Society is Technology is Society

Participants at “social news site” Digg.com are quick to digg and even quicker to criticize. A first time submitter learned the hard way that the link he/she/other had submitted was to an article that was over three years old. “November 18, 2002[.] A little outdated, don’t you think?” responded one fellow digger. “Certainly outdated when the primary focus here is technology!” Another wrote “Congratulation on your first dig[sic], it was only 3 years late!”

Though not likely to admit it, every person who submits a story on the “social news site” Digg.com does so as much for recognition by their peers as for any real interest in the relevant topics. Screwing up by that community’s standards results in a quick lesson in social editing, tagging, and bookmarking, a lesson that will not likely be forgotten. The process is not 100 percent efficient; the submission mentioned above still ended up on the site’s fabled front page, dugg by hundreds of reviewers who also probably missed the published date of the article. Still, the fact that at the very heart of the social aspects of the latest Internet boom is, of all things, peer pressure, tells us something very important: society is technology, technology is society.

This might be obvious to some, but it is an idea generally shunned by the rest, the same majority that refuses to accept the parallels between biological and digital processes that continue to vastly acceleration progress in both biology and computing. Sites like Digg.com reveal humans in union with their computers, improving their pattern-recognition abilities via online social interactions, becoming data mining agents, Amazon’s own “artificial artificial intelligence,” in an ever expanding database of information.

This was rarely predicted in previous visions of the future. Cyberpunk came close but missed with its cyborg antiheroes witnessing the birth of alien artificial intelligences somehow removed from the human condition. Singularitarian visions have come the closest (Vinge’s “zipheads” come to mind – see previous blog entry) but often mistake the parallels between biology and computing and society and technology as transcendence rather than self-organization following physical laws in a complex material universe.

And Web 2.0 proponents who focus on the social aspects of the trend miss that this is only a way station where we will rapidly learn from the tedium of reprogramming and plugging ourselves into dumb technology how to create vastly more efficient true artificial intelligences. These AI will not be truly alien nor wholly human, neither gods nor mortals, never transcendent and not supernatural, but physical and complex, part parent and part child, like clouds and complex weather patterns self-organizing from water droplets and dust.

One thought on “Society is Technology is Society”

  1. I think the most interesting part is that the AI revolution is so unquantifiable. Digg doesn’t happen because X amount of human intelligence plus Y amount of computer intelligence (in the Digg servers and in webbrowsers) equals Z, which is past some threshhold. The AI involved is minimal, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be a dramatic effect on society. There’s never been a society before where large groups of people can collectively decide at the push of a button what they think should be news. It’s fantastically difficult to predict what that society will/would be like. ❤

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