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Civilization is itself a thinking machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2016

In response to the question “What Do You Think About Machines That Think?” Brian Eno responded that artificial intelligence has been with us for millennia and understanding it is more a matter of managing our ignorance of how it works.

My untroubled attitude results from my almost absolute faith in the reliability of the vast supercomputer I’m permanently plugged into. It was built with the intelligence of thousands of generations of human minds, and they’re still working at it now. All that human intelligence remains alive in the form of the supercomputer of tools, theories, technologies, crafts, sciences, disciplines, customs, rituals, rules-of-thumb, arts, systems of belief, superstitions, work-arounds, and observations that we call Global Civilisation.

Global Civilisation is something we humans created, though none of us really know how. It’s out of the individual control of any of us — a seething synergy of embodied intelligence that we’re all plugged into. None of us understands more than a tiny sliver of it, but by and large we aren’t paralysed or terrorised by that fact — we still live in it and make use of it. We feed it problems — such as “I want some porridge” and it miraculously offers us solutions that we don’t really understand. What does that remind you of?

Interesting perspective. There’s lots more on this question in the book What to Think About Machines That Think, which includes thoughts from Virginia Heffernan, Freeman Dyson, Alison Gopnik, Kevin Kelly, and dozens of others.