English Essay in-progress. Please Review!

NOTE: Paragraphs = P#) due to Format issues.


Are We Humans or Are We Dancers?

P1) Do you remember your first calculator? Or your first computer? Or your first encounter with negative numbers or statistics (which were invented only within the last hundred years)? We have come a long way from an abacus or from moon landing. What the human race has accomplished so far, is something generations ago, no one could even begin to fathom. As Kevin Kelly, a key plot contributer to the Matrix wrote in his Understanding Evolution and Diversity article "The avalanche of innovation in the expanding technium [realm of technology] goes beyond artifacts [such as iPods] to include ideas, objects of the mind."(pg 1) Our innovations certainly are an avalanche.

P2) Straying from the topic of technology, let us talk about plants, animals, and us. Michael Pollan noted in his book Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View Of The World, "All these plants, which I'd always regarded as the objects of my desire, were also, I realized, subjects, acting on me, getting me to do things for them they couldn't do themselves." (Introduction, XV)

He also notes on the same page that, in essence, we perform an advanced form of what bees do; pollinate plants we like (like bees to attractions, us to value; be it beauty or utility).Plants that have appealed to us in one way or another have survived due to us and co-evolved with us.

Then, there is the old saying, that I have heard and can testify as a cat owner; dogs have masters, cats have servants; we, being the servants. Even then, dogs who have co-evolved with us, have conveniently ended up sharing the top of the food chain with us, while their almost identical wolven brethren are listed on the endangered species list.

Maybe we have underestimated a bit, our power over species we have co-evolved with. Maybe our failure to be aware of such influence by others, will inevitably spell consequences or maybe there have been consequences already. We must ask ourselves, like both Paraq and Ayesha Khanna in Hybrid Reality ask " Are we driving the car or is the car driving us?" (pg 810). Are we really in control?

P3) Returning to technology and bearing in mind the concept of co-evolution, questions beckon. What is our relationship to technology? Is it co-evolution like our relationship to plants or animals we have worked with for thousands of years? Our behavior in this day and age is strongly indicative of a reactionary nature instead of an initiative nature in our co-evolution with technology; technology rapidly forsaking our human nature as it expands and we lose control with possibly devastating consequences in the future.

P4) Before we explore technology's relationship to us, we must define technology. Technology encompasses anything that is not part of our natural being (language is not natural; children are not born with it) and is something being used other than a "natural" (i.e a rock being part of stream-bed is natural, us using the rock as a hammer is not) purpose; an unorthodox example would be crows using cars to crack nuts.

More specifically however, technology is as I define it, the application of knowledge, i.e language or writing and reading could be technology, as they are knowledge being applied. Tools also could fall into the category, as hammers to Printing Presses and iPhones both have been considered tools and technology. To the point that, technology is not as foreign as we seem to think, the more we analyze what technology is, the more we realize the beginning of technology is not our computer screens but with ourselves.

P5) Now that technology has been defined, we can begin to ask of ourselves, what is our relationship with technology or more importantly what do we do with it? Is it a user relationship, as we users think? Or does technology do more than just be "used"? Technology, whether we are aware of it or not is not simply used, it becomes an essential part of us; we come to depend on it.

When we use technology, "We don't just use technology; we absorb it" (Paraq and Ayesha Khanna pg 65). What we develop becomes engrained into our psyche, we don't think twice about our language skills such as reading or writing or how the car runs. What is, just is. "[Technology]… like language, is as intrinsic to the human condition as speech."( Paraq and Ayesha Khanna pg 228)

Even more eerily, the technology we come into contact with has now become entangled with us; not only in our psyche but our natural selves beyond the superficial level, "Fifty-eight percent of millennials would rather give up their sense of smell than their mobile phone." (Paraq and Ayesha Khanna pg 35) we value technology more than we value the service that a nose gives us, noses after all give us the strongest connections to memories and are half what we need to be able to taste.

Perhaps we don't need too, since something artificial or technology will replace that function. We increasingly do replace legs and arm and even hearts. We increasingly don't need these natural functions as we depend on technology.

We can steer what we can do, we can steer our evolution. "We increasingly control our own evolution, but do we control the technologies that have given us that power?" (Paraq and Ayesha Khanna pg 76) The Khannas raise a valid point, and our dependency on technology might mean nothing, it might be just us using our tools, what is exactly our "dependency"?

P6) In the grand scheme of co-evolution, dependency means nothing, as it wouldn't be co-evolution, just a one-sided sway. There must be feedback between both parties to co-evolve, plants who survive and attract humans, humans who learn to take advantage of whatever they wish of the feedback between the plants and humans is influencing each other and creating the co-evolution relationship.

There is feedback within our "techno-human" relationship, as in our plant-human relationship. Feedback means co-evolution and coincidently is where the phrase, that we often associate technology with, that comes to mind; "standing on the shoulders of giants comes".

When we hear the term technological revolution, it almost always is in terms of a breakthrough. We think of it as Jason Silva puts it in his film Beginning of Infinity, paraphrasing he says "We bend the universe and reality to our imaginations. i.e black holes won't hold us back forever like geology did not stop human expansion. Bended to the whims of the human race."

Bending to the whims of the human race doesn't sound much like feedback, because it isn't, as well as not bending to the whims of the human race, it is more akin to the whims of a tug-of-war.

Figure 1, from below is a slide from Bill Buxton's lecture. In it, he explains technology moves forward not only when we take it and refine it but when it gains traction. Technology provides a service to us and we provide feedback by using technology.

Technology then grows from Stone Age through this process to our Modern Age. As Irving Wladawsky-Berger puts it in his blog post The Co-Evolution of Humans and Tools, "…society co-evolved right along with our newly created tools and learned to use them to solve ever more complex problems and invent even more powerful tools."(Irving Wladawsky-Berger) This meets the scientifically approved definition of co-evolution: evolution involving successive changes in two or more ecologically interdependent species [in our case between technology and humans] (as of a plant and its pollinators) that affect their interactions.

The words quoted by Matthias Mueller-Prove, are key demonstrators of this co-evolution, "We are shaping the tools and the tools are shaping us - Marshall Mcluhan" (qtd in Matthias Mueller-Prove's Lecture) Technology and humans influence each other, perhaps though, we were not and are still not equally influencing each other.

Figure 1. How We Adopt Technology

Source: Duxton, Bill. "On Being Human in a Digital Age." CHI 2008. Florence. June 2008.

SlideShare. SlideShare, 3 June 2008. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

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P7) Over our existence with technology, there has been a varying degree of control by both parties. Control being, who is influencing whom. In that respect, humanity in our co-evolution with technology has been "the pants of the relationship". Traditionally, we were the massive innovators and contributors to feedback for technology. As noted in the last paragraph, "Technology provides a service to us and we provide feedback by using technology". Except not anymore. The problem is as William Johnson in Third Nature: The Co-Evolution of Human Behavior, Culture, and Technology describes:

"Technology Self-Perpetuates. Diamond (1997) suggests that technological evolution is an autocatalytic process in which each new innovation sets the stage for the next one such that invention is as much the "mother of necessity" as necessity is the "mother of invention". What may begin as a novelty may wind up as a mushrooming necessity, one that plays a central role in the institutional order." (pg 254)

In other words, there is a cascade affect going on with technology.

In figure 2 by Mueller-Prove, the slide below shows our evolution with technology. Each progression is massively shorter than the other; the effect is as described in the Techno-Human Condition by Braden Allenby and Daneil Sarewitz "…technological evolution can destabilize existing clusters [such as automotive clusters, heavy-industry cluster and other technology] and create conditions leading to the evolution of new ones." (pg 84).

As the tongue-in-cheek joke goes "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes."(Paraq and Ayesha Khanna pg 18) Technology today is designing itself, improving itself, without our feedback, at this rapid pace.

Chances are our car, our computers, and our planes are being designed by state-of-the-art computers; causing a race to the Singularity in which is according to the Singularity Institute, "The Singularity is the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence." (Singularity Institute) The cascading affect is leaving us in the dust in regards to our original co-evolution.

For instance, you and I, probably have no clue how a computer works, at least I haven't had the faintest idea. If it breaks contact a repairperson. Yet, our ancestors who had much more lag time before the next jump in technology's cycle knew how a printing press worked, or how to build a hammer, they could fix their tools. They knew the technology of their time. We don't know the technology of our time. We are letting our hold over technology to gallop away and we just simply don't care.

Figure 2. Progression of Technology

Source: Mueller-Prove, Matthias. Co-Evolution of Humans and Tools - Shaping Our Digital

Habitat. Reboot11. Copenhagen. June 2009. SlideShare. SlideShare, 23

June 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. .de/script/09/reboot/

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P8) The massive shift in the last hundred years from innovators and feedback generators to simply users, has changed our nature in regards to technology, from possessing the initiative nature (i.e our active feedback and participation and knowledge of what we were using) to a reactionary nature, in where we sit back as technology speeds away without us, clueless, and wonder what is going on.

Technology used to be beneficial, "Shrink lag time between our imaginations and the real world" (Silva).Allowing ideas and pictures to be communicated across peoples without having to be present, and expanding out potential.

But, we have essentially "Outsourced our mental capacities to our tools" (Silva).

No longer are we doers, we don't act on technology, technology acts on us. How often have you been sucked into something and simply cannot let go? Staying on Facebook, or your computer or your smartphone, and then guiltily looking at the time?

People bring their electronics to the dinner table, sacred ground, that was once a prized personal event. I know, because I am guilty of it, and many more along with me. How do you find your information? Where once we used a book or our own memory, now we use Google. "The Internet becomes increasingly important part of one's overall memory strategy" (Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz pg 16).

Isn't it more shocking now that, technology has such a grip on our life where once it was at our whim? Technology no longer needs us, when machines design themselves. Our input is gone. "…a ceding of human agency and authenticity and democracy to the demands of the system."(Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz pg 44) We simply react; we are no longer initiators as our human nature once was.

P9) Critics of the notion that, that we have essentially let the doggy door open and let technology out, would say; "Oh but! The adage of "Garbage in and Garbage out" still prevails"

I would respond with grim confidence, "for now" and make no mistake though, in our present course, machines or technology will one day, no longer obey our traditional thinking of them and it will become harder to distinguish who is machine and who is human.

Think Skynet from The Terminator. Bruce Mazlish in The Fourth Discontinuity; The co-evolution of humans and machines, explains Descartes's way of discriminating between human and machine, "…Descartes's two criteria…are that the latter [machines] has (1) no feedback mechanisms ('it could never modify its phrases") and (2) no generalizing reason ("reason is a universal instrument which can be used in all sorts of situations")."(pg 24).

These criteria define machines that could be easily defeated via "Garbage in and Garbage out" philosophy. As the garbage (i.e our programming and our rules set for the machine) being thrown in by us would never be modified and the garbage would never be thought and reasoned on. The problem again, is that, technology (or machines) that is getting away from us, or rather possibly will (as technology rapidly evolves), and is fundamentally different in thinking. Mazlish continues on, to split the two systems for us:

"At this point , however , it seems important to make a distinction between what is called information processing and emergent AI. The first is a matter of logic, that is the use of Boolean Algebra, which manipulates symbols instead of numerals and is embodied in a machine that follows the rules programmed into it. Such, certainly, were the early computers… In emergent AI, this problem can be bypassed. Instead of rules as such, a network of independent elements is set up inside the computer, and the interaction of these elements produces intelligence. " (pg 192-193) (Emphasis mine)

In other words, the AI (or technology) will think for itself, possibly be in the future categorized as a sentient being for all we know.

The fact is, we must fear the emergent AI, as, if it is created unchecked, it will be our effective crossing of an event horizon (Singularity!) from co-evolution, to shifting the tables completely to the AI. Our reactionary nature, which is responsible for our lack of care for this pressing issue, will spell our disaster in much akin to what we may think of impossibilities in science or speculative fiction. We might end up in The Matrix.

P10) "Are we human or are we dancers?" A question asked in the Killers "Human" song. The underlying meaning is that humans have walked, "Up to the platform of surrender"(The Killers).

Surrendering the values and qualities "Pay my respects to grace and virtue; Send my condolences to good; Give my regards to soul and romance; They always did the best they could; And so long to devotion"(The Killers), that make us humans in favour of the director directing us like a director directs his dancers.

The director in our case is technology.

In this mess of our co-evolution with technology, it is very easy to be swept away to that level of surrendering in the Killers song, as "…the technologies are so deeply embedded in technological, economic and social systems that change is very difficult." (Braden Allenby and Daneil Sarewitz pg 166).

Yes, changing our course will be difficult, but we must still remember, its not too late, technology is not a thinking independent machine yet or a group of them. It is still not Terminator, nor GlaDos nor Hal or The Matrix. The point we can all hopefully recognize is that technology has been ultimately a human creation, a human invention and for now is still subject to the whims of humans. We can still achieve a balance in our co-evolution with technology. After all, I can still trip over the power cord of my computer.

Works Cited: Annotated Bibliography - Still Work In Progress