1.20 Arriving at the intersection
With the prospect of encoded future ahead and all that information at our disposal, as digital humans we might be on the edge of a new state of being, one in which we can rapidly learn from and surpass our origins.
Compared to the times when tribal ways and old wisdoms were lost in the mists, code can make us better curators. Even as ancient civilization is destroyed in war in some areas, still evidence can remain. In the digital age, there is collective memory, a thousand images to distribute and remember across the earth.
With recorded history as a guide, we also cannot un-know the best of human nature and what experiences have brought joy, freedom and well-being. Nor can we ignore actions of savagery and neglect, behaviours that have fuelled division and distress, or how mindlessness and barbarism are at the root of human suffering and pain. All these have been chronicled.
History can be, and often is, interpreted in multiple ways. I’m writing this post in June 2015 while Greece lives on the edge of an economic and cultural precipice. People are wondering about the future of the Eurozone at the same time the 200th anniversary of Waterloo is being commemorated. Insights on today’s events are being drawn from Napoleon’s goal of a one nation Europe, from battles such as Waterloo that proved the futility of conflict and how its horror influenced the peace that followed.
We’re no longer necessarily doomed to repeat old errors. Whatever anyone’s interpretation of history might be, learning from it makes us sentient human beings, able to evolve. And, alongside all that now, we have data. What a win.
When the generations ahead look back at us at this point in the timeline of human history, they may see it as an inflection point, a fork in the road. Thomas Hobbes, in his classic text ‘The Leviathan’, famously described human existence as ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Code can significantly alter that human experience. It can improve our quality of life. It can also send humankind hurtling towards obsolescence. One way or another, this much we know; things are unlikely to remain the same.
As the planet becomes connected, so resources, creed and code are colliding. The effects of global connectivity are making themselves manifest. While digital technology becomes embedded in what we do and who we are, it’s questionable whether we should merely be reacting in the moment to its arrival. We face a reckoning and a wake-up call.
What we do on the web today is raw material from which we will incubate the wired-up civilizations of tomorrow. We can consider the next steps as a random process, or as moves we make with more conscious intention. Code means that now, there is a choice.
I think of emergent code as a mindful synthesis of code and human consciousness, a step beyond vanilla digital, more than the raw, binary code we know as the bits and bytes of data. Emergent code represents a combination of human skills and technology. It is a fully-rounded blend of digital scripting and heightened human appreciation that makes this intersection exciting.
Do robots get excited?
A conscious future, a hopeful emergence as digital humans, may be both evolutionary and logical in nature. This intersection may be an ‘evological’ chapter for humankind then, a chapter in which data logic and human feeling co-exist, part of a human-centered digital system, responsive to meeting our needs and enhancing human experience. Digital processing power and big data algorithms track and interpret online interactions and footprints. Human evolution, however, is much more than data mining,
The greatest A/B test of all time
In the near future, code will govern our environment, our communities, goods and services, our homes, even our bodies. Data will chart the longitudes and latitudes of a digitally-enabled world society. The big unresolved question, of course, is how we get there.
What kind of improved states can we build from our technological capabilities? Can we reach a greater understanding of the universal characteristics and traits that bind us as part of a connected planet or just carry on with the in-fighting? Being technically wired up together gives us new perspectives and levels of social intelligence, and being digital is a way of enhancing our cognitive skills as humans, of honing our instincts and what we can do with them.
Imagine a technical singularity truly balanced by human diversity. Consider, if you will, how our digital state is one where we relish differences of gender, race, age, beliefs and culture because it provides the richest seed bank possible for future human progression in the face of cut and paste code. That’s the new binary. How elegantly might we transition to digital humans as technology changes our lives if, as a species, we instead become slaves to it, we settle for being compliant to code, as predictable, persuadable elements in the algorithm, instead of revellers in our variety of what makes us different from it.
We have the option to fine tune what digital innovation can really mean by embracing and working with the force of code coming towards us. Sherry Turkle has summed up the challenge by saying, ‘technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies’. We can react badly to that, with wilful ignorance. We can resist change of the world order and loss of the status quo. We can feel threatened and indulge in scarcity fears, fuelling narcissistic rage and control as a response, or we can rise to the challenge of scoping how being human and digital in equal measure can elevate us.
This is the greatest A/B test of all time, to find the brightest and best path for human nature while we’re at the intersection. Who’s coming?