Sunday, December 05, 2010

Kevin Kelly on Technology

Keven Kelly is a very bright guy. In this talk he talks about "the technium" which I think of as analogous to the ecosystem. He makes the very important point that there is a parallel between the two. Evolution has tendencies to make ecosystems more complex with more species that interact more and fill all the niches in the ecology. There are teleonomic processes that result in the technium also evolving in ways that show trends but are not necessarily planned. He make the further point that the ecosystem and the technium are intimately related, each affecting the other,

I would suggest that human society is a third similar system, evolving in ways that show trends but which are not planned by any individual nor organization. Kelly recognizes that we -- human society -- has choices that we can make that influence technological paths of development, and I think he believes (as do I) that we should move our social system in such a way that it better influences technological outcomes. Kelly points out, correctly, that since the invention of tools, humans and our ancestor species have modified climate. Indeed, we with our technology have modified the ecology more and more for millennia. Thus we have three interacting teleonomic systems.

Kelly does not note that evolution produces trends, but that every once and a while something happens that interferes with these trends. Sometimes the things that happen are truly exogenous, as when comets have caused mass extinctions. Sometimes the things that happen are more endogenous, as when organisms evolved that changed the oxygen content of the atmosphere, allowing radical change in the trends produced by evolution. If one looks at history, there have been collapses of civilizations which took the technium that they had developed with them. Think of the Romans, the Anasazi, etc.

It would be nice if our civilization does not collapse in the next few generations!

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