the organic. The more we make our technology lifelike, the better
that technology will be. You're critiquing industrial technology just as industrial
technology is becoming outmoded. The qualities you assign to technology - centralization,
order, uniformity, regularity, linearity, passivity - wonderfully describe technology
in the 1950s. But the reason you're wrong about technology is that this kind
of technology is being superseded. As we import biological principles into technology,
we are generating technology that's decentralized, that plays on differences,
that's irregular on demand, that's nonlinear, and that's very interactive. If
we were stuck with having to make technology that was centralized and stupid
and brute, we would be looking forward to a dismal future. But we don't have
to make technology that way.
Sale: I don't buy your statement. It is true that within the larger construct
of contemporary computer technology there is room for decentralization, some
irregularity, and some of what you suggest, but that's not what the overarching
character of this technology is about. It is designed precisely to create a
uniformity of production, consumption, distribution - distribution of money
or ideas or so-called information. If within it you can find these nuggets of
the contrary, that doesn't change the overall nature of the industrial mechanism
or the industrial civilization behind it.
Kelly: I don't think you should close your mind to the possibility that these
nuggets will become the predominant form of technology. As humans, we crave
differences and diversity, as well as uniformity and reliability. And we have
a model out there, which you're familiar with, that does both of these things.
Nature has a very regular, dependable aspect to it that we count on. At the
same time, it has a surprising and unpredictable nature. Both uniformity of
production and diversity of production happen in nature and can happen with
Sale: I cannot get my mind even close to what you're saying. This is simply
an attempt to use science and its technologies to manipulate nature. This is
an attempt to make nature technological, so that humans can determine everything
Kelly: You're right in the sense that civilization is anthropocentric. All societies
say a human life is worth more than a flea's life. And because of our consciousness,
we can and do modify our surroundings, including nature, to our benefit and
to make new things.
Sale: Case closed.
Kelly: Right. And so, the question is, When we have the choice, which way will
people go? Will they retreat back to this utopian idea of undoing civilization
somehow? I really don't think people will do that.
Sale: Given the culture of our current society, I would agree there is no chance
of going back. But there is also no chance for people to even raise the question.
I ask not that we devise some kind of utopia and work toward it, but rather
that there be some kind of power of the citizenry, regular and often, to raise
questions about, to assess, and to determine whether they want the technologies
that are there before them.
Kelly: And in the end, people will choose technology and civilization. The Luddites
will be left behind.
Sale: Those of us who oppose may be easily accommodated by this society, since
society has no fear that we're going to have the effect that we desire to have.
But it is possible for individuals to act out, either alone or with colleagues
and neighbors, their opposition to certain technologies. This has been done
in many instances - from nuclear power to the Dalkon shield. We can as individuals
say, This technology is wrong and harmful and we ought to act against it. That
technology over there seems at the moment not to be wrong and harmful, so we
can either use it or not as we wish. I urge people to take a clear-headed look
at what is in front of them, and not to feel guilty if they reject something,
and to be able to say, with a rational explanation, This is wrong, I will not
myself buy into it, and I would urge others not to buy into it for the following
Kelly: As you know, there's a huge difference between rejecting specific technological
implementations and rejecting technology as a whole, as you have been doing.
The Amish do this well, this selective adoption of technology, without rejecting
civilization as a whole.
Sale: The Amish have said there are limits: There are certain things that we
like, that seem to enhance our lives, and that do not do danger to our sense
of family and community, and therefore we can use them; and there are others,
quite clearly, that do harm. This is intelligent decision making. The Luddites
were the same. The Luddites all worked with machinery, some with fairly complicated
weaving machines in their cottages. They were not against machinery, but against
"machinery hurtful to commonality," as one of their statements put it. They
were not by any means against all technologies. In fact, something like the
spinning jenny had come along in the 18th century and had been rather readily
Kelly: I have a different take. The only reason the Luddites are known, and
the reason we don't call antitechnologists "Amishites," is that Luddites resisted
it in a violent way, and that makes very good TV. This guy with the sledgehammer
breaking weaving frames late at night makes a memorable image. If the Luddites
had just resisted it, Amish-like, and said in a very nonviolent way, Sorry,
we're simply not going to adopt larger weaving frames, I believe they would
have had more impact in the long run, but they wouldn't be famous. But while
we are quick to honor the Amish, most admirers forget that the Amish refusal
of certain technologies directly stems from an old-fashioned spiritual stance:
their sureness of the reality of God and sin. Are you suggesting that people
can go back to those old-time values?
Sale: I would absolutely say that morality is an essential part of one's world
view. By moral judgment I mean the capacity to decide that a thing is right
when it enhances the integrity, stability, and beauty of nature and is wrong
when it does otherwise.
Kelly: You have to remember that the basis of the Amish belief is not the worship
of nature. Their moral distinction is the worship of God, and the reason they
reject certain technologies is that they see them as worldly, as sinful, as
evil. You keep using words like moral viewpoint, taboo, and worship. When it
comes right down to it, we're talking about a spiritual orientation, a religion
that holds technology as evil. So tell me, what does your religion say about
the morality of computers?
Sale: Quite apart from the environmental and medical evils associated with them
being produced and used, there are two moral judgments against computers. One
is that computerization enables the large forces of our civilization to operate
more swiftly and efficiently in their pernicious goals of making money and producing
things. And, however much individuals may feel that there are industrial benefits
in their lives from the use of the computer (that is to say, things are easier,
swifter), these are industrial virtues that may not be virtues in another morality.
And secondly, in the course of using these, these forces are destroying nature
with more speed and efficiency than ever before.
Kelly: And how do you, as a Neo-Luddite, resist or refuse computers?
Sale: I don't have a computer.
Kelly: You don't think you have a computer.
Sale: I take your point about that. I mean the computer is indeed pervasive.
If I have a credit card, as I do, then I am in that sense wired.
Kelly: Do you use the phone and the computer embedded in its lines?
Sale: On those occasions when I am forced to. It is, I have to tell you, a kind
of painful accommodation to the world for me to have to do this. I find talking
on the phone a physical pain, as well as a mental anguish. But, there it is.
And one makes accommodations, unless one wants to try to live alone, in the
woods. So anybody who wants to stay engaged in the world will have to make some
accommodations. The question, I think, becomes, Which ones do you make? A lot
of Neo-Luddites and techno-resisters today, I think, have made bad choices by
saying that they can use the tools of the masters in order to free the slaves.
And I don't think this is possible.
Kelly: But you're doing that, right? You're using techno stuff, right?
Sale: If I could find a publisher that didn't use word processing in a computer,
Kelly: What about printing presses?
Sale: These are the kinds of accommodations that I felt I've had to make. Given
the pervasiveness of the computer, I don't think that there's any way to stay
engaged and to escape it. But that means that you might decide that you're not
going to own a computer, you're not going to have a word processor, you'renot
going to fly on jet planes, you're not going to use a car.
Kelly: But you use a car at your country place.
Sale: I will sometimes use a car. I'm not trying to say that there's a way to
purity here. But what I'm trying to say is that one is conscious of one's choices.
Kelly: But you're not giving up electricity. Environmentally, using electricity
has far more consequences than using a computer. You're not giving up an automobile,
which again, in terms of the number of deaths caused by it, has far more impact
on our surroundings than does the manufacturing of a computer. You're basically
giving up only technologies that are convenient for you to give up. You use
computers, but not one on your desk.
Sale: I choose not to enter into that technology so intimately as to have a
computer confronting me that way. If I can keep the computer distant the way
the Amish can keep the telephone distant, I choose to do so.
Kelly: But only because it is a convenient choice.
Sale: I don't in truth have any choice about a publisher that will produce and
market my book without a computer. Look at how pernicious is the use of the
computer. For example, if I may quote an outfit that is as celebratory of the
technological world as any, Newsweek magazine's recent issue on technomania
says: "The revolution is only just begun. It's already starting to overwhelm
us, outstripping our capacity to cope, antiquating our laws, transforming our
mores, reshuffling our economy, reordering our priorities, redefining our workplaces,
putting our Constitution to the fire, shifting our concept of reality." I think
that anything that is doing that to us is something that ought to be resisted.
Kelly: I feel otherwise. I'm not at all wedded to the past. I'm not wedded to
this idea that somehow or other in the past everything was OK, and that it's
all been downhill since then, that, basically, civilization is a catastrophe
that's getting worse. I think that is the idea to resist, with all possible
Sale: And what
gives you the confidence that the same technologies that have worked to destroy
the Earth are going save the Earth? We still have the same mind-set. Until we
change our minds, how are we going to change our technologies?
Kelly: Technology is a language. Technology is a language of artifacts. And
when you have a bad thought, when you have a stupid thought, the answer to that
is not to be silent. The response to a stupid thought is a wiser thought. Since
technology is a language of artifacts, the response to "this technology is stupid"
is to make smarter technology, not to withdraw from it.
Sale: But suppose you have nothing in your language that will allow a smarter
thought. All you have to choose from are dumb thoughts because your language
limits you. In the language of technology, you are not able to use certain words
because they don't exist in that language. It might be possible for you in the
language of technology to come up with something faster, but you can't come
up with something smarter, because you don't have that in your language bank.
Kelly: That's where I think you are fundamentally wrong. Because you are stuck
on an old language of technology, and we are creating a new one. It is possible
to make an improved, smarter, wiser, more organic technology that can serve
Sale: Right! That is to say, using up the world's resources at a faster rate!
Kelly: No. It doesn't have to. We don't have to continue to use more matter
to make more technology. That's why instead of violently smashing a computer
because it seems dumb now, my response is to make the computer so that it uses
less matter, so that it has less impact on nature. And we can do that technologically.
Sale: But then how are we going use the computer?! What do you use that technology
for?! Here's how: it's going to be used for the dominance and exploitation of
nature for our benefit.
Kelly: We dominate nature at first so that we can survive, but beyond survival
I believe the focus of technology, culture and civilization is on human creativity,
to allow humans to be creative, to allow every human born to have a chance to
create, to write a book, to make a film, to make music, to love, to understand
the universe. I think that's what technology is for. I think that's why we're
here. It's not to worship nature.
Sale: I'm not asking you to worship nature. I'm asking for a regard for nature.
Kelly: So why are we here? What are humans here for?
Sale: [Pauses.] To exist.
Kelly: That's very interesting. So, what would be a measure of a successful
Sale: That it's able to exist in harmony with the rest of nature.
Kelly: I totally reject that. It's not enough.
Sale: Not enough?!
Kelly: Yes. Naked existence is for animals. That's basically all animals do:
they exist in harmony with their surroundings.
Sale: And what's wrong with that?
Kelly: Plenty. We left that phase eons ago.
Sale: If you think that somehow now we are able to have a different mind-set
that will suddenly transform us into being a due-regarding useful creature on
the planet, I'd say that it is you who are talking utopian pipe dreams.
Kelly: You're right. I have a vision of where we'd like to go, and this is more
than just being an animal on Earth.
Sale: But, can't you see that if you come from a culture that is based upon
the destruction of nature, your image that technology will prevent us from destroying
nature is ill-founded?
Kelly: No, it's not ill-founded: already we have reduced pollution, when we
Sale: Your optimism is contrary to all history up to the present, which suggests
that given the values and norms of our particular civilization, we will perfect
technology to the task of exploitation and destruction of nature. My optimism,
such as it is, argues that because we know of previous societies that existed
on every continent, and that existed far longer than Western civilization, and
that have judged their technologies on other grounds than Western civilization,
that it is possible to recover such societies in the future.
Kelly: Even though we have no evidence of us ever retreating into the past and
Sale: History is full of civilizations that have collapsed, followed by people
who have had other ways of living. My optimism is based on the certainty that
this civilization will collapse.
Kelly: You get very specific in the closing pages of your book, where you say
that if industrial civilization does not crumble because of the resistance from,
say, Neo-Luddites or others, then it will crumble of its own accumulative excesses,
specifically "within not more than a few decades." Now, if somebody two decades
hence wanted to decide inarguably if you were right or wrong about that forecast,
what would be the evidence of that? How would someone know whether you were
Sale: I would say that you can measure it in three ways. The first would be
an economic collapse. The dollar would be worthless, the yen would be worthless,
the mark would be worthless - the dislocation we saw in the Depression of 1930,
magnified many times over. A second would be the distention within various societies
of the rich and the poor, in which the poor, who comprise, let's say, a fifth
of society, are no longer content to be bought off with alcohol and television
and drugs, and rises up in rebellion. And at the same time, there would be the
same kind of distention within nations, in which the poor nations are no longer
content to take the crumbs from our table, and rise up in either a military
or some other form against the richer societies. And then the third is accumulating
environmental problems, such that Australia, for example, becomes unlivable
because of the ozone hole there, and Africa, from the Sahara to South Africa,
becomes unlivable because of new diseases that have been uncovered through deforestation.
At any rate, environmental catastrophes on a significant scale.
Kelly: So you have multinational global currency collapse, social friction and
warfare both between the rich and the poor and within nations, and you have
continentwide environmental disasters causing death and great migrations of
people. All by the year 2020, yes? How certain are you about all this, what
you call your optimism?
Sale: Well, I have spent the last 20 years looking into these problems, and
I have suggested to my daughters, who are in their 20s, that it would be a mistake
to have children.
Kelly: Would you be willing to bet on your view?
Kelly: OK. [Pulls out a check.] Here's a check for a thousand dollars, made
out to Bill Patrick, our mutual book editor. I bet you US$1,000 that in the
year 2020, we're not even close to the kind of disaster you describe - a convergence
of three disasters: global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich
and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size. We won't even
be close. I'll bet on my optimism.
Sale: [Pauses. Then smiles.] OK.
[Sales reaches over to checkbook on his desk and writes out a check. Theyshake
Kelly: Oh, boy, this is easy money! But you know, besides the money, I really
hope I am right.
Sale: I hope you are right, too.
Kevin Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is executive editor of Wired and author of Out of Control: The New Biology of
Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World (Addison-Wesley).
1995 Wired Ventures Ltd.
Compilation copyright © 1995 HotWired Ventures LLC
All rights reserved.
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