I’ve just finished reading an amazing book by Joel Garreau, a reporter and editor at of the Washington Post, titled “Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human.”
Garreau presents three scenarios of the future: the “Heaven” of technological optimists, like Ray Kurzweill, the “Hell” of technological pessimists, like Bill Joy; and the “Prevail” scenario of people like Jaron Lanier who doesn’t believe in technological determinism and thinks that:
“Even if technology is advancing along an exponential curve, that doesn’t mean humans cannot creatively shape the impact on human nature and society in largely unpredictable ways.”
The quotes below are from “Radical Evolution”.
“The technological incline is a flawed measure of progress on many levels, Lanier says, most particularly because it suggests that the meaning of humanity can be reduced to zeros and ones. The moral ramp is a problem because, taken to its logical outcome, it requires more energy than humans have, and also can lead to holy wars. So his version of Prevail rests on the proposition that a third ramp exists and that it is the important one. That is the ramp of increased connection between people.”
“This is how Lanier gets to his ultimate measure of the success of The Prevail Scenario. It is the third ramp of progress the ramp of increased interpersonal connections. That ramp, historically, starts with the invention of language and then moves to writing, drama, literature, printing, film, the telephone, radio, television, the Internet and so forth. What you are measuring is an increase in the quantity, quality, variety and complexity of ways in which humans can connect to each other”
Studying the evolution of the nervous system that has been accompanying the evolution of animal species from the simplest ones to humans, we notice a continual “increase in the quantity, quality, variety and complexity of ways” in which the neurons can connect to each other. Given that the same connectivity ramp is present also in the society of humans perceived as neurons in the global brain, it is safe to say that we are moving towards the possibility of having an increasingly potent, collective nervous system, capable to support higher levels of CI. (I introduced the concept of “collective nervous system” in my Quest for Collective Intelligence, 1995.)
“The connectedness ramp is not measured by inventions. The test is interesting group behavior. Lanier doesn’t care, for example, that millions of people are now participating together in online games. These he mostly finds tedious. Progress is in the emergence of interesting human societies. ‘This is where I see the action right now,’ he says.”
I appreciate the wisdom of Lanier who doesn’t equate human connectedness simply with the rise of number of people with access to the web. The interesting thing is, indeed, what human groups and societies make with it. Our technologies have certainly enabled a dramatic “increase in the quantity, quality, variety and complexity of ways in which humans can connect to each other.” The question is whether we will have the smarts and open will needed to grow co-intelligent communities and organizations, capable to reach higher levels of CI, the capacity to evolve towards higher order complexity and integration through collaboration and innovation. The answer is up to you and me.