“One of the functions of intelligence is to take account of the dangers that come from trusting solely to the intelligence.” –Lewis Mumford

We humans are between pigs and anchovies; we are at level 2.2 of the tropic scale enviro-biologists use to rate predators. That’s so because we are omnivores; we eat both plants and herbivores. Only rarely do we eat carnivores and that’s not enough to boost us to level 3. Polar bears and Killer whales are at level 5.5. Those scientists rate them higher because they mostly eat other predators and have none themselves.

Yeah right, just ask Shamu in her tank and Nanook on his shrinking ice floe. Go Team Human! We’ve bested all the beasties that used to predate on us. These days their evolved teeth and claws are no match for our invented weaponry. So we now have now no one to fight but ourselves and that we do. Enviro-biologists don’t figure this into their calculations, if they did they’d see that we are the real apex predators, level 6.0.

To get to level 6.0 we had to begin to consume ourselves. This is not new, as soon as we invented chiefs and priests. They via war, edifice building, human sacrifice and other inequalities have always consumed the rest of us. Not literally, of course, but they consume of you what they value in you—the choice cuts, you might say. Back in the day it was your blood, sweat and tears. These days it’s more likely your fleeting attention, meager talents and your pitiably small fortune they devour.

How exactly did we get to be animal royalty? It wasn’t solely because of our toolmaking skills. A single homo farber waving a stick with a sharpened rock on one end is not going to out gun a mastodon, but a whole gang of them can surround and kill one. It was our camaraderie (culture) as much as our tool making and using (technology) that tipped the scale in our favor. It is less Hobbes’ “bellum omnia contra omnes” than it used to be. We live longer and, for the most part, better. But sadly technology seem well on the way to wholly replacing camaraderie and artificial intelligence subsuming human empathy

But it’s not machines becoming like us we should fear, but us becoming machines. Most of us have been a cog on a gear in a transmission of power from one place to another forever. But over time we’ve come to consider ourselves whole and separate individuals, unique selves capable of and deserving free will and we’ve made an effort to counter chronic dehumanization, a down side of culture. But neither our cog-on-a-gear status nor thinking we are better than that has not been modified by technology. Only the metaphors have changed.

We now see our selves—not me, of course, but “us”—as digitized information. We speculate that a self is but a sum of millions of bit of electricity in a physical brain or on thousands hard drive spread around the globe. But as we now believe we are never wholly calculated either in our brain or in Big Data, only the bits relevant to the exchange at hand are summed at any given time and are as quickly returned to their segments, we can never be the whole and separate individuals we hoped to be. You and I are now thought to be merely sequences of fading after-images forming a ghost of a portrait (a portrait of a ghost?) in this machine.

In a consumer society, what technology makes possible culture make necessary. The ever-smarter products that we willingly hand over ever-more of our decision-making chores to allow this (almost) painlessly. We will eventually become unnecessary accessories for our devices and we’ll be discarded. That includes you, as well, dear point one per centers, the level 6.0 predators among us. The machines that learned their morality from you and your spread-sheet programs you use to make redundant workers and the scorched earth algorithms you use to maximize share holder (your own in particular) value are now coming for you. Karma’s a b*tch, eh?


A nudge to review Mumford from the “So Very Very” blog. Ol’ Lewis added to my used books to find list, thanks.

And of course, multiple Googlings generally leading to Wikipedia. No apologies there, I just don’t have time to research original sources. And this ain’t grad school any more.

P.S. the pen shown is a Mont Blanc 149. not the most expensive pen out there, its only $935 or so, but it has been the poster child for conspicuous consumption in penworld for decades.