ou’ve probably never come across the word ‘ylem‘, but apparently it’s defined in alchemy as the root of all elements. It’s a nice concept, having a single point in time where we can say that’s were it all began.
Some might say that fire was our ‘ylem’ because it enabled us to cook food (allowing us to develop bigger brains) and smelt metals to make tools etc. Certainly that was a major thing, but what’s the next major thing? What’s our next ‘ylem’?
Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil have described something they call ‘The Singularity’ as being a point in time in which science and technology have gotten so advanced that it and humans converge into a single point of awesomeness and we then live in a utopia-like existence. It’s a nice idea; I’ve seen variations of it in a number of science-fiction stories.
I disagree with it though. I don’t disagree that a ‘singularity’ is possible or even likely, but I disagree with the way in which it will happen. I don’t think that it’s all about the merger of science and technology with the human race, I think it’s about the merging of our individual minds.
There are lots of animals which teach their young how to do things; some animals even learn new things and then teach those new things to their young. They don’t have the cerebral capacity to talk, read and write the way we do though; this means that unlike us, they can’t share complex or detailed concepts like we can and so are incapable of discussing them or passing on such detailed information. Yes I know that cuttlefish, whales and dolphins are supposed to have a language as mathematically complicated as human languages, but they don’t have thumbs and forefingers so they can’t create the tools to make the mediums to convey and record whatever they might be thinking or talking about.
We do though. We can not only teach our children how to do what we do and pass on what skills and experience we have, we are also capable of writing books, recording sounds and images, and we have the internet.
The internet right now is all about sharing. Yes, there’s the cats and the pranks and the lists punctuated with pointless phrases like ‘of all time’ and ‘…must…before you die’, but it really is all about sharing. We highlight things that we’ve discovered and that we like and we share what we like with people that we think might like them too. We pass on our knowledge and we do it in increasingly similar ways, probably as a result of having increasingly similar technologies across the globe and working within the constraints of those technologies. Those lists, moments and discoveries we shared are still there, and are still being shared, but there’s more and more being added every day (thus rendering the phrase ‘of all time’ completely pointless, see?).
So what’s happening now is that we’re sharing more and more knowledge in increasingly innovative ways and as we’re doing so we’re noticing what other people are doing and using this to make new discoveries and then share those.
We’re using social networks to form social groups in real life and do real life things with each other as well as sharing this vast wealth of information, so it’s not all doom and gloom on that front despite the ‘old guard’ saying things like ‘back in my day we used to go outside and talk with each other rather than send messages’. Also, we’re encouraging the old guard to give us their knowledge and experience so that we can record it and share it with future generations, so that the knowledge isn’t lost as they quietly fade away while we’re clicking and typing and staring at screens.
Sharing knowledge and experience doesn’t just allow us to build on what we’ve already learned, it allows us to get to know and help each other, build trust and build connections and the whole thing snowballs.
We have an opportunity people, because education and awareness is our key to restraining our excesses and becoming more efficient. It’s our key to achieving post-scarcity conditions of living and moving on to the next stage of our development (i.e. leaving the planet and spreading out a bit). It’s the key to our survival and success. Sharing our knowledge and experiences as much as we’re doing now, with so many people across the world, is a major step forward for us.
That’s why I say any singularity that occurs isn’t about a merging of humans and technology; it’s about a merging of our minds.