Man or machine?

In modernity, I am emale would point to Descartes as one of the early pioneers of AI:

And yet what do I see from the window but hats and coats which may cover automatic machines?  Yet I judge these to be men.

The activity of the critical faculty is what constitutes a proof of the existence of men or machines for Descartes.  The evil genius can only be foiled by the safety of an interiority, impregnable and self-sufficient, an untouchable facility and resource – the human mind.

The future of mankind and technology is an old debate in history.  The dialogue in Plato’s Phaedrus between Thoth and Amon would be one of the first recorded instances of this debate.  Thoth has invented this tool called writing that will help people to remember.  Amon dismisses this technolgy, arguing (or telling – Amon is the king) that writing will in fact take away people faculty of memory as they learn to rely upon writing.

What is at stake in the debate – a debate continuing into the present day about the Internet and its uses – is not the faculty of memory but the human mind as the primary means of production: value.

Enter Jaron Lanier.  He has no hat and no coat but he is toting a musical instrument, one of the early prototypes for the modern computer, the khene.

Jaron bares his soul in this talk about the future of mankind and technology.  The talk is lengthy but to make a substantial point (which Jaron does), a length of time is required.

Jaron talks about the dearth of creativity or meaningful existences people lead on the Internet.  What was supposed to unleash great reservoirs of creativity and personal freedoms in the form of the Web 2.0 has, he argues, ultimately failed as an experiment.  The open culture revolution has not occurred.  What has happened instead, is advertising has gained a foothold into new means of manipulation and the deflation of goods produced from the primary means of production, that is, people living off of their creative juices, due to the “gift economy” of open culture.

I use “gift economy” is the sense that Chris Anderson uses it in his spiel on Free:

All of this information is brought to you on platforms from Web 2.0, completely free.

Except for the time you invest and the ideas it inspires you into doing other things, making other connections,  even making music.

In other words, brought to you by other people – whom I judge to be men and women – in writing.


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