Thus argues secular humanist author, musician, and self-educated techie Jaron Lanier. His cleverly titled book came out earlier this year, and I received it as a birthday present from old friends in soCal who are of a similar philosophical vein. The book is a fascinating cobble of various articles and pieces Lanier has written over the last twenty years or so. The jacket blurb would have you believe that it is also “controversial”, but only if enough people would read it to create controversy.
The essay itself is a rambling yet engaging collection of historical observations, experiences recounted, and musings philosophical of the current pre-Singularity years as Man collides and couples with machine. I found it interesting because of my own work in the same vineyards, but in many places I saw different things happening for different reasons than did Lanier.
In the book he shows us the impact on society – ‘technical and cultural problems’ – that “can grow out of poorly considered digital design", although I didn’t find cited examples compelling. He does seem to be concerned about a genre of computer programs (machine intelligence) and the new celebration of ‘mob wisdom’ that yields various algorithmic cook-ups of what groups of people purport to say and do. These he sees as beginning to trump “over the intelligence and judgment of individuals” in advanced societies.
Finally, he argues for the advent of a “humanistic technology” that somehow will maintain the primacy of human individualism and creativity in a world facing the onslaught of ever more intelligent machines. Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear navy, introduced the notion of humanistic technology in a 1964 speech at Georgetown University. He was worried that technology might be developed for its own sake instead of for solving specific human problems. And high thinking people have been so worried ever since.