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<nettime> Jaron Lanier: One Half Of A Manifesto (

[In the context of the recent thread on Kurzweil and the culture of AI,
this might be of interest. Lanier is usually credited with coining the
term "virtual reality" and has been a long-time critic of AI. The
manifesto, even though only one half, is rather long, so is here only the

[From: ]

One Half Of A Manifesto
By Jaron Lanier

For the last twenty years, I have found myself on the inside of a
revolution, but on the outside of its resplendent dogma. Now that the
revolution has not only hit the mainstream, but bludgeoned it into
submission by taking over the economy, it's probably time for me to cry
out my dissent more loudly than I have before.

And so I'll here share my thoughts with the respondents of, many
of whom are, as much as anyone, responsible for this revolution, one which
champions the assent of cybernetic technology as culture.

The dogma I object to is composed of a set of interlocking beliefs and
doesn't have a generally accepted overarching name as yet, though I
sometimes call it "cybernetic totalism". It has the potential to transform
human experience more powerfully than any prior ideology, religion, or
political system ever has, partly because it can be so pleasing to the
mind, at least initially, but mostly because it gets a free ride on the
overwhelmingly powerful technologies that happen to be created by people
who are, to a large degree, true believers.

Edge readers might be surprised by my use of the word "cybernetic". I find
the word problematic, so I'd like to explain why I chose it. I searched
for a term that united the diverse ideas I was exploring, and also
connected current thinking and culture with earlier generations of
thinkers who touched on similar topics. The original usage of
"cybernetic", as by Norbert Weiner, was certainly not restricted to
digital computers. It was originally meant to suggest a metaphor between
marine navigation and a feedback device that governs a mechanical system,
such as a thermostat. Weiner certainly recognized and humanely explored
the extraordinary reach of this metaphor, one of the most powerful ever

I hope no one will think I'm equating Cybernetics and what I'm calling
Cybernetic Totalism. The distance between recognizing a great metaphor and
treating it as the only metaphor is the same as the distance between
humble science and dogmatic religion.

Here is a partial roster of the component beliefs of cybernetic totalism:

1) That cybernetic patterns of information provide the ultimate and best
way to understand reality.

2) That people are no more than cybernetic patterns.

3) That subjective experience either doesn't exist, or is unimportant
because it is some sort of ambient or peripheral effect.

4) That what Darwin described in biology, or something like it, is in fact
also the singular, superior description of all creativity and culture.

5) That qualitative as well as quantitative aspects of inform ation
systems will be accelerated by Moore's Law.

And finally, the most dramatic:

6) That biology and physics will merge with computer science (becoming
biotechnology and nanotechnology), resulting in life and the physical
universe becoming mercurial; achieving the supposed nature of computer
software. Furthermore, all of this will happen very soon! Since computers
are improving so quickly, they will overwhelm all the other cybernetic
processes, like people, and will fundamentally change the nature of what's
going on in the familiar neighborhood of Earth at some moment when a new
"criticality" is achieved- maybe in about the year 2020. To be a human
after that moment will be either impossible or something very different
than we now can know.


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