The Entwined Futures of Humans and Machines
Should digital technology be viewed as a new life form, sharing our ecosystem and coevolving with us?
Are humans defining technology, or is technology defining humans? Richard Dawkins famously said that a chicken is an egg's way of making another egg. Is a human a computer's way of making another computer? Certainly, digital technology has changed the way we interact with one another, the way we work, and even the way we think. The machines serve as intellectual prostheses, helping us with arithmetic, spelling, and remembering (while also subtly manipulating our thoughts, directing us to click on ads or vote a certain way). Should the software systems that have taken over so much of our lives be viewed as living beings, defined by bits rather than DNA? In this book, Edward Ashford Lee considers whether these “living digital beings” will threaten humans with annihilation, fuse with them to create cyborgs, or coevolve with them.
Lee presents the case for considering digital beings to be living, then offers counterarguments. What we humans do with our minds is more than computation, and what digital systems do—be teleported at the speed of light, backed up, and restored—may never be possible for humans. To believe that we are simply computations, he argues, is a “dataist” faith and scientifically indefensible. Digital beings depend on humans—and humans depend on digital beings. More likely than a planetary wipe-out of humanity is an ongoing, symbiotic coevolution of culture and technology.