This is from Jaron Lanier’s One Half of a Manifesto (which I discovered via Dale Carrico’s Amor Mundi) written about ten years ago. It’s an excellent piece of technoskepticism which encourages us to consider technology (specifically, the writing of software) as it is, rather than lazily to give in to considering analogies with biology as representative of some putative, deeper “truth”. If read more widely, it would be an excellent antidote to the more hysterical fantasies of abstract intelligencers, singularitarians, techno-hucksters, and all those others Carrico refers to as “robo-cultists”.
Darwin created a style of reduction that was based on emergent principles instead of underlying laws (though some recent speculative physics theories can have a Darwinian flavor). There isn’t any evolutionary “force” analogous to, say, electromagnetism. Evolution is a principle that can be discerned as emerging in events, but it cannot be described precisely as a force that directs events. This is a subtle distinction. The story of each photon is the same, in a way that the story of each animal and plant is different. (Of course there are wonderful examples of precise, quantitative statements in Darwinian theory and corresponding experiments, but these don’t take place at anywhere close to the level of human experience, which is whole organisms that have complex behaviors in environments.) “Story” is the operative word. Evolutionary thought has almost always been applied to specific situations through stories. Continue reading
One point which I believe is worth making regarding the ongoing and eternal dispute between techno-sceptics on the one hand (such as the ever-compelling Dale Carrico at Amor Mundi) and the techno-utopians and techno-ideologists on the other hand (take your pick…) is the differing degrees of investment in the ideas being discussed. Carrico refers to these acolytes of undiluted progress as Robot-Cultists, both for specifically rhetorical and tactical reasons, but also in terms of the group identity they seek to foster for themselves. I am tempted to play Good-Cop to Carrico’s I’ll-beat-a-confession-out-of-them-yet-sarge-Cop (making me a techno-scepto-wimp?), and to say that this identity isn’t quite so monolithic as to warrant being called a cult, but perhaps is closer to something like a religious order.
“Any child of two can indulge in wish fulfillment fantasizing. It’s not a philosophy. It’s not a movement. And the way you Robot Cultists do it makes you a kind of techno-transcendental New Age cult too hype-notized to notice you are functioning as a crowdsourced cheerleading squad for celebrity CEOs and ramped up gizmo consumerism at a time when the world is literally perishing from extractive- industrial- petrochemical- consumer- indebted- corporate- militarism.
The digital revolution is a lie. Cyberspace isn’t a spirit realm. It belches coal smoke. It is accessed on landfill-destined toxic devices made by wretched wage slaves. It abetted financial fraud and theft at every level of society around the world. Its “openness” and its “freedom” turned out to be targeted marketing harassment, panoptic surveillance, and zero comments.
Rather than grasp this catastrophic fraud, you embrace it more ferociously, you hyperbolize cyberspatial deceptions into a more delusive fantasy still, fancying it will be home to a history shattering perfectly parental God-AI delivering you into the digital garden where your “spirit self” can live forever and “be” anything and “have” everything and “know” it all forever.”
The rest at amor mundi.