Kurzweil & Harari versus Hawkins & Lanier
From Delirium Sapiens To Delirium Deus
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
Ray Kurzweil is using his MIT affiliation to sell a science fiction that is an absolute dystopia and some people of course take that for science, as should be expected from all MIT scholars. But the Singularity is just another vision of Saint John’s Apocalypse or Book of Revelation. Ray Kurzweil has eaten the small book and he is reciting some kind of litany about what humanity is going to be when the nanobot of this book from God spreads in all our bodies and minds. We will be divine.
In the same way Yuval Noah Harari plays on all the social networks of any type to gather the crowds around his announcemen t of the end of the world, of the second coming, of the apocalypse, of the end of man, of the end of anything you may think of. I guess he believes he is one of these Old Testament prophets who announced the end of this world and the emergence of God’s in no time at all. The Singularity of Ray Kurzweil finds here a complete illustration when transferred to the history of tomorrow based on a fake history of not even yesterday but only the early morning hours of today, you know just before getting up with a urinating mental wood.
These theories of course are written by men for men and about men. Women are just an entertainment you can tolerate when you are not, you men, doing something manly, hence important, like prophesysing the dramatic fate of the end of life, meaning of course human life. The human species in the minds of these intellectuals has reached its end and has produced its successor in the shape of a robot, an android, a Blade Runner. Welcome Mr. Smith. Of course a man without any female counterpart.
But it is no science at all. Jeff Hawkins and Jaron Lanier, and I could quote some more, give the necessary information to answer this dystopia, and we should think of what Wendy Hiu Kyong Chun says too (not covered in this paper) on the interfaced individual or subject. Here we would like to think of several dangers in Kurzweil’s painting of the future.
1- These nanobots of his will be intelligent, hence connected and they will communicate among themselves within our body and within a certain distance outside our body and they will always be controlled by the motherboard of their inventors. That’s more than Big Brother and his wired TVs. That’s even more than what Snowden revealed.
2- This technology will be expensive, which means it will be only for those who can afford it, either because they are rich individuals or because they have a good health system in rich countries. This technology will create inequality and moreover all sorts of struggling and battling and fighting against such inequalities in various countries and at the level of the world itself.
3- This technology (some even see the possibility to reprogram our DNA so that we would not age any more) would expand life expectancy tremendously, some even see man in eternal silver and gold gift wrapping, because that will be a serious Christmas present to humanity, the impossibility to die of natural death. Accidents and wars will never be able to compensate and the population will grow exponentially, and I guess human beings will be fertile eternally.
4- If human beings can live let’s say 250 years, either they will all be gay, or they will all be sterilized at a certain time in their life, or they will all abstain from any kind of procreative sex, in spite of Viagra and other drugs of the type. All that is highly improbable and even if each heterosexual couple only make one child every twenty years they will make something like TEN children in a life time, which will be at least five times more than the average fertility rate for the simple maintenance of the population at present level. So imagine the exponential demographic growth.
5- This is an absurd dystopia and humanity as a whole will have to manage such discoveries and possibilities so that they will improve human life but not prevent natural death and all it would mean: overpopulation and henceforth famines, starvation, war. If that is the real future, let’s start straight away to find a killing virus that can be programmed to eliminate all human beings of a certain type or a few types, and then we will enter the segregation of the Singularity. We could reinvent apartheid and of course reopen the concentration camps for rapid extermination of all those among the selected categories who would resist the killing virus. Such intellectuals reinvent the final solution. And both of them are Jewish. What game are they playing?
6- All utopian alternatives to this dystopia will work on the idea that human beings will no longer have the urge to make more than one child in a life time, no matter how long. At a time when China is relaxing such a policy that they instated thirty years ago or so, we would envisage it at the level of the whole humanity. At a time when the world is showing we can curb any dangerous policy like the nuclear policy of Iran or North Korea with diplomacy we would encourage a demographic policy that would lead to all kinds of wars. No one needs to be Dan Brown to understand that the demographic problem of this planet is becoming acute and dire, and that we will have to curb some inventions to avoid an implosive explosion at humanity level.
7- But this is fiction, this is free entreprise, this has only one objective: to make money with a couple of inventions and a couple of books. It is highly immoral to just try to create a panic among people to sell some heraing aids or a few books.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. RAY KURZWEIL — WHEN COMPUTERS EXCEED HUMAN INTELLIGENCE, THE AGE OF SPIRITUAL MACHINES — 1999 — Review in May 2012
2. RAY KURZWEIL — THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR — 2006 — Review August 2011
3. RAY KURZWEIL — TERRY CROSSMAN, MD — TRANSCEND, NINE STEPS TO LIVING WELL FOREVER — 2009 — Review August 2011
4. RAY KURZWEIL — HOW TO CREATE A MIND — 2012
5. YUVAL NOAH HARARI — HOMO DEUS, A BRIEF HISTORY OF TOMORROW — 2015
6. YUVAL NOAH HARARI — SAPIENS, A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND — 2011
7. JEFF HAWKINS — ON INTELLIGENCE – 2004
8. ONE HALF A MANIFESTO by Jaron Lanier
Critical reading of the basic principles of Cybernetic Totalism (Jacques COULARDEAU)
9. JARON LANIER — YOU ARE NOT A GADGET — 2010–2011
RAY KURZWEIL — WHEN COMPUTERS EXCEED HUMAN INTELLIGENCE, THE AGE OF SPIRITUAL MACHINES — 1999 — Review in May 2012
It is interesting to read this older book after the more recent ones. It reveals some of the ideological axioms and methodological traits and mistakes that he started from. And unluckily it is necessary to go back to basics at times when you are dealing with a bestselling author in a field where it is easy to predict the future, even the future of the world, the field of technology and what’s more information technology.
Ray Kurzweil with more recent books took us into the clouds of his cloud computing and appeared on these clouds like some Messiah who was the rainmaker of the apocalypse, that time when humans will be taken over by another world entirely dominated by a non-human intelligence, even if created originally by man himself. He tries to be the prophet of the future of a world created by evolution stated as intelligent (whose intelligence?) and later by man’s intelligence, and then destroyed for plain humans by the machines created by this human intelligence. The vision is a mixture of Terminator 1–2–3–4, Matrix 1–2–3, The Stand, and The Book of Revelation. He even gives at the end of this here book the four Horses of the Apocalypse page 256: Red War (“the species may destroy itself before achieving this step”), White Political Power (“a malfunction,” hence a problem in the system whose constitution is not clear cut), the Black Justice or Commerce and their scales (“a software virus” introduced by the badly designed software or by a pirate or hacker) and the Pale Green Pestilence (a “real biological virus” devised and accidentally, on purpose from the machine or on purpose from a malevolent human with reference to the example of “HIV”)
But this enormous metaphor, always present in this book, is quite often expressed when speaking of the beginning of the world, the creation of the Universe, the Big Bang, the end of the world, the end of the Universe, the Big Crunch or the Whimper, the beginning of time and the end of time, etc, the total domination with the alpha and the omega, that basic biblical, Jewish, Christian and Islamic concept that time has a first instant and will have a last instant and both were decided by some God. He even manages to present the God’s spot of some epileptic god-fearing patients who see God in their trances, and that vision is identified in one spot in their brain in such a way that we may believe it is true for everyman on earth, hence that God is in every single one of our brains.
This is clandestine and yet widely open religious ideology directly borrowed from the basic sacred books of the three Semitic religions. He could have quoted easily the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls and the Koran. But he kept his quotations secret. Too bad. When one is speaking religion it is important that this one says so and give the references not to be accused of plagiarism.
Let’s start with time. Time does not exist in reality, in the real world. Only duration does and time was invented by human beings as soon as they tried to measure that duration. So it is absurd to speak of an acceleration of time or of a deceleration of time. We may speak of the speed of a phenomenon, but not of the speed of time. Time is a human concept and as such it is absolutely objective and has to remain so, like any measurement invented by human beings. Then he speaks a lot about the subjective impression we have according to various psychological states we may be in. That implies that we feel a certain amount of time as having a short or long duration but duration is not time. A star does not know time, nor duration as for that, but for two different reasons, because time is a human invention and because a star has no consciousness or awareness of duration, or anything else as for that. Kurzweil when speaking of time or using the concept of time is in fact juggling around with colored balls and he wants us to believe he is not a juggler but the balls and their dancing in the air are objective descriptions of the Universe.
If he had been prudent with time he would have been realistic with scientific and technological what’s more models. All our knowledge is nothing but a complex set of models built by our mind on the basis of our sensations transformed into perceptions in our brain by our mind.
But Kurzweil never discusses the concept of mind and hardly refers to it. He refers to the brain which would in a way or another contain our intelligence and our knowledge. He uses most of the time a computing metaphor and the brain is a hard disk and intelligence is the software or the programming, knowledge being the memory or the data bank of the hard disk. That metaphor is primitive and it is a shortcut if not a mental short circuit.
What is the mind? The mind is a construct of man’s brain built from all the individual has accumulated as for sensations, transformed into perceptions and articulated one on top, or whatever, of the other into a complex architecture from the very first moment of conception. The Pro-life or Pro-abortion debate has no value here. The fetus starts feeling and accumulating things, sensations, as soon as it is a fetus, hence just after conception; That fetus will have a heart of its own around the fourth week and from one beating (its mother’s heart) it will shift to two beatings (his mother’s and his own hearts) and these two will coordinate from one moment to the next and the fetus experiences from the first day and then from the fourth week the beating of one heart and then of two and the coordination of both. Stress in the mother, pleasure in the mother, fear in the mother change the beating of her heart and the fetus knows it. We mustn’t forget that the fetus will eventually develop mirror neurons that will multiply the empathy he is living from the very first day. All that is ignored by Kurzweil.
Worse even he ignores that the child from the twentieth or twenty-fourth week of gestation will be able to clearly hear all that the mother says and all that is said within one yard and a half around the mother, and by the way not only said but all noises or music or whatever sound. Before that audition the fetus could feel the vibrations of the mother’s body while she was speaking. Now he can hear the very clusters of sounds she produces, and those are associated to the vibrations, and those that are produced in her direction. At birth the new-born will be able to react to the clusters of sounds that had been common with the mother and experiments were done with the names of the siblings of the new-born and the baby reacted to these clusters one hour after birth. All that is ignored and of course language is ignored in its hierarchical articulated nature.
But there is more. The birth itself is never taken into account and the trauma it brings with discontinuous feeding, with breathing, with hunger and thirst, and the first cry of the baby. It will not take the baby very long to understand that when it cries some adult is going to come to take care of its needs, wants, discomforts and desires. That creates a basic MATRIX of hierarchized functions centering on a relation. The functions are theme and location, source and goal, agent and theme. These functions are the basic functions of any human syntax and the relations, static (of the “be” type or of the “have” type) or active (of the transitive, intransitive, transferring or positioning types, not to speak of the particular transfers of “give” and “take”). All that is learned from experience by the new-born child and built in his mind as a model that will inform the language when words become possible.
Yes the child listens and yes the child will babble and discover that the lip movements of sucking or rejecting the tit of his mother or the bottle-tit can be articulated on the flow of air coming from his larynx and when that larynx starts lowering the child will be able to pronounce “ma”, “pa”, “da”, “ta”, “ka”. As soon as the larynx is low enough to control the flow of air and as soon as the articulatory power of the mouth, jaws, tongue, glottis becomes more developed the child will be able to produce and articulate more sounds, and he will start associating the clusters of sound with the referential elements around him, on the basis of and into the basic MATRIX he will have by then vastly developed in his mind through and from experience.
But the main mistake of Kurzweil is methodological. He does not seems to understand, actually he can’t, that the mind being a construct will change its construction constantly every single time a new element of knowledge appears. That connection between the knowledge and the architecture of the mind is not seen by Kurzweil and the evolutionary nature of that relation is not seen either, especially not in its dual carriageway dialectic: a given state of the mind enables a child to learn a certain item of knowledge but that item of knowledge reacting on the mind changes it and restructures it and then the mind is able to learn some new item of knowledge he could not learn before. And that process is never finished, except with death, that can be mental before being physical, but that’s not the point here.
So the main methodological defect appears then.
He states what he calls laws, particularly the Law of Accelerating Returns. But he does not seem to know this law is a mental model constructed by his mind of what might be a natural phenomenon. But his law contains a very old defect generally identified as the paradox of Ulysses and the Hare. If Man’s mental development is slower than the machine’s development then sooner or later the machine will step beyond man. But he forgets the basic principle of man’s development. It is mental, hence in the mind, hence a construct, a model, hence every step of it develops the mind itself and every development of what this mind produces develops the mind itself, which means we cannot in anyway consider the mind (and Kurzweil only considers the brain) as in anyway static in power and extension. The brain is hardly overused by the mind. Isn’t it said that Einstein used something like 12 or 13 % of his brain? The brain is far from being fully used and the mind has quite a lot of brain reserve to develop more and more models of reality.
The last point I would like to make here is the social hierarchy that is behind that thinking.
At the top you have “the software-based humans who vastly exceed those still using native neuron-cell-based computation.” No matter how vast this class is, it is a dominant class. We are in pure science fiction where these superior beings are purely virtual living in virtual bodies in a virtual reality and that they can eventually descend into a nano-engineered physical body. That reminds me of Hubbard’s “theta” and “MEST”
The population this superior class dominates is to be seen as composed of several layers.
First the middle human class that uses “neural implant technology to reach an enormous augmentation of human perceptual and cognitive abilities.” Note the mind is still absent since, according to Bertrand Russell, the body and its senses can only increase the quality of the sensations, and it is the mind that will build the perceptions. That’s the short cut of the presentation which is a short circuit: without a mind the way I defined it, along with Bertrand Russell and all cognitive linguists, we blow the system because the mind is the fuse of it.
At the bottom the lower class is composed of the humans who do not utilize the afore-mentioned implants and are unable to meaningfully participate in dialogues with those who are using them.
This society is an echo of Brave New World and it amounts to real apartheid based not on race, not even on culture and education, but on the use or not of neural implant technology. There is not choice whatsoever in this social vision. Under the virtual dominant class that may condescend to get into a nano-engineered physical body to deal with real humans, the choice, if it is a choice, is to accept neural implants or not. On one hand you can participate in the society. On the other hand you cannot and I guess you will be sent to some reservation if not a simple extermination plant. And this does not answer the question of who will decide and through what procedure, and with what appeal route, that this physical body will be entrusted to the virtual dominant individuals to be able to intervene in the real world. Who will decide who is going to be the vessel of these virtual dominant beings? We are this time in Supernatural. So we can ask who is Lucifer and who is Michael.
To conclude, and I will spend a lot more time to discuss Kurzweil’s books (all of them) in another arena, this ideology justifies deistic visions without hardly referring to God. This ideology is socially segregative. This ideology negates the developmental role of the mind by negating the mind itself. This ideology does not understand the developmental role of language among humans. This ideology ignores all the research done on pre-natal existence and cognitive process, procedures and power.
And surprisingly enough some of its conclusions are extremely close to Hubbard’s, particularly in the science-fiction of it. Hubbard was more on retrospective science fiction, inheritance from the very distant past. Kurzweil is more on a prospective science fiction, the production of a future that will transcend us. But both base their visions of man and human society on a selection according to some kind of science-fictional elaboration that takes the form of some pseudo-psychiatric form in Hubbard, and that last “elaboration” word is an understatement.
RAY KURZWEIL — THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR — 2006 — Review August 2011
Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, the exponentially accelerating rhythm of technological progress is obvious but to quantify the phenomenon is an obsession for him. This brings to a mistake when he says that the doubling of the capability of information technology occurs every year and that it means a multiplication by 1,000 in ten years and by 1,000,000 in twenty years. In fact 11 years will reach 1,024 and 11 more years will reach 1,048,576.
But Kurzweil starts with a mathematical example to explain “the singularity”, a mathematic concept adopted by physics that he transfers into philosophy. His example is the function f(x) = 1/x. It is a hyperbole centered on the orthogonal axes of a Cartesian plane. For x = 0 the function is undefined, hence for x = 0 + n, n being as small as conceivable, and a dimension can always be cut in two, f(x) moves towards the infinite. In the same way if x moves towards the infinite f(x) will move towards 0: asymptotic growth. He doesn’t consider when x becomes negative though then the hyperbole is perfectly defined, symmetrical to the first graph.
It is the old Achilles and the Tortoise Paradox, thus defined by Aristotle: “In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.” (Aristotle, Physics VI:9, 239b15). In real life, the remaining distance between Achilles and the tortoise either is shorter than Achilles’ arm, then Achilles will pick up the Tortoise, or it is smaller than Achilles’ step then Achilles will overtake the Tortoise.
In fact Kurzweil ignores (two meanings intended) René Thom’s Catastrophe Theory. In such cases of asymptotic growth x reaches the point of a qualitative change, and that is exactly what happens when x is nearing zero. In nature, no matter how small a particle of matter is, there is a qualitative threshold from one state to the other, from a particle to pure energy for example. That’s what nuclear fusion and fission produce.
This beginning then falsifies the whole reasoning. There will be a point when technology is so developed that humanity as a whole will step over a limit. When is it going to be reached? For Kurzweil as soon as computers are as intelligent as man, or rather more, and he dates it. In forty tears or so.
Then Kurzweil evacuates the problem of language in about one page and one reference to Chomsky (p. 190). His man, and of course machines have no articulated communicational language. The whole theory is based on the consideration that intelligence is nothing but a problem solving mental procedure. The question is not whether it is genetic or the result of the functioning of the brain. The real question is what is intelligence and where does it come from. The author’s insistence on the fact that evolution (producing intelligence) only starts with biology (p. 387), that intelligence is only human, that the rest of the material world does not even contain any rational element, that it is human intelligence, when equaled and overtaken by the intelligence of machines, that will take possession of an essentially irrational cosmos, this insistence shows his man-centered and even machine-centered ideology.
He cannot understand that from the very first instant we may consider, and that is not the beginning of the cosmos or matter — there is something before the big bang — the matter we consider is rational and has an architectural dynamic pattern. From this starting point, which is not the beginning of the cosmos but an arbitrary point taken just after the “big bang”, the rationality of each state will produce that of the next. The question is how more than if. From the very first matter particles evolution will produce life. The evolution of matter particles from simple to complex will eventually produce the elements that will make life possible and then, along with this geological evolution, we have the evolution of species where haphazard mutations are selected by natural selection: useful or not for the survival of the individual or species.
Here Kurzweil falls in an enormous trap: language. Human intelligence is based on conceptualizing power. That power can only develop if the mind is able to label these concepts derived from the real referential environment, which means a language entirely invented by the mind in a situation when the body, as a side effect of bipedal running, produces three phylogenic hierarchical articulations in a context of social cooperation and communication indispensable for the survival of individual and species. Knowledge is not given, like with Kurzweil but it is a construct invented through assimilation, which requires a knowledge acquisition threshold implying motivation, transferences and cognitive strategies. All these are absent from Kurzweil’s approach. If a machine could produce a father transference hampering or dynamizing its learning, I might become a believing convert.
Last remark: his inspiration, probably unconsciously, is recuperating some old trans-cultural religious concepts. For example the six epochs of the universe (what happened before the Big Bang?) is a very kosher number. “The Singularity will ultimately infuse the universe with spirit.” (p. 389) The Messiah of the Old Testament and the Second Coming of the New Testament promise the same illumination, after the end of the material world, with inspiration from the Spirit or the Holy Sprit of God himself. John said it, or Ezekiel did. Kurzweil speaks of “a common Buddhist ontology [that] considers subjective — conscious — experience as the ultimate reality” (p. 388). Total ignorance of Buddhism for which man’s lot is the permanently changing cycle of birth-life-death-rebirth, i.e. the concept “dukkha”, and the possibility through “nibbana” to move out of it and merge into the pure energy of the universe. This vision of Buddhism seems to be out of Ray Kurzweil’s consciousness.
RAY KURZWEIL — TERRY CROSSMAN, MD — TRANSCEND, NINE STEPS TO LIVING WELL FOREVER — 2009 — Review August 2011
The first thing I have to say is that the title is definitely false advertising. “Forever” does not exist with any natural phenomenon. Everything in the world is born to life, lives which means follows a track of growth and decay, dies and eventually is reborn through some form of reproduction for the organisms that can reproduce. No one will live forever. The human species is genetically planned to disappear in a way or another like all other animal species. The best thing that happens with animal life is that natural evolution eliminates organisms that are no longer fit for survival in the changing environment it lives in and replaces it with an organism that is fitter to that environment.
The point with human beings is that natural evolution has endowed our species with a form of intelligence that enables us to go against this natural evolution by changing the environment, by producing our means of survival, by going against decay and death even for the individuals who are obviously badly adapted for survival and would die in a jiffy if natural evolution had the last word. Religion, science, technology, medicine are the human inventions that enabled the species to extend its survival and expand its living conditions.
We find that same “human” vanity in the first chapter when the authors say “You create your brain” (p. 7). The brain is a given organ that depends as for its existence on the genetic inheritance of the individual or the species. They say then “You create your brain from the input you get” (p. 8). This is less false since it takes into account the input, but the genetic input cannot be an input “you” get because “you” do not exist in anyway before this genetic inheritance is brought up by the fertilization of an egg by a spermatozoon. They finally come to a closer truth when they say “I do indeed create my mind from my own thoughts” (p. 8) The mind is not an organ, but it is a meta-sense, meaning it is potentially contained in the genetic structure and functionality of the brain in its body and under the survival requirement in the body’s and species’ environment.
The mistake is the use of the word “create”. The comparison with muscles should have made them realize the vanity of this word. Exercise and training does not “create” a muscle but only develops it. The proper approach of the mind would be that our sensorial experiences and the strong requests from our environment in order to survive, and today to get an education which is the basic social survival requirement, DEVELOP the mental function of the brain and hence the MIND. As for the brain the same sensorial experiences plus physical activities along with the development of language DEVELOP the brain’s ability to “think”, DEVELOP our THOUGHTS or THINKING and hence enable the brain to DEVELOP in itself connections and relations between the various cells that are genetically programmed to establish such relations and connections. True enough it is this global experience of coordinated actions, coordinated thinking, articulated language and systematic reflection (distantiation and mental reconstruction) that makes the brain of any individual what it is, rich or poor, richly developed or underdeveloped, etc.
I am surprised that the authors did not speak of mirror neurons that are essential in contact with other people and learning. Yet they compensate this flaw with the mention of spindle cells that are essential to build complex responses to the environment, i.e. coordinated, articulated and empathetic reactions. Language is these responses though the authors concentrate on emotions. They do not even consider the ancillary role, not to speak of the conceptual role of language in thinking, communicating, emotional contact, etc. Their world is entirely language-empty, and that is regrettable because articulated language is a basic human dimension resulting from natural evolution.
Now this book, by far too big for simple readers, is clear on a few healthy elements: To live better and longer, man or woman must be active, practice regular and rather exacting exercise, sleep properly, eat healthy and balanced food, drink moderately and non exciting beverages (alcohol or caffeine or energizing drinks, though they don’t mention these that are included under caffeine) and practice relaxation and even meditation.
As for activity and exercise, they do not specify a wide enough variety: no walking, no bicycling, no swimming, apparently only aerobics and running lengthily mentioned. As for healthy food, they speak against deep frying and other high temperature cooking, but they do not speak one word on low temperature cooking that microwave ovens provide. As for relaxation and meditation they stop short, a long way short, of Buddhist and Oriental meditation that some consider as being self-hypnosis into total inner relaxation by pushing away outer environmental elements. Yoga is definitely, in its Western reduction to some kind of physical and mental recipe, a trendy suggestion in Northern America and the developed world.
The TRANSCEND program is also very surprising in its first element, “talk with your doctor” and heavy emphasis on medical tests and prescription drugs, because it sounds like open and unconditional support to the medical profession that has not done much so far for prevention but has done so far a lot for surgical and chemotherapeutic inflexibility if not obduracy. People have to become their own mental doctors and meditation as well as education are essential, and the “talk with your doctor” provides neither. The book then becomes a set of recipes (including a vast food recipe section) and suggestions (including a vast aerobic section) counterbalanced by long lists of supplements and drugs and chemical elements etc. Anyone who does not have a high degree of training and curiosity in the field will not get a real positive return from this book.
RAY KURZWEIL — HOW TO CREATE A MIND — 2012
We must understand this title that pretends to tell you how you can create a mind has to be taken literally. Ray Kurzweil believes in his Artificial Intelligence engineer’s enthusiasm that he can create a mind, that he may qualify as god himself, a secular god as a matter of fact.
“Evolution can then be viewed as a spiritual process in that it creates spiritual beings, that is, entities that are conscious. Evolution also moves toward greater complexity, greater knowledge, greater intelligence, greater beauty, greater creativity, and the ability to express more transcendent emotions, such as love. These are all descriptions that people have used for the concept of God, albeit God is described as having no limitations in these regards.” (p. 223)
And do not consider all that is pure rhetoric or pulpit preaching. He believes evolution is the real God when he says: “Our neocortex is virgin territory when our brain is created . . . the biological process of actually growing a brain.” (p. 62) We can wonder about this evolution or biological process if it is a creator or a grower, God or a simple farmer. But we have to wonder what Kurzweil means by “brain” and “mind.” Page 23 over 26 lines he uses the following string of words: “mind . . . brain . . . mind . . . theories . . . ideas . . . thought . . . thinking . . . theories . . . thought . . . brain . . . thinking . . . “ We can assert that these words are not really discriminated. This lack of clear definitions of these terms is of course an enormous shortcoming that is just as nearly irritating as the levity with which he deals with Einstein: “Einstein articulated my goals in this book well when he said that ‘any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex . . . but it takes . . . a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.’” (p. 11) It is obvious Einstein did not articulate his goals since he has not been alive for a while now. That use of the passive by Kurzweil to draw to himself what the quoted person said is even more astounding with at least two and quite often more than three quotations, at times long ones, at the head of all chapters and even subchapters. Kurzweil seems to forget that quoting does not prove anything. But this quoting and bringing together opposed ideas is the basic unitarian objective of the author:
“The truth can be discovered only by finding an explanation that overrides — transcends — seeming differences, especially for fundamental questions of meaning and purpose. That is how I resolve the Western-Eastern divide on consciousness and the physical world. In my view both perspective have to be true. On the one hand it is foolish to deny the physical world . . . On the other hand, the Eastern perspective — that consciousness is fundamental and represents the only reality that is truly important — is also difficult to deny.” (p. 222)
On one hand blunt and brutal materialism since Kurzweil does not seem to consider the material existence of the mind, except when reduced to the brain, or of ideas, thoughts, ideologies, etc. On the other hand a principle that is derived from a false reference to Buddhism.
“In the Eastern view, consciousness is the fundamental reality, the physical world only comes into existence through the thoughts of conscious beings . . . I call this the Buddhist school of quantum mechanics, because in it particles essentially don’t exist until they are observed by a conscious person.” (p. 218–219)
Kurzweil does not know what he is speaking of. Buddhism is basically expressed in the Dhammapada and the Abhidhamma. For Buddha the whole material world exists outside our consciousness and we are part of it because we have a body. This whole world can only be captured by our six senses, the five basic senses plus the mind as a meta-sense that processes the sensations captured by the five other senses plus the abstract concepts conveyed by language and organized in abstract reasoning or description. The word “consciousness” that Kurzweil uses does not correspond at all to the words used for the “mind” that sixth sense or meta-sense. In fact there are two words in Pali for the mind, “mana” that refers to the meta-sense itself and “citta” which refers to the various mental states of an individual experiencing some type of feeling, emotion, mental excitation, etc. Kurzweil uses the word “determined” a lot about the material world. There is a Buddhist concept behind. The whole physical world, including us as physical beings is determined, follows the physical laws governing the cosmos. By using the mind any individual can get into meditation, which will lead him onto the eightfold path of illumination that is to say the possibility to get detached from the determined world and hence to merge with cosmic energy once death has come, thus getting out of the triple characteristic of the determined world: everything is changing all the time; everything is carried by a cycle that goes from birth to life and decay then to death and then to rebirth. Nibbana (known in Sanskrit as Nirvana) is that mentally produced escape from this cycle into cosmic energy; everything has no essence, soul or permanence of any type.
This is important because this should lead us to refusing the basic objective Kurzweil gives to humanity: to use intelligent machines to “coloniz[e]” (p. 281) the universe. In previous books he was rejoicing in the idea that the speed of light could be stepped over, hence speeding the “colonizing [of] the universe” (p. 281) though in this book he is more realistic since the good news about having transported molecules at a speed higher than the speed of light has been disproved in this very 2012 year. But the objective remains: to colonize the universe. Some people never learn. The colonization of the planet by the Europeans has not exactly been the best thing in the world producing slavery, the eradication of American Indians, Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, etc, colonialism and throwing three continents, if not four into, underdevelopment and exploitation. It is high time Kurzweil questions his basic fundamental motivation. The conquest of the universe is not on the agenda. So far we are dealing with the discovery of the universe. We might never conquer it, especially if intelligent beings exist here and there. The use of the cavalry seems to be slightly passé.
This said, and it is fundamental we can move to the main subject of the book: the mind, though in fact he never speaks of it reducing it to the brain. So let’s start with the brain.
After a rather long career and many books published on his “Singularity” that was and still is heftily criticized by many people in the field, including people who are specialists, theoreticians and entrepreneurs in computing science and technology like Kurzweil himself, he wrote this book to get back in phase with others. Criticism was generally rejected high-handedly before. This time he makes an effort to integrate the research of others in the first half of his book, hence to describe the functioning of the brain the way it is known by scientists, though in the second half of the book he goes back his messianic, apocalyptic, prophetic, oracular prediction of the merging of biological intelligence, hence man, into non-biological intelligence, hence machines and we jump onto the track to Terminator 25 all over again and dreams of a time when “computers will have . . . surpassed unenhanced human intelligence.” This phrase gives us in a nutshell, not a walnut but a hazelnut, his basic thinking. Note he of course neglects the fact that human intelligence develops along with all the intelligent machines and theories man has invented. If these intelligent machines are used properly, that is to say at the top of their capabilities, then the intelligence of the users will tremendously develop. Will we have a new mutation in biological evolution? Some human beings are able to develop some tremendous capabilities as for memory, the assimilation of hierarchical systems like foreign languages, etc. These are supposed to be autistic, but do we know anything serious about autistic people apart from believing they are different and have to be put away?
Let’s speak of the brain now. I will not be over technical about it. He borrows from various other researchers (Jeff Hawkins, Dileep George and Jaron Lanier mostly) the general architecture of the brain and adds a couple of things.
The neocortex is the part of the brain that controls our most advanced human intelligent activities. It has six layers and it is structured in vertical columns across these six layers; Each column hence has six layers too. These columns are connected in many ways first of all to the columns around each one of them on a proximity basis, but some spindle neurons can connect many columns in all parts of the brain, 60% of these spindle neurons in the right hemisphere and 40 percent in the left hemisphere. They appeared with hominids, our ancestors after branching out of apes some 10 or 15 million years ago. But we must know that they already existed in apes since Gorillas have about 20% of our number, Bonobos have 2.5% and chimpanzees about 2%. Other mammals do not have any at all. Kurzweil does not speak of mirror neurons and he should have since they are also only vastly present in Homo Sapiens, though they must have been present in hominids and are present in some apes, and these are essential for learning and empathy since they enable someone to imitate the actions of someone else and to empathetically feel the same emotions as other people around them. He also mentions though lightly the fact that a fetus has a brain as soon as one month of age and this fetus will hear (he does not mention this one) and see around the 20th or 24th weeks of pregnancy. He forgets to say that the brain grows after birth. But he does mention that everything happening while the brain is growing has important consequences on the growth of this brain. But he makes his basic mistake here at the very basis of his approach.
First he considers that “learning and recognition take place simultaneously.” (p. 63) He just forget in the womb the fetus cannot learn because all he hears or feels has no referential dimension; These sensations he feels and the sound clusters of any type he hears are registered, that was proved, but with no reference, hence no real meaning, though they can have a comforting or disturbing effect on the fetus along with the mother’s mood. After birth it is obvious then the baby has the possibility to attach a referent hence a meaning to what he sees and identifies. At this point it is impossible to say that learning and recognizing happens simultaneously for the same things. You have to learn about something before recognizing it. Even if is only a comforting sensation you have to experience it first, to more or less identify it second before being able to recognize it. Recognition is necessarily second at least because to identify you have to experience several times and that’s what he probably means. The first time you just experience, the second time then you recognize and by recognizing you identify even if it is superficially. But there must be a first moment of pure experience. But this is nothing in itself. The main shortcoming at this moment is the absence of any consideration about language. For Kurzweil language, spoken first and written second are the only two inventions of humanity (he says so twice p. 27 and 159) bringing together in one movement two human inventions that have at least 300,000 years between them and it neglects the phylogeny of that linguistic ability. Once again without entering details, language which was oral only for at least 300,000 years out of 305,000 years is an invention of humanity, ,hence of the brain and since language is not something you can touch it is part of the mind. Written language will only come very late in human history. There are still some human groups on the earth that do not write at all.
To invent human articulated language the neocortex has to have a hierarchical organization, which is the case in each column and in the neocortex all together and within the brain between the old brain and the neocortex. That hierarchical architecture of the brain makes the brain only able to function along that line. The hierarchical architecture of the brain produces hierarchical thinking, hierarchical language, hierarchical society, etc. All human activities contain a hierarchical dimension that is the reflection of the architecture of the brain. And here with language you hold an essential line of thought. Every single advancement in phylogeny, in lexicon, in syntax is produced by the mind and each advancement is inscribed in the mind and determines the next advancement. We could show how complex but also how direct and simple this transitive productive process is. What’s more the experience of a human being in front of any entity is hierarchical. He must first discriminate it. Then he has to identify it and name it with a new name if it is a new entity or an old name if he recognizes it as already known and named. Then it has to be classified and that leads to another abstract operation that is known has conceptualization. There is no concept if there is no conceptualization; Kurzweil uses the word “concept” several times, though he does not list it in his index, but he does not use the word “conceptualization” which means for him concepts are generated by magic.
It is obvious then that written language amplifies the intellectual conceptualization of people since they do not have to simply remember plain facts that are recorded in books. They can step further into more abstract thinking. Imagine what it is when you have the Internet at the tip of your fingers. There are thus systematic hierarchies that he neglects. From root to theme and then frond at the level of the semantic units of the language often called words. From syncretic concatenation, to clause structure, to multi-clause structure by concatenation and then embedding, as for syntax often called grammar. From simple calls, to orders, to descriptive discourse, to explicative discourse, to any other discourse with an ever higher level of abstraction, social meaning, content or intention, and that has to use various media to be uttered or produced.
But there is more if you cross brain and language.
Each column, and that is Kurzweil’s approach, is composed of many modules, each one having about 100 neurons. These modules are connected inside the column in complex intertwined networks. Hence we then have a first hierarchy: neurones and their relations within a module, then modules and their relations within a column and at each level relations between the elements and the direct outside: neurons from one module to neurons from another module in the same column, modules from one column to modules from the same column and to modules from other columns. And yet we miss the spindle neurons that can connect any column to any other column and any module to any other module. These spindle neurons seem to be totally opportunistic and develop according to the needs of this or that moment for this or that individual. We thus get to what Dileep George calls “recursive cortical networks” (quoted p. 152) and I insist on the fact that these networks are growing from nearly conception to death, or at least to an advanced age, as long as we can learn new tricks, that they are flexible and versatile in many ways, which explains why we can learn new things all the time: there is plenty of room in the brain and any learning does not depend on a type of available neurons, they are all basically the same. This enables man to use many ways of thinking and one at least is unpredictable and hence inimitable.
The simplest way is to put together two entities and their proximity implies they are connected. It’s what is called syncrertic thinking and it corresponds to what Kurzweil calls “leakage” in the brain, one neuron being in a certain state due to some influx of information coming to it may have a direct influence on its neighbors as if it leaked its information over his surrounding neurons.
Then we can build a deductive argumentation. One event is the cause of another which is the effect of the first one. We can thus build deductive chains. That’s the standard reasoning in sciences like mathematics. We can also inverse the reasoning and get into an inductive chain of reasoning. From what I know I induce that this should be true. It is a hypothesis. This is also important in sciences, but also in everyday life like: it was raining yesterday hence my father must have stayed home.
But there is another way of thinking. I call it subduction. The simplest form of subduction is a metaphor; I treat one entity as if it were another and that may reveal an aspect of the first entity I had not seen at first. A metaphor or a subduction does not prove anything. It has to be demonstrated afterwards, but that’s how the most creative activities of man develop. We have a deep feeling, a strong emotion, a profound conviction, post traumatic stress, and we draw from this the idea that the working truth should be this or that. It is an induction in a way but a lot vaster and deeper. This sudden truth is the Eureka of Archimedes. A sudden illumination. Note such epiphanies can happen at any time and anywhere and in any field of activity. This subduction corresponds perfectly to the recursive cortical networks Dileep George is speaking of. Note language is not indispensible. A composer can just experience such epiphanies in his composing and he would be unable to explain in words what it means. That’s generally why I would consider the artistic creator is the last person who can explain his own creation.
The question that I will only evoke here is where do these elements of the mind of a person register in the brain. Kurzweil does not even ask the question. For him whole lists of patterns as he calls them are available in the various modules. The question is to know where all these elements, patterns or not, are registered. My idea is that we are working at the level of the molecules with particularly the proteins in the microtubules of the neurons since it is proved some of these proteins can vary including in structure when impacted by some influx of information. Same thing about the transportation of the sensorial information from the sensorial organs to the brain: how is it done? A vast discussion is needed here.
The last point I would like to make here is about Artificial Intelligence. Kurzweil’s objective is to copy a real brain, or maybe several (though mixing two brains might produce strange effects since there cannot be two brains that are identical due to their psychogenetic history), and then compress the information by cutting out all redundancy and the brain is very redundant. Kurzweil says that should have no effect. I would doubt it since each instance of one piece of information was registered in one specific situation with particular emotional or sensorial elements around it and these variations from one recording to the next of the same item will be lost by compressing. Then he will simulate that compressed version of a brain in an intelligent machine. His machine will only be able to simulate the compressed version of one particular brain and hence will in no way represent the human brain at the level of its abstract totality. But Kurzweil knows it is in many ways bound to be too short:
“Almost certainly we would not find a precise match; the neuronal structure would invariably differ in many details compared with the models in the computer. However, I would maintain that there must be an essential mathematical equivalence to a high degree of precision between the actual biology and our attempt to emulate it; otherwise these systems would not work as well as they do.” (p. 153)
What is lost in such a simulation is what makes a brain different from all others, the circumstantial elements attached to each item of knowledge, but it is these elements that may be particularly pervasive in a subductive inspirational way of thinking. A plane after all flies pretty well but it is quite different from a bird, isn’t it, though it performs the task of flying quite well.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI — SAPIENS, A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND — 2011
The book was originally written in Hebrew and it was translated later on. That should imply some caution about what the real thinking of the author might be since Hebrew is a first articulation root language and English is a third articulation analytical frond language. The two languages are not compatible in many ways and translating one into the other is necessarily problematic.
This being said we can now deal with the book the way it appears in English.
The first remark is fundamental. Before even making this remark it is important to understand that phrase like “most … agree today that …” is a purely ideological and rhetorical means and it has absolutely no scientific value. It is not because the majority of mathematicians think this or that on a crucial and debated question that their opinion is true. All scientific progress always came from the ideas that challenged what most people in the concerned scientific field thought at the time. Copernic and Galileo Galilei would have had to invent nothing about the shape of the earth if the majority of people had thought it was round at the time. This discovery was a discovery because most people thought the earth was flat at the time. The majority was wrong. And such a majority rule is dangerous by principle, particularly in some political arenas.
My first remark is that the book starts the history of humanity at 70,000 years BCE. At this time all the migrations out of Africa have taken place and were practically finished. That enables the author NOT TO CONSIDER the at least 230,000 years of Homo Sapiens’s emergence before this date 70,000 BCE, and this emergence took place in Africa and ONLY Africa. This is from my point of view a grave and sinister shortcoming that is practically racist, de facto segregative against Africans. The author can then forget to tell us we are all originally black and in the book this black exclusion is systematic. Later on, when he speaks of the agricultural revolution, he rightly connects this agriculture with cereals, rice, wheat, corn, and some other like rye, oats, etc. And here again, since this agriculture that emerged in Africa too is not based on cereals (except in Egypt which is not officially black) but on cassava which is a root, the African continent is entirely ignored. This then becomes a bias, a choice, a desire, an intention: ignore Africa. But on the other hand, he writes for a good old western Jewish or Christian audience, marginally Muslim, and such emblematic symbols of these references are used, even as chapter titles, like “Adam and Eve.” There are quite a few moments on the book when you hesitate between a reference to some religious fundamental reference and some often indirect assertion of non-adherence to such religious faith and allegiance. These elements are in no way scientific and are in no way analyzed from any scientific point of view, and thus they become rattles or drums to attract the attention of the poor, ignorant, uneducated and naïve popular reader.
The second remark is about the three “revolutions” he states as the three stages of human history. These three revolutions are the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, and the scientific revolution. He will refer later on to the industrial revolution but for him, it seems to be the result of the scientific revolution. He disdains technology as NOT being scientific, and he forgets that all science is by definition and first of all experimental and thus technological. But I want to make a general remark here that concerns absolutely all uses of the word “revolution.” It has become popular since the American and the French Revolutions, maybe even the Glorious Revolution in Great Britain some time earlier. Note this last one was achieved by one decision of the British parliament and with no violence, except of course the banning of Catholics and Jews from all official positions and at times with some cleansing local missions against this or that Jew or Catholic up to the 19th century, not to mention the supporters of the deposed king known as Jacobites. All revolutions take time and if the Soviet Revolution is reduced to ten days, it is a pure lie. The Soviet Revolution was only stabilized after four or five years of war. The French Revolution was never stabilized except by becoming an empire under the dictatorial authority of the war monger that Napoleon became. But the use of revolution for things like the emergence of agriculture and herding, of human cognition and of science is the most irrelevant use of the term. These three moments in the emergence of modern humanity took tens of thousands of years, each one of them, to actually emerge and stabilize. Let me look at these three moments considered by the author.
The “cognitive revolution” is by far the best case. The author never says that cognition needs a tool to exist, and that tool is language. So he does not ask the question of the origin of language and its emergence. He thus let the good old Christian, Jewish and Muslim idea that man received language fully developed from some godlike authority be the only reference behind. And this is non-scientific and vain. Language existed before Homo Sapiens and when Homo Sapiens emerged he inherited this language. What we can say is that the language of Homo Ergaster, to use one name of the Hominin who is the ancestor of Homo Sapiens (and also of Neanderthals and Denisovans), was more advanced than the language of the monkeys and apes he was descending from. We have studies of monkey language and it is clear it only contains three or four vocalic sounds and five or six consonantal sounds. These sounds are organized in syllabic calls of the Consonant-Vowel-Consonant form most of the time and their number is seven or so. By Human means, these vowels and these consonants could have produced about 125 one-syllable words. These monkeys did not have the rotation of vowels and consonants, the key to the first articulation of human articulated language. Did Homo Ergaster have some limited control of this rotation or not? It is an open question. Did Neanderthals and Denisovans have some limited control of this rotation? It is an open question.
But the most important element is that Homo Sapiens when he left the forest to enter the savanna was already bipedal like many Hominins before him. But he had to become a bipedal, fast, long-distance runner to be able to hunt and escape encounters like lions in a savanna that had very few trees, and Homo Sapiens was not a tree climber. This activity could develop because natural selection selected some mutations that made Homo Sapiens the runner he became: a very low larynx (the pump of long distance breathing); a very strong diaphragm (the piston of this breathing pump); a great innervation of the subglottal respiratory and articulatory zone indispensable for long distance running; and of course a developed Broca zone that coordinates all these I have mentioned, plus organs like the heart and every active part of the body at work in this long distance running. All these elements are fundamental to running but they open a new field of activity: speaking, which is by the way indispensable for hunting coordination in the savanna and over long distances between the hunters. Calls can do that but Homo Sapiens could produce an easy 12 vowels and 25 consonants (especially since the teeth of Homo Sapiens could produce dentals and other consonants that monkeys could not produce because of their teeth). And this started 300,000 years BCE, 230,000 years before the date of Harari’s cognitive revolution.
This language is essential because of the human brain. The human brain like all brains of all animals that have brains can deal with nerve impulses of some type or other coming from the various senses. Then it can process these nerve impulses and turn them into something the brain can process and this processing produces patterns the brain captures in what it processes. The brain then classifies these patterns in brain-code which is nothing but machine-code. Homo Sapiens and quite a few more hominins, and hominids before, can go a little bit further and attach a vocal production to these brain-coded patterns. You can see at once the rotation of vowels and consonants is essential to thus produce what is nothing but calls among monkeys, lower members of hominids, and it can become something richly developed as soon as the first articulation is captured. And that opens the road for Homo Sapiens and the top Hominins to a process that is only human. The brain-code patterns are names, which means the brain has to develop two things at the same time and those two things are virtual in the brain. It is the mind and language. The two develop simultaneously in a coordinated way. The development of one causes the development of the other and nourishes itself from this development, and vice versa. This development opens the door to experimentation, speculation, and conceptualization. There is no cognition if there is no language to express and transmit, hence to communicate the mental activity that starts from brain-code patterns that are experimented, speculated upon and conceptualized.
It is even more complicated because human articulated language has three articulations that have to be developed in a certain sequence dictated by the phylogeny of language. The very same phylogeny of language with the very same 10 vowels and 20 consonants, on the basis of the rotation of these sounds, will be able to develop on the model of the communicational situation a newborn is confronted too from the very first minute till he or she dies, a full morphology and a full syntax. Note the second articulation is morphological and the third articulation is syntactic. If the language spoken by the people at a certain moment in this phylogenetic development does not contain a morphology or a syntax per se, the communicational situation will provide what’s missing in discourse. When this is said it is obvious it must take some time, and cognition develops at the same time because cognition takes place in the mind and needs language which is developed and develops in the mind. Let’s say that Homo Sapiens had reached the third articulation of this phylogeny around 70,000–50,000 BCE, but the third migration out of Africa was already engaged and practically finished. What about the first two migrations that took place for the first one around 180,000 BCE (or slightly earlier) and attested in Crete in 160,000 BCE, and for the second one around 100,000 BCE or so? What was the phylogenic development of their language or languages at the time, where did the three migrations go and what languages did they produce, that are still alive today after their subsequent evolution?
We cannot reproach a historian with not being a linguist or a phylogenist, though he could have thought that history is the human activity that tries to follow and describe the phylogeny of human life, of any and all human-created elements of human life. Harari’s history is IN NO WAY phylogenic. The main question of phylogenic cognition is: Where did the element I am studying come from? That implies another question: What is the inner development of any phenomenon I am studying? And there I must say Harari is deficient.
I would like now to consider an element Harari totally overlooks. He does not even use the word: division of labor. Strangely enough, Harari does not transfer what he says page 300–301 concerning the Queen of England Eleanor, in fact, the wife of the King of England Edward I, who gave birth to sixteen children between 1255 and 1284, thus over 29 years. That means one pregnancy every 21–22 months. Only the last child was a boy. All others were girls and out of the sixteen pregnancies only 6 got to the procreational age of 12 and then to adulthood. Ten of these children either did not survive birth or only a few weeks or months, or died in infancy and childhood. That represents 37.5% of survival to adulthood. The only objective of this mother was to produce a male heir to the English crown. Harari should transfer this to Homo Sapiens emerging 300,000 years BCE. Life expectancy was about 29 and it will remain around 29 till the eighteenth century and even in some European countries the 19th century. Agriculture before Christ when it was developed is accused by some to have reduced for a while this life expectancy to 19. The point is that this accusation is not clear because does it concern only those working in the fields or does it concern the whole society. If it were true, the human species should have disappeared. Let me explain.
Before agriculture and before the Ice Age (peak 19,000 BCE) life expectancy was 29. Women were fertile from 13 to 29. That means only 16 years and we should take into account those who died during the pregnancy, while delivering and from various accidents or diseases. All women did not reach the age of 29. Difficult to know the proportion of those who did not. If we transfer the 21 to 22 months between each pregnancy and birth that means women in those days could carry about seven pregnancies. If we apply the proportion of survival we have seen, that means that only 2.75 children will reach maturity. It is quite obvious that this is not feasible for the survival and expansion of the species for a few reasons: the case taken before is the case of a queen living in perfect comfort at the time and with all medical help if necessary, and available, which is more than 300,000 years BCE. That means she had it easier than a women 300,000 years BCE. I would say the mother then, women in general had to shorten the distance between two pregnancies to 18 months to reach beyond three surviving child reaching maturity (13 years of age). Then a mother can have 10 or 11 pregnancies. If we reduce the survival rate to 33% then that makes 3.5 surviving children brought to maturity. That sounds more realistic, and yet some may say that it means a woman has to be impregnated within the first six to nine months following her delivery. Clearly women are either pregnant or carrying an un-autonomous child on her back and taking care of at least two more who are still dependent. The mistake here would be to treat each woman separately. In fact, if we treat women as a collective they have in their own hands the survival and expansion of the species but then they have to abide by a strict division of labor. Women as soon as they are of age for procreation (13 years of age) have to dedicate their life and activity to bearing, carrying and taking care of children collectively. This is an essential division of labor imposed by the long dependence of children on outside care. And then if we follow the recent research on cave paintings in Indonesia and in Europe that show many hand prints, these prints are essentially from women with a few young, very young teenagers (some male). That is to say women had another dimension: they were the artists, the priestesses, the go-between for humans and spirits, they were responsible for the spiritual life of the community. Woman were not dominant in any way as some want it with matriarchy. Their role was just as essential as the role of men, who were the main hunters and gatherers and who provided the community with the food and energy needed to survive and to expand. In this perspective it is a myth to believe that human communities before the Ice Age were “dominated” by women, just as much as it would be a mistake to consider the same communities were dominated by men. We are speaking here of division of labor within a community that has to be contemplated as cooperative. The emergence of agriculture after the Ice Age will change this division of labor.
To refer to Sally McBrearty, an archeologist who works on Southern Africa, the very concept of agricultural revolution is absurd because it took several thousand years (probably 10,000 more or less) to emerge all over the world, including in Africa, without any communication between the various and continents, based in each area on one local crop, mostly grains (except in Africa) and many other vegetables like potatoes, yakons, ocas, beans, squashes of all sorts, and many others. Harari deals with it as if it were a magical event and does not understand that some of these plants needed probably a lot of experimentation, speculation, and conceptualization before becoming edible for human beings. Cassava is poisonous and has to be cooked, processed in a very complex way to be purified. Corn is derived from self-sowing wild varieties but the domesticated variety cannot sow itself and needs the hands of human beings. The passage from the wild species to the domesticated species is still not clear. It is also a common knowledge that irrigation in the simple form of watering was invented too and had to be developed. The oldest irrigation systems known to men today are one in China, the oldest, another in Babylon in the Middle East, the second oldest. These two can be compared as to their complexity and technology and yet it is quite difficult to state a connection and if connection there were it would be from China to the Middle East, which would not surprise many people but is contradictory with Harari’s ideas who centers his vision of human history entirely on what is today the west. China, just like Africa is rejected out of Harari’s pale and territory. Harari forgets along this line the simple fact that before the Ice Age and for something like 180,000 years Homo Sapiens was emerging in Africa, and necessarily, just like the way he devised various hunting techniques after devising various stone cutting and polishing techniques he also devised some techniques to take care of the natural garden that nature was to him: clean up around the plants that interested him, maybe even water some of them, harvest them with care for them to produce again the following year, etc. I would be surprised if some of them did not experiment sowing for example, but it was probably not needed yet and it may have remained an experiment. That’s one thing Harari forgets: humanity develops a technique and a technology, not to mention a science, when humanity is ready to do it and to need it. The Roman invented the watermill next to Marseilles one century BCE and they never used it because slaves were by far good enough to grind cereals.
After the Ice Age, the surviving Homo Sapiens — and then no other Hominin species was still alive — agriculture developed slowly and required a new division of labor to cultivate the fields and to build the various constructions needed to live in, to store crops in and to practice various spiritual or collective activities in. As for the cultivation of the land, some had to be the controllers of the land and the work on it. Some had to be the controllers of the working teams on this land and of the herding teams further out. Some had to be the controllers of the harvests and their distribution. Some finally had to be the controllers of the storing and commercial use of the surplus after distribution. All that could be done on a cooperative basis and the controllers could also be rotating field workers on all positions. Some communities did work like that, particularly in Africa from what I know. It seems that most communities all around the world evolved towards a hierarchical society with an elite and the mass of the working population. The elite could be itself divided into several groups: the landowners, the human resources managers, the harvest collectors and other accountants (note writing seems to be a must at this stage and some clay tablets have been found with such data as far as Romania and dated as far as 6,000 BCE. Before this durable medium, Homo Sapiens probably used degradable media that have disappeared. Once again cuneiform writing goes a long may before the official date of 3,500–3,000 BCE.
We can note this elite probably contained a group of people who were controlling spiritual and/or religious activities. The new point at this moment is that this elite in all its various elements seems to be composed of men, or at least mostly men. The mass of people cultivate the soil, harvest the crops, process them, build the various needed constructions, eventually the towns, the roads, and the levees of the irrigation system and canals. In Sumerian, the same word or root is used for water, irrigation canals, sperm, and father. The change is complete. And Harari would have been inspired if then he would have studied the position and role women played and the degree of freedom/dependence the members of the mass of workers had. Then he could also have explored the tools, techniques and technologies these societies had (among others the wheel, the plow, the use of metal for field work, etc. He would certainly have been able to understand that such techniques, or such technologies are the result of a lot of experimentation, speculation and conceptualization, and that this elaboration is both technological and scientific.
But Harari’s worst case of western Europe-centered sectarianism concerns what he calls the scientific revolution that he dates with Bacon and his scientific works in the 16th century. Geometry in Greece is ignored though it was invented to manage the boundaries and surfaces of fields. The tremendous knowledge in cosmology, architecture, and physics necessary for the construction of all monumental pyramids, temples, cities, ports and harbors, etc. from Gobekli Tepe (he dates it as being from around 9,500 BCE) to the city of Rome, is all neglected, bypassed.. If all that knowledge is not scientific, then technology is reduced to tinkering about, which it is not. But even worse, he totally ignores the enormity of Asia, both China and India, and their phenomenal advances in various sciences. The existence of “ZERO” (the Mayas had an equivalent in their counting systems long before it was introduced in Europe) is one of these scientific items along with of course cosmology, navigation with ships about five to ten times as big as Christopher Columbus’s ship that looks like a bark or a boat next to the Chinese vessels. And what about the phenomenal architecture, enamels, advanced herding and agriculture, irrigation and transportation dating vastly to a time before anything comparable was introduced in the west. But even in the West, he does not know the horse collar was invented by the Benedictines in the 10th century. He does not know the Benedictines were known as the engineers of the Middles Ages and they recuperated the Roman invention of the watermill and developed it with the invention of the lantern-gear to transform the vertical rotating movement of the wheel into the horizontal rotating movement of the grindstone. He does not know these Benedictines arrived in Ireland in the 6th century and introduced technologies and knowledge they had preserved by salvaging the Roman libraries. He apparently does not know anything about Arabic medicine that was absolutely dominant in Europe, the Middle East and beyond up to the 12th century when Islam went through a closing up movement. China will go through a similar movement after the death of Admiral Zheng He in the middle of the 15th century. And what about Euclid and Archimedes in Greece, Ptolemy and many others in Alexandria and its library?
He might be right on one superficial point but totally wrong on how it happened. The Black Death decimated Europe (between 50% and 75% of its population was concerned or plainly killed). The need to have a new university system to train thousands and thousands of people was required to recover from the plague, rebuild the countries, their administration and services. This motivated Gutenberg and his associate to develop or maybe import from China, where it had existed for quite a while, the printing press in 1450. It is this Black Death catastrophe, the end of the 100-year war, and the printing press that provided the momentum needed to open up universities, start training people with books. That is called the Quattrocento, the Renaissance with tremendous technological inventions and progress. That means what Harari calls the scientific revolution is, in fact, the result of more than two millennia of evolution in what is going to be the west, probably the result of three millennia of evolution in the East, and a lot of exchanges from one world to the other, Spain being a crossroads till the Catholic Church reconquered it and expelled everything that was not European, Catholic and very humble towards the new crown. Let say the world had the chance of being able in a way or another to save the treasures of old technological and scientific knowledge kept and developed in Spain before the “Reconquista.” Otherwise, that knowledge which was not printed but copied in very few manuscripts would have been lost for quite a while. Descartes developed algebra but the very name of this science shows its Arabic origin, in fact, or rather Arabic transit or passage since this ZERO comes from a lot farther than the Arab world, and we could even say a lot farther than the Muslim world.
But where is he right? In the simple fact that Gutenberg’s printing technology, known for a long time as a mystery in England, gave learning and science the possibility to develop the position of the scientist. Before this character was a sorcerer, a metaphysical speculator or a heretic alchemist, most of them chased by the Catholic Church and its Inquisition, forced to abjure his discovery like Galileo Galilei or plainly tortured to purify them of the devil through their suffering and screaming and then burnt to the stake. It is quite obvious that the revolution if it is a revolution and not a several-century-long evolution, is not scientific but a lot wider: it is the conquest, in the west, of basic freedoms. The first document in that fields is signed by Henry I in England in 1100 promising his people (meaning free men paying taxes of course) he will respect their freedoms and liberties. And this declaration comes from a very distant past that probably goes back to the Greeks, though Aristotle considered that slaves had a slavish nature (page 150). Harari would have been well inspired if he had studied the emergence, hence the phylogeny, of basic human rights in the history of humanity after the Ice Age instead of pretending he was presenting a history of humanity as a whole, since he missed some if not most essential principles, steps, evolutions in the last seventeen or eighteen millennia. Humanity and its evolution do not have a teleology but they sure have a phylogeny. We might be able to construct a teleological vision of the future from this phylogeny but it would be absolutely vain to pretend the prediction has any historical and scientific value. In the very last chapters of the book Harari is totally disappointing because he misses the analysis necessary to understand not a supposed revolution in the field of technology or science, called the Singularity or whatever other concept, but to capture some dynamic that will produce the future in a general confrontation of contradictions and we could hope that maybe this will not lead to a conflagration.
I understand these people who told me they were disappointed by the end, just as much as I understand those who love the book because it is simple. True enough. It is simple and instead of experimenting, speculating and conceptualizing the book too often stops at the level of the simple patterns the brain captured, and translates the brain code in which they are frozen and stored into some excessively too long common and simple language. It is true if he had reduced the book to the two-hundred-page maximum it should have been, then the shortcomings would have been very clear for lack of wrapping paper and commercial bows and labels. Get into that book only if you are able to speed read.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI — HOMO DEUS, A BRIEF HISTORY OF TOMORROW — 2015
This is the too long presentation of the various ideological, technical, technological and scientific theories and at times pure dystopias produced today by the Internet-of-All-Things in the WEIRD world, meaning the new upgraded old WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) into Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic. he never questions these elements either in meaning or legitimacy. Why Western and not Asian. What on earth is an education valid for the whole “global village” (never attributed to its author, Marshall McLuhan) as he says so often? Industrialized is not elaborated upon and no question about what industry is, what it is for, what it produces, what makes the value of these products, how these products can bring in the added value they carry, where does this added value come from, and above all could there be any industrialized world without producers and customers? He easily envisages the total disappearance of human producers but what would the customers these producers are, become if they were no longer producers? Could the economy of a country work if all customers disappeared because of their not being producers at all? And there will always be a good mind, like Ron Hubbard to say that useless people have to be liquidated in a vast war against parasitical organisms.
This paragraph is just an appetizer that echoes the nearly concluding sentence in the book: “Dadaism thereby threatens to do to Homo Sapiens what Homo Sapiens has done to all other animals.” (460) You choose between domesticating human beings into chattel or sending them to the slaughterhouse but to feed machines, computers, 3D Copiers? This is the main shortcoming in this very long book: it is an accumulation of dystopian ideologies and in no way a real discussion of the real stakes of this real period in which we really live. It is a long dystopic ranting that can never reach the end of its raving.
But now let’s be a little bit more detailed on the mistakes the author makes that block any possible real discussion. No discussion is possible on a discourse founded on a mistake.
In the previous volume, I insisted a lot on the fact that Harari took Homo Sapiens at 70,000 BCE fully communicational and fully endowed with a fully developed language. He did not even ask the question of where this language came from, and of the heritages, this language integrated as its starting points. In other words, by not asking the question he went the same way as Noam Chomsky (for Chomsky it is hereditary, inborn, innate) and here Harari stated (by not stating anything at all) that man had received in a way or another a fully developed language since its emergence, its phylogeny, its history was not taken into account and was not worthy of being taken into account. You can see the ghost of the Old Testament again: language was given ready-made by God to Adam, maybe slightly modernized into given ready-made by the cosmos to Homo Sapiens. Homo Sapiens has to be considered its totality from the very start of its emergence and along the long processes that make him invent and develop what I have called his mind and his language that develop simultaneously in man using the brain as the tool for this construction of the dual construct Mind-Language. It is so obvious the date of 70,000 BCE is absurd when we could read yesterday in the press that the oldest jaw of Homo Sapiens ever found in the world and in this case out of Africa was found in Israel and dated between 200,000 and 170,000 BCE. That should dwarf Harari assertion about 70,000 BCE into humility.
He starts of course with his three revolutions: 70,000 BCE the cognitive revolution; 12,000 BCE the agricultural revolution; he adds later in this book within the agricultural revolution the development of writing and money in 3,000 BCE; the scientific revolution he dates this time in 1492. And he adds the humanist revolution in the 18th-19th centuries. In this book, he insists on the digital revolution that is taking place right now.
He starts his book with considering the brain, feelings and consciousness within humanism he amplifies with the reference to Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, July 7, 20112, a declaration that insists on the fact that animals have consciousness. This very expansion of the word consciousness shows that language has nothing to do with it. It is clear there is no reference to the mind, but at the same time language is absent from this consciousness. He writes page 146: “It is unclear why language should be a necessary condition for being aware of past or future events.” And yet pages 175-&è- he compares animals to Homo Sapiens and writes: “Cats and other animals are confined to the objective realm and use their communication systems merely to describe reality. Sapiens use language to create completely new realities. . . No other animal can stand up to us, not because they lack a soul or a mind, but because they lack the necessary imagination.” We can be surprised by the use of the word “describe” for animals since they have no articulated language of any sorts that we know, except bees and very few others, but the essential point is that what is missing on the side of animals is not an articulated language but imagination. This is just plain amusing. If the animals we are speaking of had imagination, I just wonder how< they could use it or express it since they have no language. When you see the physical antics some cats, dogs and other animals perform, you may think they do have some imagination. When you listen to birds singing and you know there is a portion of their song that does not come from the birds of their species in the geographical zone over which they live, not from their fathers but from themselves as some personal development, you can doubt the lack of imagination of these birds, and we are talking about robins, sparrows and other small birds that live exclusively in the wild.
What the author is missing here is that Homo Sapiens has an articulated language that realized and developed within his mind which is a virtual construct of the brain the conceptualizing power of this very brain that can discriminate and identify in brain code patterns in what the five senses bring to this very brain. This conceptualizing power is both necessary to describe the real world and to imagine a virtual world. If you do not have the concept of cat, you cannot speak of the cat except as “the furry white and black small four-legged animal there that goes mew.” Look at all the concepts you need to describe that little cat. Then you can imagine “green sleepless ideas that haunt your burning watery brain with peaceful violent dreams.”
And of course to show how this conceptualization develops in children we would have to enter the field of the psychogenesis of language in children, and this once again would prove clearly that children are self-centered as Harari says but not the way he sees it. But this is a complex domain that I will not enter here. Note it is extremely important to say that the personal system of any language is ternary and based on the experience of the child as soon as he is out of this mother. He will at first distinguish the human beings who are next to him and taking care of him without any distinction from himself, and in a vague consideration of others, of the more distant world. It is only when he discriminates himself from the person who is taking care of him that he builds a ternary personal system with “I/me” that he never names for a long time and “you” who is the direct nurturer, with beyond what will be sometime later “he/she/they.” That’s what is missing in this book: a real empathy with the human subject he is speaking of. He reduces him or her to an item, an artifact, a human thing and nothing else.
This appears so brutally page 206. “When people burn down the temple of Zeus, Zeus doesn’t suffer.” He might be right because Zeus is a god, an imaginary being, but the believers will suffer and the religion of Zeus will also suffer. And I will even say that anyone should suffer if any church, mosque or synagogue or temple of any religion is burned down. Then goes on “When the euro loses its value, the euro doesn’t suffer.” This is totally wrong. The euro suffers in its value because the euro is a material entity. He is right only if he reduces “suffer” to “bleed, cry, etc.” And beyond the euro itself, the Eurozone, the euro economy, and the euro users are suffering because of the inflation it will cause on Chinese products for example. But he even goes on with “When a bank goes bankrupt, the bank doesn’t suffer.” What about the bank being dead and the bank’s users having lost their savings, etc.? He even goes further with “When a country suffers a defeat in war, the country doesn’t really suffer.” In this case, it is plain arrogance because the country might suffer in many ways: loss of prestige, loss of a province or two, dead soldiers and civilians, wounded soldiers and civilians, looting and reparations, etc. When an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in fact not only Japan suffered, not only the Japanese suffered but the whole world suffered from this barbaric use of this horrendous weapon. This arrogant intellectual tone that does not consider real people in their real fate and situation is constant in the book and in many ways disqualify the book even concerning the serious questions that should have considered in a humane and empathetic way. I am afraid this author lacks mirror neurons that could give him some sense of sharing his destiny with his readers who are a little bit more than the data of his sales.
When he says “Fiction isn’t bad, it is vital.” He misses the point completely because there is no fiction without language and that enables him to reduce the future to a dichotomy of dramatic dimension: “in the 21st century we will create more powerful fictions and more totalitarian religions than in any previous era.” In fact, for a fiction or a religion to capture any importance in a society it must have an author (who might be a collective being) and a medium. With the radio Hitler might never have succeeded; Without the radio, Roosevelt would probably not have won. Without television, Kennedy might not have been elected. Without the internet and email communication Obama would not have been elected and without the social networks, Trump would never have been elected. The fiction must speak to the people with whom it shares a language which is not only words but a lot of ideological stances, prejudices, principles, bigot rejection, etc. But more important still is the fact that without a medium that message, that fiction, that religion cannot reach its audience and hence cannot be. And that is my point here. Never Harari considers the language of these fictions and the media through which each one will reach its audience.
That leads us to what he calls the modern covenant. He does not understand that the modern covenant cannot be separated from the one that started with the first human Hominins, hence Homo Faber if we consider this name is the general name of the ancestor who gave rise to Homo Sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. That Homo Faber was from Africa but he migrated to northern Caucasus and necessarily, to central Asia if not northern central Asia. You must, to explain this geographical expansion by migration understand that these Hominins negated a basic natural principle: the population of any species is determined by the available resources of the zone where that species live. Very few species expand their geographical territory by migration, especially over long distance. Wolves might be one species that got extinct in most of Europe and is now slowly reconquering areas in which they have been extinct for one or two centuries. But Hominids have never done that and we do, not have African orangutans living in the wild in Europe. This is fundamental. Homo Faber instead of limited his demography to the available resources, actually managed his demography to be able to expand geographically. That is a counter natural selection rule and that was acquired before Homo Sapiens, hence it was inherited. Neanderthals was the same and he covered the whole of Europe and a good share of Asia without leaving the Middle East. Denisovans, and that is an assumption, did the same and their genes can be found among many Homo Sapiens populations in Asia, though many studies have still to be done.
That should have led Harari to wonder what made these species so special and he should have answered: their communication and that should have brought the next question about language, the phylogeny of language, etc. And the basic concept necessary is the concept of mind. But Harari does not have it. So to characterize the new covenant he gets down to “feelings” which is a very weak concept and that enables him to state that the humanist covenant, humanism is based on the motto “do what you feel good doing.” This centers this covenant on the individual, his personal feelings, his personal direct knowledge. If you centered the whole definition of the individual on this undividable individual you come to a definition of the individual as being the only one who can know himself, and being an individual that only favors what he feels good doing, thinking, or whatever. He has no real self or soul. He only has feelings that he must satisfy in a way or another. These feelings are his and only his and have nothing to do with others. The individual is thus cut off and separated from the whole society, from all others. Strangely enough, this vision is a reduced vision of the Theravada Buddhist conception. He negates the soul and the self (page 332) like the concept of anatta, basic in Buddhism. He reduces the individual to what he feels and he makes him do only what he feels good doing. That is only half of the central concept of Buddhism dukkha which makes the life of the individual a constant succession of satisfaction of some need always ending in dissatisfaction of this very need, hence the idea that life is constant frustration. Harari seems to only consider the positive side of this concept, the secondary and minor side of it, sukha (satisfaction). Harari is mostly in agreement with the third basic concept of Buddhism that considers everything changes all the time, anicca. But even if this set of concepts anatta-dukkha-anicca is reduced as compared to standards approaches among Buddhists, one central concept is missing, the concept of citta, the mind which is absolutely essential, central and all-encompassing in Buddhism. Without the mind, there is no equilibrium in real everyday life, no future both in life and beyond. The mind is the sixth sense of man without which man cannot even envisage the idea of enlightenment. Enlightenment comes from the mind and its efforts to bring the individual onto the right track to this enlightenment.
Then the author examines the three variants of humanism — within the context of WEIRD as we have already said and seen. For him, there are three forms of humanism: Liberal humanism, Socialist humanism, and Evolutionist humanism. He rejects the last two by identifying socialist humanism to his arch enemies Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong. In the same way, he rejects evolutionist humanism as being the humanism of Hitler. He does not even condescend to examine the evolutionist humanism of Scientology for example. He concentrates his approach on liberal humanism that he identifies as capitalism. Capitalism for him is based on individualism that implies human rights though he never speaks of the duties of individuals since for him you have human rights but no human duties in this WEIRD world. Note he considers human rights as attached to individuals and not to social groups. It is obvious in our modern world that collective rights are essential and identifying for many groups of people who define themselves as groups from women to music lovers. Next, this capitalism is defined as free market and you have to understand it means a free market that is in no way regulated. Even the Chinese version of the market economy is rejected because it is centralized and planified system. He does not see the fact that it is a mixed market economy with a constantly evolving frame of regulations to manage that freedom of the market economy so that it does not explode or reject any class of people, what he calls the useless class. That once again negates the duty side of things. On that free market there are only free rights and if you make a wrong decision then you will be destroyed and that is to him normal and healthy. He finally adds to that democracy defined of course on the western model which is essentially the American model without considering, of course, the several vicious elements that enable someone who has the majority of the popular vote to be defeated by someone who has the minority of the popular vote. And his whole construction is topped by and centered on free will. Any one individual has complete free will. He is asserted as not determined at all in his life. It is not clear if that free will is seen as one potential with realistic necessary limits. It is asserted as such and defined page 330 as the “ability to act according to our desires, just like chimpanzees, dogs, and parrots.”
Too bad for Homo Sapiens. He is an animal since he has no mind and no language, unlike chimpanzees, dogs, and parrots. And at the same time, he opposes this free will individual to contemporary science and we come to the last part of the book. He is conscious that modern science, in its basic alliance of computer science and biology, considers that everything is dominated by determinism plus randomness since the theory of evolution (page 329) for which mutations are absolutely random but their selection is absolutely dependent on the circumstantial determining context that blindly decides who can survive and who cannot. Homo Sapiens survived and all other human Hominins disappeared. That’s where he considers the fact desires can be manipulated or even controlled either with drugs or with genetic engineering or with direct brain stimulation and he speaks of a roborat as an experiment about what happens all the time and will happen more and more. Of course, he is not able to capture a fourth way to manipulate the desires of a person which with mental propaganda: flattering their desires in order for them to take the proper decision, or vote, that will give the manipulator a great advantage like his or her victory in an election.
But he even goes further here to bring us to extreme solutions. He gets into the famous, though extremely debated, theory of the two brains, the left brain that controls speech and supports a narrating self, and the right brain that is non-verbal and support an, experiencing self. Once again he speaks of the narrating self and the left brain that controls speech and he does not see there is no speech without language, which enables him not to see that every single concept in this language is the conceptualized pattern, identified in brain code as a pattern discriminated by the brain from the incoming nervous impulses from the various senses, hence from the experiencing body. Language is a construct of the mind and the mind is constructed along with language simultaneously from the experiential patterns in brain code discriminated within and from the sensations-perceptions received and processed by the brain neurons coming directly from the senses.
And that is where he enters modern technology (more than science). “A flood of extremely useful devices, tools and structures that make no allowance for the free will of individual humans.” (page 355) I like the “flood” reference which is Biblical of course. And this Biblical reference starts a long series of ternary elements as if the binary God of Genesis (God and his spirit) had to be systematically paganized or Christianized into a trinity. To quote them is the best way to show the mental pattern, of Harari’s thought. Is he conscious of it? He should be. And if he is not, let everyone tell him. By the way, three is the number of real life for the Buddhist, the real-life dominated by anicca-dukkha-anatta which is a full life of dissatisfaction and unhappiness that has to be stepped out thanks to the mind that leads to the quaternary or even octagonal enlightenment of nirvana.
Three practical developments: 1- Humans lose their economic and military usefulness. .; 2- value in humans collectively but not individually; 3- value only in a very limited unique upgraded superhuman elite of individuals. (page 356)
The useless class of all those who will be made useless by tomorrows Artificial Intelligence machines will be defined by three principles: 1- organisms are algorithms. .; 2- algorithmic calculations are indifferent whether the calculator is organic (eventually human) or non-organic. .; 3- non-organic machines can do all that organic beings can do. (page 372)
The liberal belief in individualism is founded on the three important assumptions: 1- I am an in-dividual, a single essence that cannot be divided. .; 2- My authentic self is completely three; 3- I can know things about myself nobody else can discover. . . I really am, how I feel and what I want. . . the voter knows best, the customer is always right and . . . beauty is in the eye of the beholder. (Pages 382–383)
Life sciences challenge all three assumptions: 1- Organisms are algorithms and humans are not individuals –they are ‘dividuals’. .; 2- The algorithms constituting a human are not free. .; 3- An external algorithm could . . . know me better than I can ever know myself. . . (page 383)
And that is where the dystopia starts. He identifies two possible developments from this situation, either techno humanism and data religion. At this moment he rejects the concept of mind definitely: As we discussed in chapter 3, we don’t really understand the mind. We don’t know how minds emerge, not what their function is.” After saying that he should remain silent since he does not understand the basic, central concept of Homo Sapiens phylogenic emergence and of Homo Sapiens psychogenetic maturation and growth. So he runs himself into a mutation of WASP to produce WEIRD with an unidentified reference to McLuhan’s “global village” that he redefines built on ONE and only ONE culture as the basic concept of the humanist revolution reduced to three elements: 1- modern Western culture. . . 2- rejects superior mental states. . . 3- sanctifies mundane experiences of average Joe. (page 414) These techno-humanists are trying to upgrade the mind (page 319) that has lost three things: 1- smelling; 2- paying attention; 3-. .our ability to dream. (page 421)
This section ends up with a mundane conclusion: “We may successfully upgrade our bodies and our brains while losing our minds in the process.” Note the ternary structure here and the trite reference to the mind with the phrase “lose our minds” that has no scientific value here. “Indeed, techno-humanism may end up downgrading humans.” It is mundane in the fact that he does not give any arguments why he rejects this approach and he does not really discuss their arguments. What’s more, he does not explore the result of this approach if it were allowed to get into power. He does not try to explore the evolution of the mind using these modern technologies and machines, artificial intelligence as one concept. He does not consider the limits the collective mind may impose on such evolution. He should read Dune by Frank Herbert to learn about the Butlerian revolution. He does not consider the human activities and jobs that will develop within the advancing growth of such technologies and techniques. And he does not consider what would happen if the machines took over within this techno-humanist revolution: Production but no customers; rebellion of men against idleness, a modern time Luddite movement; refusal of being unconscious slaves or servants; and there could be other developments.
The data religion, that he calls dataism, is the extreme development of the digital revolution. It is based on big data that flows in a continuous and growing flow of data that no, organic being, in spite of the fact they themselves or nothing but data algorithms, are able to follow and exploit. It is the universe of cyberspace. Humanity in this perspective is crucified, hence four basic methods to improve the efficiency of the system: 1- to increase the number of processors. .; 2- to increase the variety of processors. .; 3- to increase the number of connections between processors. .; 4- to increase the freedom of movement along existing connections. . . (pages 440–441)
And that’s where he reaches the diabolical pentacle of five stages in human history: 1- the cognitive revolution (70,000 BCE); 2- the agricultural revolution (12,000 BCE); 3- within the agricultural revolution, the invention of writing and money (5,000 years ago, hence 3,000 BCE); 4- the scientific revolution (dated here as starting in 1492 and Christopher Columbus’ first crossing of the Atlantic); 5- the dataist revolution and the full merging of humanity in ONE data processing system, the Internet-of-all-things. And the conclusion is absolute: “Once this mission is accomplished, Homo Sapiens will vanish.” (pages 441–443)
And to top up this diabolical pentacle he gets down to a ternary set of concepts. Humanity for him has moved from a deocentric vision to a homocentric vision and finally to a datacentric vision. In this new and final phase any kind of freedom of expression will be negated and the only freedom that will still exist or rather that will replace all others is the freedom of information, not for individuals or human being, but meaning clearly the freedom for information to circulate, and he alludes to Aaron Schwartz and his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto.
In front of this assertion from “dataism that the human brain cannot fathom the new master algorithms” (page 457) he comes up with another pentacle in the shape of five questions: 1- maybe we’ll discover organisms aren’t algorithms after all; 2- sensations, emotions, thoughts certainly play an important part in making decisions, but is that their sol meaning? 3- what, if a thing, would be lost by replacing conscious intelligence with superior non-conscious intelligence? 4- interdisciplinary excursions may bring a unified scientific paradigm which would make it extremely difficult to resist even if the paradigm is flawed. 5- What will happen to us, humans? Once the Intern-of-All-Things is up and running, humans might be reduced from engineers to chips, then to data. “Dataism thereby threatens to do to Homo Sapiens what Homo Sapiens has done to all other animals. (pages 458–460) At this point, the conclusion seems to be irreversibly hostile, and yet that is not the conclusion of the book.
On his last page, his last words are three interlinked processes and three key questions. He reaches her the famous wisdom of Solomon, three plus three in the shape of two equilateral triangles crossed into a David Star. First, the three processes: 1- Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma. .; 2- intelligence is decoupling from consciousness; 3- Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves. And then the three key questions: 1- Are organisms just algorithms?. .; 2- What’s more valuable — intelligence or consciousness? 3- what will happy to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?
Unluckily the book does not come to the conclusion the author should have reached by just implementing his ideas. If Homo Sapiens vanishes then what is the use of the data flow since there will be no organisms that could consume the goods produced by the machines; the machines would automatically become obsolete and disappear in rust and rot. The whole system of data flow is centered on the added value some work produces. That added value has to be realized in a way or another on a market that has customers who acquire the products containing that added value. Then and only then it has any incentive to be produced. Let’s take a mash-up video broadcast on YouTube. First of all, the broadcasting will bring in a pittance to the author in proportion of the number of times it will be viewed. But for YouTube, it is a lot more important because he is going to put adverts on that video or around it on the page. These adverts will be paid by the advertisers according to the flow of viewers on that particular page where the advert is embedded. It is this money indirectly produced by the mash-up video that is the income of YouTube to pay for all its expenses, the royalties to the authors, their taxes, etc. And they expect to make a profit. As soon as all producers are reduced to idleness, without an income, then they cannot be customers, or the system has to produce an income for them all so that they can go on consuming. But that is artificial. The system these intellectuals, and Harari among other Ray Kurzweil or Aaron Schwartz, more or less represent, misrepresent, impersonate or just brandish to make people afraid so that they will buy the next volume, this system is just plain unfeasible. We’ll have to be patient and wait and see but I am sure that perspective of a society without any work will not go down even with a spoonful of sugar.
You can be sure millions and millions of jobs will be created, be it only to occupy people and justify the income they will get from the state, the system, the business world that will pay them enough for them to be satisfied with what they will do and just enjoy the merry-go-round.
JEFF HAWKINS — ON INTELLIGENCE – 2004
This is an extremely important book in the field of Artificial Intelligence. The author reject this Artificial Intelligence because it identifies intelligence to the behaviors produced by this intelligence. Hence the machine simulates intelligent behavior but is not intelligent. Three things are essential goals to satisfy if we want to move towards intelligent machines. We have to take into account and integrate time. We have to include as architecturally essential the process of feedback. We have to take into account the physical architecture of the brain as a repetitive hierarchy. Strangely enough the main mistake is already present in this first programmatic intention. Jeff Hawkins does not include the productions of that intelligent brain. I mean language, all ideological representations or models of the world from religion to philosophy and science, not to speak of arts and culture. And strangely enough this mistake is locked up in an irreversible declaration:
“A human is much more than an intelligent machinre . . . The mind is the creation of the cells of the brain . . . Mind and brain are one and the same.” (41–43)*
We cannot but agree with the first sentence, but the mind is not “created” by anything. It is produced, constructed by the brain from the sensorial impulses it gets from the various senses and the way it processes them in its repetitive and parallel hierarchical architecture. But the mind is a level of human intelligence of its own. Unluckily Hawkins will not see it. I have already said what it excludes from this human intelligence, but we must add the fact that this human intelligence lives in a situation that enabled this intelligence to develop and invent its first tools when Homo Sapiens started its journey on earth some 300,000 years ago. This situation requires from the weak animal that Homo Sapiens is to develop these tools to compensate for its weakness, and to coordinate its survival and development with communication and social organization which implied and required a culture, a model of the world to migrate, develop new productive means, and be able to develop as a species in order to expand all over the world: Homo Sapiens was a migrating species from the very start because of his very brain and the mind it could procude. Jeff Hawkins forgets about the phylogeny of Homo Sapiens. He takes intelligence as existing in itself without a genesis from nothing to what it is today. In other words he speaks of evolution but he does not study it and how this evolution brought this human species into developing intelligence, means of communication and means of production that did not exist before.
At the same time he does not consider the feelings and emotions of that human being and he at best locates them in the old brain, the brain inherited from the species before mammals since the cortex only developed with mammals. It is also obvious this is a mistake. Due to mirror neurons man is able (with some top mammals along with him, to develop empathy, the possibility to imitate (hence to learn through imitation and when language was invented to learn through repetition) and to share the feelings of others and one’s own feelings with others. It is this ability more than the old brain that is at stake here and is neglected. That makes Hawkins neglect social aims, productive objectives, cultural targets, ideological psychological social motivations and of course social organization. To invent and develop intelligent machines would not even exist as a plan or a project or even a desire if Homo Sapiens had not been able to blaze and then run the track leading to development.
He is sure right on the fact that behavior is only the consequence of all this but by rejecting behavior because he rejects behaviorism (which is purely ideological on his part) he also locks himself out of the possible approach of human relations, human motivations towards others, hence concrete, material and also emotional and intellectual behaviors. And that prevents him from coming back to the situation that has to be controlled and set up collectively to reach collectively defined objectives. Globalization is right now the best example of how objectives have to be defined at the level of the planet and no longer at the level of particular countries or groups.
But apart from that the whole book is essential because Hawkins concentrates on the study of the brain and its hierarchical architecture, and I should say its double architectural structure, not double in nature but double in working.
The whole adventure starts with the senses and he straight away says there are a lot more than five senses even if we can consider there are only five basic sensorial organs: the eye, the ear, the tongue, the skin and the nose.
At the level of the eye we have to add motion, color, luminescence and spatial orientation. At the level of hearing we have to add pitch, length, intervals, timbre, spatial orientation and balance (vestibular system). At the level of touch we have to add pressure, temperature, pain, vibration but also spatial orientation and movement on the skin that will be useful both in torturing (along with pain) and eroticism or emotions (along with pleasure). At the level of smell we have to consider intensity, appeal (good, bad or somewhere in-between), spatial orientation. At the level of taste we have to add temperature, texture, appeal (good, bad or somewhere in-between), and even finer elements like sweet, salty, acid, alcoholic and many others. But, and he insists on that, the general senses of the body are essential too. The whole body is a network of sensors that checks and measures our joints and joint angles, all our bodily ,positions, and all proprioceptive receptors (sensory receptors, in muscles, tendons, joints, and the inner ear to detect motions or positions of the body or the limbs, that respond to stimuli arising within the body.) Note these are indispensible for walking, running, swimming and all movements, particularly coordinated movements like gymnastics and all kinds of martial arts And we should add the physiological sensors and mechanisms that measure our inner level of satisfaction, dissatisfaction, balance and unbalance of every single organ of ours. These last sensors are essential for a new born child since it is those he/she will use from the very start and that will prompt his first cry or call. And every single of these senses and sensors sends messages to the brain in temporally organized sequences. The eye reboots its vision three times per second, what is called a saccade.
The first hierarchy he takes is exemplified by vision. I will integrate the eye into it right away though the eye is more or less marginalized in Hawkins’s approach. And here the eye sends many messages according to the particular abilities of the various retinal cells that capture the signal. I will insist on the fact that he neglects: the signals are sent from the retina and are spatially oriented right-side right and upside down. He neglects it because we do not have an “image” on the retina and it is not an “image” that the retina sends. But the spatial orientation of this “pattern” as he calls it is essential. The brain will have to interpret this orientation to reestablish the proper one thanks to the signals sent to the brain by the other senses and thanks to its experience starting right after birth. Experiments have been performed using glasses that inverted the orientation of the “pattern” on the retina and after a short while the brain corrected the initial correction and provided the mind with the proper spatial orientation.
In the neocortex, the capture of a visual stimulus is hierarchically organized and we must keep in mind that the signals are renewed three times a second. In the V1 area only many small segments and isolated characteristics like colors are deciphered. These numerous small elements are sent to the V2 area where they are regrouped into larger elements. Then they are sent to the V4 area where they are regrouped into recognizable elements like a nose, an eye, etc Then they are sent to the IT area where they are reconstructed into a face for example. Here Hawkins defines a pattern as being “a stable cell assembly that represents some abstract pattern” (p. 80). At each level after learning, hence after first stimulation by one unknown element (which is sent unanalyzed to the hippocampus that takes over, identifies it and sends it back into the system), an invariant representation of each identified pattern is memorized (cortical memory, p. 100) in the cells (he does not specify the electrical and chemical procedure nor the molecular level of it). The cortical procedure then, after learning, is a recognition procedure: the pattern received corresponds to one invariant representation previously memorized, otherwise it is sent up as far as the hippocampus if necessary. The last element we have to understand is that the identification is not done in detail but as corresponding to an invariant sketch of the element and that sketch accepts variations. That explains why we can recognize someone and yet be mistaken. The mind did not make a mistake it used some elements that corresponded to the sketch it had in memory, and that was the wrong sketch.
The three basic characteristic of this hierarchical functioning are:
1- its sequential memory (sequences of patterns hence spatial in the pattern and temporal because serialized);
2- its autoassociative nature (it memorizes a sketch and not the real detailed pattern when learning, though this detailed pattern is also memorized which enables us to realize we made a mistake when we took someone for someone else, and then it recognizes this sketch in the real pattern it receives after learning);
3- and finally its “invariant representation” dimension which is the identification of these sketches as referents for further use. Here instead of saying that these sketches have to be “named” he should have said that they have to be identified at each level with some kind of Cortical Identity (CI) and this when connected with the invention of language by Homo Sapiens, or the learning of language by children would have led him to the word “concept” that he uses rarely, and the operation of “conceptualization” that he does not use at all. Homo Sapiens seems to be the only animal who managed this conceptualization power of the neo-cortex (dominated by the hippocampus) into producing language.
We come then to the heart of the volume:
“The three properties of cortical memory . . . (storing sequences, auto-associative recall, and invariant representations) are necessary ingredients to predict the future based on memories of the past . . . Prediction . . . is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence . . . Evolution discovers that if it tacks on a memory system (the neocortex) to the sensory path of the primitive brain, the animal gains an ability to predict the future . . . This new idea of the memory-prediction framework of the brain . . . “ (p. 84–105)
We can notice there is an intellectual drift in his reasoning. Evolution does not have a mind or intelligence. Just as we can prove human articulated language is the result of the conceptualizing power of the brain on one hand, and of other physical mutations dictated by the long distance bipedal nature of Homo Sapiens (not the first hominid to have that characteristic but the first to be endowed with mutations that go a lot farther than before) that are absolutely necessary for survival on the other hand (low larynx, high level of innervation of the laryngeal-glottal-buccal masticatory and articulatory apparatus, high level of coordination of various organs and functions), we have to consider evolution as being a blind and unguided process that selects haphazard mutations when they are propitious to bringing a higher survival potential to a given species. It is quite obvious that the development of the neocortex of mammals into human neocortex provided Homo Sapiens with a higher survival potential. In other words Hawkins suffers of some teleological bias which is a way to escape from asking who did it and hence a way to exclude the possible religious answer. But that is wrong. We don’t have to answer the question of where does the logic of evolution comes from because we cannot answer this question with any scientific final elaboration.
Then Hawkins moves to the second hierarchy, that of the neo-cortex structures. The neocortex is divided into columns that are perpendicular to the surface of it. It has six layers. The first layer has few cells that have myriads of small dendrites connected to their neighbors by synapses that can build and rebuild themselves. Then they have three axons, two horizontal and lateral in the first layer connecting this cell to distant other cells all over the brain on one side and on the other side, the famous spindle cells, and a third one going down into lower layers of the neocortex. When layers 1, 2, 3 are activated the activating pattern goes to layer 5 and then layer six. In layers 1, 2, and 3 the pattern is analyzed to be finally identified in layer 5. Then it is moved to layer 6 where a prediction might be performed about what may come next from this identified pattern. Then the transmission branches into part of it being sent to the Thalamus and then back to layer 1 as a feed back and part of it being send simultaneously to motor areas for processing. Layer 4 is the layer where a newly learned pattern, identified by the Hippocampus arrives to activate the column, that is to say layers 5 and 6 and beyond. This can be summarized in a triple hierarchy: the mind must first discriminate an element, then identify and eventually name that discriminated element, and finally classify ort conceptualize this identified and named element. This basic conceptualization that has to be constructed in a child through education, just the way it was constructed in Homo Sapiens through experience.
It is important then to cross this approach with a phylogenic and psychogenetic approach of language to understand how language was invented and how it is learned. That of course would require a lot of space and it is not here it can be presented. But let’s say that three hierarchies can be seen in language and all of them can only be understood as the crossing of the neocortical capabilities of Homo Sapiens on one side, and the highly frail state of Homo Sapiens or the highly dependent state of a human newborn on the other side. These hierarchies are that of the word: consonantal roots, isolating characters or themes, and conjugation-declension fronds giving the three (maybe four) vast phylogenic families of languages: consonantal Semitic languages, isolating Chinese, Tibeto-Burman and Khmero-Vietic languages, and agglutinative (the vast Turkic family from Turkish to Siouan) or synthetic-analytic languages (Indo-European and Indo Aryan languages).
The triple syntax of any language: Categorial syntax (discriminating nouns and verbs, spatial units and temporal units), Functional syntax (building the sentence on the pattern [AGENT (feed-ER) — RELATION (feed) — PATIENT (feed-EE) — THEME (feed-Ø, food, fodder)] and finally Expressive syntax (expressing the mood and modalizations imposed onto the utterance by the speaker and his relations to his environment. These three syntactic functions are mapped onto the first hierarchy by making it all discursive in root-languages, making the last two discursive in theme-languages and only keeping the expressive level for discursive means in frond-languages. Note each one of these three syntaxes is a hierarchy too by themselves.
Taking language into account would have enabled Hawkins to understand that he cannot consider the mind is the brain. The mind is an abstract and absolutely virtual construct of the brain from the various patterns the brain has registered in its own cells and molecules. I insist here on molecules because Microtubule Associated Proteins have been proved as having a role to play in various mental operation, particular with the loss of ,their phosphorylation when activated by some stimulus, for one example. The mind is based on the hierarchical potential and architecture of the brain and this potential and architecture produce the conceptualizing potential that will produce the virtual mind and its tools. These tools are essential if we want to understand the emergence of Homo Sapiens as the superior intelligent mammal on earth and if we want to understand today’s man and human society. The first of these tools is (spoken) language (note written language was invented only around 5 or 6 thousand years ago some 300,000 years after the invention of spoken language). Then Homo Sapiens invented all “ideological” tools to understand and explain the world in order to survive and expand in a state of great physical inferiority as compared to most of his predators. These tools are religion, astronomy, science, history, all constructed models of the world produced or that could be produced with the conceptualizing power of the human brain. Note here Neanderthals could not even invent fishing whereas Homo Sapiens just started with fishing to move onto agriculture, herd-husbandry, and so, and all that before inventing written language.
So I do not believe “the mind is just a label of what the brain does.” (p. 204) and the mind the way I have sketched it is something that might be one day equaled by machines. But these minded machines will not be human since they will not be able to learn and develop their brain and mind the way man does it, from scratch and as the result of an intense and highly emotional intercourse between an individual and his/her linguistic, cultural, social and emotional environment. We are not speaking of a machine loving a man, but of a machine loving a machine not as something programmed but as something learned from experience. As a matter of fact the Terminator saga is a lot more instructive on that point than what Hawkins says. In the same way the intelligent machines are not the machines themselves but all the Mr. Smith taking over the earth by decision of the Architect who manipulates machines into attacking humans till one, two or three humans are able to negotiate the end of the war with machines who accepts on the basis of Neo being crucified in order to be able to defeat all the Mr. Smith and the Architect’s matrix. Once again we are far away from what Hawkins says.
To conclude, Hawkins’s book is the first important step against the apocalyptic messianic prophetic prediction the engineers turned theoreticians like Ray Kurzweil who are already taking all the necessary pills to be able to live long and merge with intelligent machines in less than fifty years, and thus become the nurtured cows of these intelligent machines, who would not be intelligent enough to understand that kind of slavery would be doomed to destruction just like any other form of slavery was and has been doomed to destruction. If these machines were humanly intelligent they would understand that as a basic requirement to qualify for intelligence.
But at the same time Hawkins does not reach the level of the mind. He locks himself in the physiological and biological brain pretending it is the mind mixing up the capacity and the potential. He thinks too much with metaphors and comparisons. To use one I would say that a plane CAN fly but that this plane is not the FLYING POTENTIAL itself. The plane has that potential but to realize it a whole procedure is necessary (with kerosene, air strips, engineers in the air traffic control tower, pilots, passengers, freight, stewards and stewardesses, etc) and flying can only become a reality when that procedure has been performed. Hence the FLYING POTENTIAL is a VIRTUAL capability of the plane, just like the MIND is a virtual construct of the brain using its POTENTIAL INTELLIGENCE, and this POTENTIAL INTELLIGENCE cannot produce any INTELLIGENT ACTION if the VIRTUAL MIND is not activated and used by the brain.
The first intelligent machine invented by man was language in order to satisfy the need for communication Homo Sapiens had. That language has had a long career in improving and developing man’s lot. It has also transformed its inventor and his/her society.
There still is a long way to go to even approach such humanly intelligent machines. In the meantime we will invent and use more and more intelligent machines that will liberate our brain and body of innumerable tasks that would otherwise use our mental and physical time and energy. With this mental and physical time and energy we will develop new forms of intelligence that we cannot even imagine today, and we must not forget that evolution goes on and man is a natural species. The more contact he/she will have with intelligent machines the more chances there will be he/she will go through mutations and developments that will be retained by evolution and education as vastly increasing human intelligence. The more intelligent machines, the more chances man will become more intelligent.
ONE HALF A MANIFESTO By Jaron Lanier
Critical reading of the basic principals of Cybernetic Totalism (Jacques COULARDEAU)
I hope no one will think I’m equating Cybernetics and what I’m calling Cybernetic Totalism. The distance between recognizing a great metaphor and treating it as the only metaphor is the same as the distance between humble science and dogmatic religion.
1) That cybernetic patterns of information provide the ultimate and best way to understand reality.
The cybernetic impulse is an ego trip for technicians or engineers who get overwhelmed by the apparent power they unleash with their inventions. They are sorcerer’s apprentices turned theoreticians. That leads to a form of totalism that we could consider to be intellectual and technical totalitarianism. Jaron Lanier discards this first argument of theirs by simply saying that real computers will never be able to achieve that dreamlike potential, because computers don’t have that possibility. The realistic argument here will find more precise arguments later on. But computers are dumb as we well know and there are reasons for that dumbness. Will the causes of it be alleviated in the future? Jaron Lanier’s answer is no.
What’s more he clearly says here that epistemologically computers like all technologies cannot be thought outside a cultural context. Unluckily he will not really enter that argument which should have led him to the tool without which a culture does not exist, viz. language which would have led him to wondering, which he does not do, about the origin of that language, hence about the brain that produces it and about the fact language is the main tool of the mind. There is no thinking without the power of conceptualization which uses the cortical hierarchy to discriminate, then identify and finally classify brain inputs, and that cortical potential cannot develop if it does not invent the linguistic tool that realizes this conceptualization in real mental and intellectual terms, but also communicational terms. No language no thinking, and no potential to discriminate-identify-classify inputs from our sensorial organs.
That might have led him to a question he does not ask: has the human species reached its maximum level of evolution or is it still going through mutations and selection? Will human intelligence be able to develop to higher still unknown forms? Will human intelligence be able to produce machines that could be more intelligent than itself?
2) That people are no more than cybernetic patterns.
Jaron Lanier deals with Artificial Intelligence in this section. For him the dilemma is to know whether machines are becoming more intelligent than men or whether men are becoming less intelligent than machines. He insists on the importance of Artificial Intelligence software, that so far they are all targeting one task and not the full human range and that even at this level software is particularly inadequate. It changes very slowly and most of the time only in details and they are very limited in reach and range, and are hampered by all kinds of security problems, crashes and other internal problems. One cannot trust software even if the hardware is perfect. In other words the Singularity is a dream since it only considers speed and memory, both being hardware (including processors) and not software. If software does not grow at exponential speed the power of the hardware is very limited. In fact even Kurzweil is clear on that point: the objective of the Cybernetic Totalists is to simulate the brain, negating the mind and not considering language. In other words they want to circumvent the software problem by using super repetitive and simple operations to take advantage of the speed of the hardware.
The best example would have been translating machines. All translating machines based on non-categorized, or only little categorized corpora, like Google Translate, produce only very approximate translations and even for simple words propose a whole palette of possible translations. What’s even worse is that this software does not integrate the difficulties it encounters and does not know the principle of feedback which becomes learn-back in our present context. In other words the machine does not have a hippocampus that can discriminate, identify and classify unknown items. It just works on the basis of statistical frequencies of words and their immediate context. In other words Jaron Lanier is quite right but remains at the surface of things. People are not cybernetic patterns because their brain is able to develop a mind based on the indispensible tool it creates itself, language, and this leads to the fact that people are not isolated individuals and they cannot develop as human beings if they do not grow and expand in a context of constant empathetic nurturing and communication.
3) That subjective experience either doesn’t exist, or is unimportant because it is some sort of ambient or peripheral effect.
Here Jaron Lanier touches what I concluded my previous remark with: empathy and the “circle of empathy” he considers everyone of us draws around ourselves. Does this circle of empathy contain computers or not. His answer is no. He does not push his argument against the theory, which is more a phantasm than a theory, that computers are sentient. He rejects this idea that sentience is not exclusively human. He considers that sentient and empathetic experience is purely human and that it is essential to become human. He does not push the argument further. He notes that there has been some kind of a comeback of humanities and scholars in that field with their post-modernism though he seems to understand it more as a doubting principle than as a new approach to human mind and sentience.
Nevertheless technologies, technicians and engineers have had the upper hand so far. He calls them the technologists and considers they are the great winners. He just makes fun of this technical way of looking at the world. “A person [is] a gene’s way of propagating itself, as per Dawkins” That sounds ridiculous in the way biology is turned into the master of the world and this gene gets some kind of authority that it projects onto the human organism, if not even evolution, to realize its objective of surviving by reproducing itself.
“[a person is] a sexual organ used by machines to make more machines, as per McLuhan.” Here he kind of warps McLuhan’s approach of technology. For McLuhan a technique, no matter which, is the extension of one of man’s senses or organs, including his brain and his mind. So to put McLuhan’s thinking upside down the way Jaron Lanier does is unfair. Machiness are nothing but the babies of man, the creatures of man, the extension of man’s ability at discriminating, identifying and classifying an objective, the projected means necessary to reach it and then an extension of his brain, mind and body to conceive and produce the machines necessary to reach that objective. For McLuhan machines do not have any autonomous existence outside man’s objectives and projects.
“A person is shit’s way of making more shit” quoted from Steve Barnett shows how he considers such approaches that consider machines and even evolution have some kind of will or power, that guides and governs the future, including the human species. This point should be discussed in more depth because that subjectivity and that sentience are man’s specific power in the world and the real question is where does it come from? If we do not answer this question then the logical reversal performed by technologists become possible and even acceptable. The endowment of evolution with some kind of authority and controlling power has to be discarded. Jaron Lanier says very rightly that this question, if not answered, will bring the creationists and other fundamentalists back to the forefront. The question is not where does evolution come from, but what is the position of man in that evolution? Very rightly then Jaron Lanier comes to Darwin, the inventor of the concept of the evolution of species.
4) That what Darwin described in biology, or something like it, is in fact also the singular, superior description of all creativity and culture.
Technologists are speaking of a post-human world as if man was finished as a species. Darwin invented the concept of evolution and defined it very precisely, and yet he himself opened the door to the present drifts. Jaron Lanier does not always sees why, but he does say a few interesting things on the subject. Darwin contains a certain level of eschatology in his assertion of the evolution of species itself. If there is a continuous evolution we are justified in asking where is the beginning and where is the end? If we consider the human species is the only species with intelligence and that man crowns this evolution we have to wonder about two things. On one hand if it is considered as the top echelon of this evolution of species, then man is the end of evolution, man does not evolve any more and there is no other biological possibility beyond. All that is wrong of course. Man is still evolving and if that evolution goes on, new forms of human life may appear and the new forms will essentially be new levels of intellectual development. But at the same time if that intellectual development were conceived as a development within some conditions, hence as a mental construct and not as an organ we could easily understand that the intelligence of the human species has been evolving all the time and is still evolving, but as a construct and not as an endowment. The main tool of that development is language and Jaron Lanier does not use that argument.
Then he considers the other option that he rejects from his point of view, viz. the idea that machines are the next step of that natural evolution and that the future for man is to merge with the machine. This theory or prediction comes from evolutionary psychologists for whom there is no objection possible against that future. He also evokes the “cybernetic totalist Darwinians” who are leaving the domain of rational biology to defend, like Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, “rape [as] a ‘natural’ way to spread genes around.” Jaron Lanier sees very well such a theory is the result of Darwin’s own shortcoming. “Darwin created a style of reduction that was based on emergent principles instead of underlying laws.” Darwin only considered the emergent concept and emergent set of facts he called evolution with the concept of natural selection to make this evolution work. Jaron Lanier considers Darwin did not reach the level of the power under that evolution that makes that evolution emerge. That’s a very good question but Jaron Lanier does not even try to answer it in this text. He is dealing here with core questions and problems: is there a teleology in that evolution, does it go from one point to an end point that would be the final point of that evolution, will this evolution go on beyond man and can we consider machines as an evolutionary stage in the general procedure known as the evolution of species? Hence are machines, even intelligent machines a new species? Or is the new species man and machine merged into one?
That leads Jaron Lanier into a strange discussion about evolution to prove that evolution is not logical because it did not invent the wheel that is definitely the best and most economical method to travel. It is difficult to know if it is some absurd reasoning, some humor, more or less black, or if he is really seriously considering that proposition. Yet he has a point in the fact that evolution is not all-powerful and cannot produce what man produced with his intelligence and his various mental and physical tools. Apparently evolution has not produced any living organism that can leave the earth and travel across the cosmos, except man of course that can do that with specially devised tools, nothing natural. It is at this point Jaron Lanier notes these cybernetic totalists are more craftsmen than technicians or engineers, and certainly not scientists. They just invent various concrete applications that enable them to achieve one direct task like simulating Intelligence. If the result this machine produces is similar to that of the human mind, then it is intelligent like the human mind. Jaron Lanier is quite justified in saying that humanism is thrown away with the bath water of this Artificial Intelligence dream.
5) That qualitative as well as quantitative aspects of inform ation systems will be accelerated by Moore’s Law.
Here Jaron Lanier deals with software. The first and simple idea is that Moore’s Law works for hardware but definitely not for software that seems to follow “a reverse Moore’s Law.” Software development is slow, excruciatingly slow.
The second idea is that software is brittle, “it breaks before it bends.” In fact there is no bending: even if it is self programming, it can only do it within the limits of its original programme. Jaron Lanier considers cybernetic totalists have “fetishized” Moore’s Law.
Then computers today are not growing exponentially apart from what has to do with hardware, speed and memory, or even power if we want to use that word, but not with software which makes computers quite slow after all for any operation that is just complicated and not a simple scanning of a database with one or two selective instructions.
He sees two reasons to that phenomenon. The first one is that any software has overheads and most of these overheads have logarithms that do not develop exponentially but at a merely linear rate and that straight line is not very steep at all. This then can be explained by the fact that in any complex software you have many different layers and some can grow exponentially, others close to a flat line and those that grow at that nearly flat line rate slow down the others, creating bottlenecks and gridlocks. And here we come to the “brittleness” of software again: if you try to force one slow pod, then that pod breaks down.
And that is not going to change because of the software industry. Developers have to go fast to be first on the market, so they look for the little improvements that can be effective in the very short run and they do not consider the slower and longer improvements that would be good for future developers and developments. So it is not surprising that many of these developments rather bloat the software up and block their future. He heavily insists on one case in that line: the old pre-GUI software known as UNIX was just later on turned into a GUI software under the name of LINUX. The wrapping had been changed but the software was still the old one just as awkward and heavy.
That leads him to a double question: “Does software tend to be unwieldy only because of human error, or is the difficulty intrinsic to the nature of software itself?” The question is all the more interesting when we know Jaron Lanier is a software developer. This may have to do with the fact that software is relying on a language, and that is in a way the common point with man, though the two languages are not at all of the same nature. So when he says “Both human-created software and natural selection seem to accrue hierarchies of layers that vary in their potential for speedy change,” his comparison seems slightly circumstantial. The problem here is these layers and what they depend on and the nature of their hierarchies. A close comparison should probably be performed but he very rightly says that in biology we come to the double “nature- and nurture-dominated dynamics.” That is just the point. Nature is simple to conceive, but nurture needs a raising milieu, a nurturing environment and when we deal with animals and particularly man, communication, social organization and culture. He should have taken that into account and then his parallel human-created software and natural selection are no longer at all comparable. Software is a production of man’s mind and can only be compared to another production of man’s mind and then we have to say it uses an extremely primitive language and a mostly primitive procedure to process the data which only aims at speed and the processing of enormous data bases but without considering the human way intelligent tasks are performed and the only human procedure that is copied is parallel processing of the data, and that is done to increase the speed whereas the human brain is vastly parallel to be able to bring together vast amounts of data from many differently areas to discriminate-identify-classify new items, recognize known items and draw hypotheses on the future, including the future steps of the intellectual procedure at large, of the mental process in reciprocal relation with a real phenomenon. One day maybe some machine might be able to practice that type of subduction and invent the concept of gravitation when getting an acorn on its nose, well the center of its tactile screen or tactile pad.
And finally, the most dramatic:
6) That biology and physics will merge with computer science (becoming biotechnology and nanotechnology), resulting in life and the physical universe becoming mercurial; achieving the supposed nature of computer software. Furthermore, all of this will happen very soon! Since computers are improving so quickly, they will overwhelm all the other cybernetic processes, like people, and will fundamentally change the nature of what’s going on in the familiar neighborhood of Earth at some moment when a new “criticality” is achieved- maybe in about the year 2020. To be a human after that moment will be either impossible or something very different than we now can know.
After a quick allusion to Bill Joy’s terror in front of “the coming cybernetic cataclysm” announced or should I say prophesized by Ray Kurzweil and a few others, Bill Joy’s terror based on the fear of super machines that would reduce man to being some kind of “kept cattle” of the machine like in Matrix, and super weapons, Jaron Lanier shifts to his own terror that seems to be slightly different.
The smaller danger he sees is how the entrepreneurs who are rich over night but are miserable and poor the next week will be able to cope with this kind of wealth yoyo playing they cannot even control. But he is afraid of a second vastly more important danger. The society will get divided into two groups. At the top the super rich and at the bottom the rest who will not be super poor, though there might be a very low stratum of super poor people, but rather the rest of just better-off but in no way wealthy. This divide may widen year after year. He is afraid the rich class may have the means to manipulate themselves into becoming a completely different species. They will be able to lengthen their lives tremendously, including with genetic manipulation. Their children will be genetically manipulated too so that they should be part of the elite by their genes and no longer their chance or talent.
This is the inversion of H.G. Wells’ vision in The Time Machine. In that novel the human species evolved into two species, the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi were the descendants of the bourgeoisie and the Morlocks of the working class that used to live underground in the mines. Wells imagined that the Eloi became the cattle and hunting game of the Morlocks, raised and taken care of by the Morlocks on the surface of an idyllic planet Earth that had regressed to its natural wild state.
It becomes really surprising that he imagines that these super rich people could live so long that they could appear as being immortal which would make them appear like Gods to the lower class or classes.
But he dismisses this terror with four arguments. First it will be very expensive to get that immortality. That’s a weak argument for the super rich. The second argument is a lot more powerful. “I suspect that the hardware/software dichotomy will reappear in biotechnology and indeed in other 21st century technologies . . . Getting computers to perform specific tasks of significant complexity in a reliable but modifiable way, without crashes or security breaches, is essentially impossible.” That’s the very technical problem and the rebuke of the cybernetic totalists’ dream for them and nightmare for us.
The third argument is also very powerful. “Likewise one can hypothetically program DNA to make virtually any modification in a living thing and yet designing a particular modification and vetting it thoroughly will likely remain immensely difficult.” This argument deals with genetic engineering and there he is considering the most extreme cases. We might be able to develop a technology to replace one chromosome or part of one chromosome but so far we cannot do that. It is obvious that when we start becoming able to do that we will have to consider the side effects. Such a technology will require time and probably tremendous amount of money. We will also be obliged to consider the ethical question because humanity has always managed its problem in a collective and consensual way.
The fourth and last argument is powerful too. “Scenarios that predict that biotechnology and nanotechnology will be able to quickly and cheaply create startling new things under the sun also must imagine that computers will become semi-autonomous, super intelligent, virtuoso engineers. But computers will do no such thing if the last half century of progress in software can serve as a predictor of the next half century.” In other words this very technical argument is final. It would have been a lot stronger if the study of software had been pushed into a real comparison with man’s best and oldest mental creations, language, science, religion, philosophy. And that would have supported the conclusion.
I share the belief of my cybernetic totalist colleagues that there will be huge and sudden changes in the near future brought about by technology. The difference is that I believe that whatever happens will be the responsibility of individual people who do specific things. I think that treating technology as if it were autonomous is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy. There is no difference between machine autonomy and the abdication of human responsibility . . .
. . . There is a real chance that evolutionary psychology, artificial intelligence, Moore’s Law fetishizing, and the rest of the package, will catch on in a big way, as big as Freud or Marx did in their times. Or bigger, since these ideas might end up essentially built into the software that runs our society and our lives. If that happens, the ideology of cybernetic totalist intellectuals will be amplified from novelty into a force that could cause suffering for millions of people.
The greatest crime of Marxism wasn’t simply that much of what it claimed was false, but that it claimed to be the sole and utterly complete path to understanding life and reality. Cybernetic eschatology shares with some of history’s worst ideologies a doctrine of historical predestination. There is nothing more gray, stultifying, or dreary than a life lived inside the confines of a theory. Let us hope that the cybernetic totalists learn humility before their day in the sun arrives.
The first paragraph is a rejection of such apocalyptic messianic prophetic cataclysm with a basic philosophical argument. It would have been very strong if it had been supported by anthropological and phylogenic arguments about the human species, the brain, the mind, and all the tools evolution enabled man to develop with this brain, and his brain’s body, in his mind. Philosophy is just one of these tools and the rejection of humanism is just unthinkable. If that were to happen I am pretty sure the human species would develop a resistance with some charismatic leaders like Neo in Matrix, or John Connor in Terminator, or Maria in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
In the same way we cannot say what the natural biological development of the human species, and particularly his brain and mental potentialities will be within the vast and ever richer environment of intelligent machines and education, not to speak of communication and culture.
The second part of the conclusion is both easy and deep. It is easy to quote Freud and Marx as if they were two scarecrows. Yet it is deep because they represented during the first wave of industrialization what Marx called the metaphysical vision of a world cut in two. Two classes, two parents, etc. Neither Marx not Freud understood that these two dualisms were schematic and unrealistic. These two dualisms came to an end in the second half of the 20th century. Both are die-hard ideologies, philosophies and scientific constructions. But they are from another age both of them. Marxism has given a lot of descendants to the world. Some found their way into the market economy of the globalized world, some locked themselves up in small cells with or without companions or hostages. But they are doomed to die, disappear or get reformed. The Marxists are pathetic when they preach the use of power, violent power as well as street power, to impose a point of view onto all others. The Freudians do not exist anymore as such because psychoanalysis has tremendously changed and evolved. But the sacred parental pair is coming to an end after having governed this world for a few centuries. It is only very recently in urban zones that the nuclear family was imposed as the norm in our societies and the raising of children. Mandela quotes an old African proverbs that clearly shows were we are coming from: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” Yet some are ready to fight against the evolution talking place in the world that is the discarding of the two heterosexual parents of a nuclear family as the only conceivable raising structure for a child.
JARON LANIER — YOU ARE NOT A GADGET — 2010–2011
This book is small by its size but it is enormous by the subject it discusses. He starts in an extremely positive way by saying: “Technologies are extensions of ourselves.” (p. 4) We could then believe he was going to follow Marshall McLuhan in his tracks since the latter was the inventor of this idea in many books covering a full history of human technology and how each step of it was a new extension of one new sense or one new physiological, sensorial or mental ability of man. We could have expected Jaron Lanier was going to show how the “cloud” or “web 2.0” were extensions of ourselves, of our central nervous system for example, of our brain maybe, or our mind.
But Jaron Lanier does not even refer to Marshall McLuhan. And he does not follow that track.
He targets two types of Technologists he identifies as “cybernetic totalists” and “digital Maoists.” This community is qualified by what they advocate or represent. First of all they are the open culture community, those people who consider everything has to be on the Internet and everything on the Internet has to be free of access, economically free hence everyone can get it for nothing, and what’s more everyone can do what they want with what they find and appropriate freely. Jaron Lanier calls that mashups. These people believe in Creative Commons, a license that is no license at all, a license that authorizes anyone who wants to use something for a non commercial production to do it without in anyway contacting the initial proprietor and without leaving any tracks behind. The appropriated “goods” are thus used in all possible ways without anyone knowing really who is responsible for the final product or products thus produced, the afore-mentioned mashups. Their mascot software is Linux which is nothing but the old command-line software known as UNIX wrapped up in a Graphical User’s Interface to make it user-friendly. They are the people of the Artificial Intelligence lobby that pretends that they can, or will soon be able to, simulate human intelligence and the machine they will use to simulate that intelligence will be intelligent, just as if a plane, since it can fly, were a bird. They are the full proponents of web 2.0, this version of the web that enables the circulation of all kinds of products, freely and easily, with the development on top of it of social networks. And finally they are characterized by the fact that they want to share and mashup files that have no context, meaning they cannot be attached to anyone or anything that could claim some propriety right on the file. They are called anti-context file sharers and remashers.
Jaron Lanier takes a strong stance against these people but not in the name of the technology they propose or advocate, but in the name of the deep consequences of these technologies. The whole book is dedicated to that exploration. But he defines his objective as soon as page 19 when he explains the five reasons why all this is important, all that amounting to “people defining themselves downward.”
1- “Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing the individual in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad moblike behaviors. This leads to not only empowered trolls but to a generally unfriendly and unconstructive online world.”
2- “Finance was transformed by computing clouds. Success in finance became increasingly about manipulating the cloud at the expense of sound financial principles.”
3- “There are proposals to transform the conduct if science along similar lines. Scientists would then understand less of what they do.”
4- “Pop culture has entered into a nostalgic malaise. Online culture is dominated by trivial mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media. It is a culture of reaction without action.”
5- “Spirituality is committing suicide. Consciousness is attempting to will itself out of existence.”
The diagnosis is severe and the book is trying to suggest solutions.
His first question then is about how this cloud or web 2.0 technology is changing people. It develops in them a crowd mentality, what he calls a “hive mind” or “noosphere.” The reference to “noosphere” is never exploited, but the term “hive mind” is vastly exploited and developed into “hive mind thinking,” “hive thinking” and other expressions of this type. It is a metaphor and he may not be responsible for it since it is an old metaphor. But using it for the mentality of the people blindly using web 2.0 and cloud technology is warping the metaphor out of any meaning but excludes the only proper meaning of a herd stampeding wildly across the virtual sky of the Cloud. A hive is a social organization with a very clear and rather rigid hierarchy, with each member having to do one task everyday, each category of members having one special task to perform, including the queen who has to feed in order to lay eggs. The hive produces several products that are highly sophisticated all transformed from collected pollens: honey, wax, royal jelly, propolis, and many others. They take care of the hive and keep it in perfect shape: any mishap endangers the whole colony or swarm. There is nothing of the sort in the cloud, on the Internet on web 2.0. What’s more bees have a language that enables one to tell the others where she has found a good field of flowers. This language is a highly symbolic sign and dance language based on extremely objective elements like the sun, angular orientation to the sun, distances, etc. No one has studied what happens to a bee who could not accurately give that kind of information, or who would endanger the hive and the swarm by reckless actions. That kind of social organization of the survival project of a beehive requires some kind of regulatory authority to take care of trespassers. Hackers are not welcome.
This metaphor is bad and it would have been well advised to use another one like herd psychology or crowd psychology. In fact he could have even been ironical with an expression like Panurge’s sheep borrowed from Rabelais’s Pantagruel, himself borrowing it from antiquity, Panurge meaning in Greek “he who can do everything”.
Beyond that Jaron Lanier insists on the reductionism of this cloud ideology. It forces to anonymity and pseudonymity, both practices that reduce simple personal humanity. He points out how this ideology, this technology produces a complete contradiction that they assume: “It’s the people who make the forum, not the software. Without the software the experience would not exist at all.” (p. 72) The forum is then illusionary. He says the software is “flawed.” The point is that everyone knows it is flawed in its very principle of requiring in the form of an encouragement and an incitation to use personae and avatars instead of real identity and pictures, and then everyone makes do with this software, with this technology. And yet Jaron Lanier is not entirely clear since he advises not to concentrate on the software because then you forget the person behind or the person in the user of the software. If the software is bad, it has to be gotten rid of. But we have to wonder if this anonymity and pseudonymity is not in a way a positive element. Not for security of course, since the IP of a computer can be traced within seconds by any let’s say “security authority” not to speak of hackers and spywares. Some people complain that the Internet enables anyone to say anything without any control. Then what’s the problem? The Internet does not aim at only telling the truth, and what is the truth? Something decided by Parliament or Congress or the United Nations? Some people consider we are not dealing with real people since they are hiding behind avatars. And then what! Deal with the ideas expressed by these avatars, if they express ideas, otherwise forget them. Jaron Lanier seems to believe that this crowd psychology was invented by the Internet and web 2.0. That is certainly not true. We all know “bread and circuses” events in all societies in all historical periods including some war episodes to satisfy public opinion and popular demand. Some of these mass events could be very grim like hanging and drawing and quartering people in England, frying homosexuals in oil in France, impaling people in other countries, and still beheading people with swords like in Saudi Arabia still.
He is right when he says Cybernetic totalism has failed spiritually by fetishizing objects and objectizing people; behaviorally by undervaluing individuals and overvaluing the crowd; and economically by endangering the economy of all types of expression (music, videos, photography, text, etc) and by permitting highly risky financial schemes that could not be devised before. This cloud reduces the creativity of individuals by erasing any circumstantial, existential, experiential real data from Internet products. Real creativity can only come from a circumstantial, existential, experiential real environment of one real individual who invests all that environment in his creativity and in his creation. If the Internet and web 2.0 succeed in that line, how long can the world live without creativity? Yet I will express some reserve on this extreme vision. Real creative people are produced by their circumstantial, existential, experiential context. The Internet and the Cloud can be part of this context but cannot erase it. Mozart would always have been Mozart even if he hadn’t died in poverty: he would still have been composing on his death bed, I guess. The new point is that all those whose creativity is very limited can today “create” and broadcast their “creations” thus producing a tremendous inflation on the cultural or musical market. But even if that may harm many professional creators of value, these have to find ways to protect their work and to guarantee their survival. That’s called union action. I believe that the proportion of creative artists is not going to go down because of this technology. Plays in theaters, concerts in concert halls, films in cinemas, but also the DVDs of these live shows are multiplying their audiences, direct live audience as well as indirect audience at a distance in space and time. A full reform of the management of the Internet is to be thought through and brought about but there is no reason to believe creativity is going to be drowned by the mediocre flock bleating of the herded crowd of the newly Internet-empowered people.
Jaron Lanier is conscious of this dimension and he proposes a humanistic approach of this Cloud technology. The main suggestion is to make all products freely reachable on the Internet but the user would not pay a flat rate but a rate in proportion with the quantity of bits that user would have reached no matter what, including the pictures of his/her sweetheart/boyfriend. On the other hand that user would get a payment for all the bits of his/hers that have been reached by other people, including from his/her sweetheart/boyfriend. This suggestion should be taken seriously because then the circulation of bits on the Internet would become a market and that would bring quality at the top. Though we must not forget that before the Internet and that will be eternal all that reaches the broadcasting public sphere is not necessarily good and all that is good does not necessarily reach the broadcasting public sphere. Thousands of good books have never been published and thousands of good Mozarts have never been able to perform or become publicly known. Jaron Lanier’s approach though requires some reflection on how a creative work is produced, by whom, at what and which and whose cost, how that creative production can be encouraged? Subsidize it, encourage the profitable broadcasting of it, create events where creators can confront themselves with others and with an audience;, including critics, and many other solutions have to be found. Personally I am quite more afraid of the weight of norms, standards and traditions in professional fields than of the competition from the herd’s mooing and dooking.
He insists on another effect of computational technology on any knowledge or let’s say semantic data. It grinds it down into small items in order to digitalize them. It standardizes the basic units: computationalized music notes do not contain any fuzzy variation; they are pure but no instrument played by any musician will ever produce pure notes. Considering the meaning of anything comes from the variations this anything contains, a dog being seen differently by any single person thinking of a dog, this systematic purification and simplification of every item processed digitally produces an enormous loss of meaning. Imagine the 25 or so ways Eskimos have to speak of the snow and Egyptians or Arabs have to speak of the sand or the sun. This grinding of everything down into some bit-powder destroys the architecture of the original object and its inner hierarchy: it aims at simulating a phenomenon or an object but a beautiful picture of a rose does not smell like a rose: it does not prick either. What’s more all the particular environment attached to that item by the person who carries it is erased and lost.
That’s when Jaron Lanier tries to cope with language and bring it back into his conception of computationalism. He is no linguist and he refers to people who are no linguists. To come to his own version he has to reject other approaches. First of all Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity as becoming a newly invented secular religion:
“Those who ,enter into the theater of computationalism are given all the mental solace that is usually associated with traditional religions. These include consolations for metaphysical yearnings, in the form of the race to climb to ever more “meta” or higher-level states of digital representations, and even a colorful eschatology, in the form of the Singularity. And indeed, through the Singularity a hope of an afterlife is available to the most fervent believers.” (p. 178)
He rejects in the same way the approach that considers the inner thing is the same thing as the outer thing that supports that a computer with specialized features is similar to a person, hence is a person. He rejects of course the Turing approach since it is basically a very similar attempt: a machine that cannot be differentiated from a human person in its and his/her reactions is as intelligent as that human person, hence is a human person.
It’s when he suggests a realistic approach of computationalim that he gets lost into language.
He starts with Jim Bower and tries to compare olfaction with language. He asserts that both work “from entries in a catalog not from infinitely morphable patterns” (p. 165). He contradicts this assertion for language page 167: “Only a handful of species, including humans and certain birds, can make a huge and ever-changing variety of sounds.” Of Course he speaks of sounds and before he spoke of words. That’s just the point. The words have been phylogenetically produced from sounds. He misses the articulations of language. He contradicts his first assertion again page 190: “We can make a wide variety of weird noises through our mouths, spontaneously and as fast as we think. That’s why we are able to use language.” He does not wonder why we can do that: what physiological particularity enables us to do it?
He continues his parallel with olfaction and says: “the grammar of language is primarily a way of fitting those dictionary words into a larger context. Perhaps the grammar of language is rooted in the grammar of smells.” (p. 165) This is a non-cautious assertion about linguistic syntax. It negates the various articulations that build the hierarchy of language. Language can’t really be compared with smells. Once again the grammar of language is an invention of man and has been produced from scratch by a long and complex phylogenic process from simple isolated sounds to complex discourses.
To crown it all he compares the Tourette syndrome in which a man or woman uncontrollably produces all kinds of swear words to the “pheronomic system [that] detects very specific strong odors given off by other animals (usually of the same species) typically related to fear and mating.” (p. 165) First consider the fact that all mammals produce the same hormone for fear, which explains that in the wild a man’s fear can be detected by other mammals which will get on the offensive because an animal who is afraid attacks, and since the man here is detected as being afraid hence as going to attack, the best defense is to attack, so the wild animal will attack. Anyone who has some practice of some jungle knows that. Never be afraid in such a situation if you want to have one chance to survive. Then I can’t see how he can compare these pheromonic smells, their detection and the reactions a mammal may have to them to swear words. A Tourette patient cannot use swear words he/she has not heard first, learned second, memorized third. Swear words are not instinctive.
At that point we have to say Jaron Lanier is completely off the point concerning language. He does not take into account the phylogeny of language experienced by Homo Sapiens in concrete conditions; he does not consider the psychogenesis of language experienced by a child learning it in concrete conditions. He does not know about the hierarchical articulations of language and the immense variations from one family of languages to the next, and within each family of languages. Finally he does not know about the distinction between “langue” which represents the infinite expressive potential carried by language and “discourse” which is the concrete realization of one expression of one meaning in real conditions.
And yet he is brandishing the essential concept to approach these problems: neoteny, the fact that human children are born extremely immature, premature, dependent for a long period of several years. That would have given to all his other arguments a power they do not have. Yet he concludes properly not as the final conclusion of the whole book but as the conclusive deduction of the final concept of neoteny brought up at the end of the book.
Moore’s law (the exponential development rate of hardware) will have to accept to be slowed down or even blocked by the very slow development rate of software, the fact that neoteny has a conservative effect since the younger generation are forced into an ever longer period of training that reproduces and ossifies previous knowledge and know-how. Cultural neoteny is even more drastic since it leads to Bachelard’s Poetics of Reverie, vastly overused here since Bachelard is from a period when these modern techniques did not exist, when life expectancy was very limited and when education was only for an elite but the general idea is correct: “The good includes a numinous imagination, unbounded hope, innocence and sweetness.” (p. 183) But on the other side childhood can also produce what Jaron Lanier identifies as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies: “The bad is more obvious, and includes bullying, voracious irritability, and selfishness.” (p. 183) His conclusion is realistic for once: “The net provides copious examples of both aspects of neoteny.” (p. 183) This constant dichotomy, and in fact we should see more than two sides, on the Internet is the possibility for the Internet to be the place were various approaches will be confronted, confronting one another, hence will be a marketplace of some sort, the marketplace of global communication.
If he is right about childhood and youth, we better start thinking of education and start integrating the internet and the Cloud in our systematic education efforts not to moralize, not to demonize, not to advocate the Internet but to teach children how to use it to their own advantage along their own motivations, not the teachers’. He sure is right when he says: “Our secret weapon is childhood.” (p. 188) Why the heck did he not start from there and consider the phylogeny of Homo Sapiens and the psychogenesis of all children.
I will overlook his “Post Symbolic communication.” Homo Sapiens started on his/her track to humanity by developing his symbolic power and among other things by using it to invent language from his multiple sounds through a simple process of discriminating items, identifying them including with names and classifying them into concepts and conceptual classes. Homo Sapiens could only recognize one item when he had already encountered it, discriminated it, identified it and classified it, otherwise Homo Sapiens had to start all over again for the item he did not know.
If by any chance Homo Sapiens moved beyond that symbolic power and lost it he/she would lose everything, including all his/her knowledge that was constructed with language. If Jaron Lanier wants to mean that man is going to reach a higher level of symbolic power, I would entirely agree. The machines developed today by the scientific and technical elite of the world are going to be used by everyone as soon as they are born, and even before their birth, which will increase their intelligence tremendously. The increased intelligence of the global population will also mean an increased intelligence of the elite of the world. The elite only reflects the level of their surrounding masses.
But Jaron Lanier forgets that Homo Sapiens is still an animal species going through mutations. The point is that there is no natural selection among humans any more. All those who are different are treated as handicapped or dangerous and they are kept aside or away. It is high time we start changing our vision and consider the potential of those who are different. Autistic children with the Asperger syndrome for example seem to have great possibilities, among other things in languages. Daniel Tammet is one example of a successful Asperger Savant in foreign languages. It is urgent to consider that Childhood is our secret weapon and to really make an effort to screen these new different people and help them find out their real capabilities and develop them to the best level possible. Right now we might be rejecting the people who represent the future of our species, not the destroyers of it, those who will bring our intellect and intelligence to a higher ever point and will event even better machines to serve humanity.