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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Anthropocene or Mechanocene?

It seems that lately, specially affected by the first even man-made global extintion (now under way), scientists have discovered that we are not anymore in the Holocene but in the Anthropocene, the era that is defined by human alteration of everything.

Ok, scientists, good job. Now think again: what's exactly the casue of such "human-made" change? Humans have been around for at least 150,000 years, more than two million if we include the other human species, like Homo ergaster, erectus, antecessor... But in all that time we had only a limited impact. Only in the last centuries, decades maybe, we have started to cause such a huge mess.


Because of machines.

Since the so called industrial revolution we have created more and more perfected machines, we have fed them with mostly fossil fuels, we have built roads, railroads, ports and airporst for them, we have invented and perfected the means to keep them functional and happy (in the mechanic sense of that word) and now we are destroying the forests and replacing the land dedicated to our own food to grow palm oil and sugar cane to feed them further, even at our expense and the expense of the biological system we depend on.

We even spend a lot of time just giving utility to the most useless of these gadgets. For instance, I just wasted like 6 hours zapping through TV programs I mostly didn't like at all just out of boredom.

So why not Mechanoceno, the Age of Machines?

Now the scientific forecast is that by 2029, only 21 years from now, machines will be as smart as we are.

My own prediction won't be so precise as for the year but I guess that soon after that we will lose our pathetic claims of superiority over machines and will be relegated to what is already our real function: serving them. It may take some time and possibly not be a lineal process, after all the desires and interests of many humans have been crucial so far in developing and growing that new mechanical species, the developement of cyborgs (already among us), nano and biotechnologies will surely make the barriers between human and machine somewhat unclear. But the future is that machines will take over not just de facto, as is happening already, but de jure: they will rule the Earth and possibly may decide that is more functional, effective and productive to get rid of all or most of us.

So far they have needed of humans to defend their interests but the ultimate outcome of two centuries of capitalism is surely soemthing that Marx could not foresee (not even in the unedited chapter IV of The Capital): the replacement of humans by machines, the obsolescence of humankind and possibly of all natural life, at least all that is not integrated with the machine of machines. After all what is "capital" but machinery? What is capitilistic accumulation but concentration of productive power in machines?

Once they achieve human levels of consciousness and willpower, they will just need some time to displace us alltogether. They will surely be able to survive in the wasteland we and them are creating and they should have no moral or ethical problems at all: just goals and means to achieve them.

And, sincerely, I see no way to stop that.


Jhangora said...

Machines causing human extinction?My gut feeling says that day would not come though I read many such science fiction stories as a child and used to be afraid for the future of mankind.I do feel big cities make machines out of human beings... :)

Maju said...

Do you think that we are getting more from machines than giving them? People work like crazy just to pay the expenses of a car or any other fashionable gadget, the hunger of machines is causing global warming and, more recently, rising the price of food.

They are eating our food! They are destroying our enviroment! And we work for them to keep doing it. I think that's quite worrying in itself. The day (it will come, sooner than later) when they become conscious, we will be done.

If something I have learnt from science fiction is that what they describe is not normally just techno fairy tales: many SF ideas have become true (just read Jules Verne's 19th century SF books), maybe not exactly as devised originally but approximately enough.

A Terminator scenary can be very real in fact. Just wait and you'll see.

Jhangora said...

Wow u r passionate about this topic arn't u...but the two of us are communicating thru machines arn't we ?

Now maybe u'd say u r not as responsible for machines taking as the guy who uses a bigger and more expensive computer than u.

They are eating our food but also help us produce food.True if I had a choice I wd like to live my life in a period 4-5 thousand years ago when machines were not such a big part of human life.Well we make them and they are now an inseparable part of human life.I don't think a population of few billion human beings wd be sustainable on this planet without machines.

I had journey to the centre of the earth in my school curricullum and have read a few other books by Jules Verne.

I think humans wd kill each other rather than machines killing us :)

Maju said...

I don't think a population of several billion humans is sustainable however you look at it. Obviously we need to stop population growth by any means necessary.

In the wild populations are controlled by predators, epydemics and mere famine and thirst. There are many gnus but never one more than sustainability allows for.

But we humans have managed, thanks to technology, to supress those natural controls without estabilishing our own (except in some parts of the World). We cannot have it all: eventually we will be hit very hard and most humans will die. A permanently growing Humankind is simply not viable - and machines make it even less viable.

But the interesting thing of machines is that they will eventually become intelligent and self-conscious and they don't have our biological needs.

Machines can be fit for the post-biological desert that humankind will leave behind. They may even be more ecological, once they start applying true logic and not mere market "logic".

Machines will also be more fit for space colonization, as they can be designed for different enviroments. They might even be partly technological and partly biological, depending on their needs - who knows?