Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Technospheratu Hypothesis

[ L'hypothèse Technosferatu]
[Die Technosphäratu-Hypothese]
[L'Ipotese Tecnosferatu]

My next book, Shrinking the Technosphere: Getting a grip on the technologies that limit our autonomy, self-sufficiency and freedom, is due out from New Society Publishers this fall. I am about halfway through writing the first draft of the manuscript. Here is an excerpt.


It can sometimes seem that the technosphere thwarts its own purpose. What sense is there in wasting resources on weapons, when there is already enough war materiel to kill all of us several times over? What sense is there in contaminating the environment with long-lived chemical toxins and radioactive radionuclides, producing high rates of cancer in the technosphere's human servants? What purpose is there in fostering extreme levels of corruption in government and in banking, or in creating conditions for extreme social inequality? How does it help the technosphere grow stronger and more controlling to provoke international conflicts and split up the world into warring sides? Are these all failings, or are they just little problems that are too small to matter? Or—here's a shocking thought—maybe they are all perfectly on strategy as far as the technosphere is concerned.

If we look closely, we will discover that all of these manifestations of the technosphere, although on a superficial level they appear to be problems, are, in fact, helpful to the technosphere in many interrelated ways. They help the technosphere to grow, to become more complex, and to more fully dominate the biosphere. There are far too many of them to trace out all of them, so let's just examine a few of the more important ones—the ones I alluded to above.

With regard to cancer, it would seem that minimizing rates of cancer by keeping carcinogenic chemicals and radioactive contamination out of the environment and eliminating microwave and ionizing radiation would be a very good idea. However, this turns out to be suboptimal from the technosphere's point of view. First, this would violate one of its prime directives by prioritizing the interests of the biosphere above its own technical concerns. Second, this would limit the need for technical intervention. Cancer treatment is a tour de force for the technosphere, allowing it to use its favorite techniques— chemistry (in the form of chemotheraphy) and physics (in the form of radiation therapy)—to kill living things (cancer cells, that is). Third, it would forgo the opportunity to exercise control over people, and to force them to serve and to obey, lest they find themselves deprived of very expensive, supposedly life-saving cancer therapies. What is optimal for the technosphere, then, is a situation where everybody gets treatable forms of cancer and where nobody can hope to survive without chemo and radiation therapy. The technosphere likes us to be patient with it, and medical patients are patient by definition.

When it comes to fostering extreme levels of corruption in government and banking, this again seems at first counterproductive: wouldn't a lawful, efficient financial sector and a transparent, moral government be expected to produce better results? Yes, but results for whom? Moral governance and proper banking regulation would serve the purposes of... humans! That's right, it would be bits of the biosphere reaping the benefits again! And so it is far more efficient, from the technosphere's perspective, for the major banks to corrupt government officials by funneling money to them through a variety of schemes, and to have these officials then refuse to regulate them or to prosecute them for their crimes. Once all of this corruption is in place, the allegiance of public officials is no longer to the tricky, willful living entities known as “voters” but to abstract tokens of wealth, which are much easier for the technosphere to manipulate to its fullest advantage.

Finally, wouldn't world peace, and a benevolent and unified world government, be of much more use to the technosphere than having humanity continually split up into warring sides? Perhaps, but what would that do for enhancing the technosphere's ability to murder people? When the great nations have to constantly prepare for war, they are forced to arm themselves, and to arm themselves they have to industrialize—to develop and maintain an independent industrial base. Were it not for the need to keep up with the arms race, some nations might prefer to forgo industrialization and remain agrarian, but because of the threat of war the choice is between industrialization and defeat.

War has other benefits as well. War requires swords which, once war is over, are beaten into ploughshares, which lead to increases in agricultural efficiency, which make peasant labor redundant and drive peasants off the land and into the cities, where they are forced to work in factories driving more industrialization. War offers an easy way for industrialized armies to exterminate or enslave nonindustrial tribes, who would otherwise be setting a bad example of people who are able to live happily outside the technosphere. Lastly, without a powerful war machine, people would be able to self-organize and provide for their own security, making them harder to control, while the existence of powerful military weapons makes it necessary to put security in the hands of tightly controlled, strictly disciplined, technocratic, hierarchical organizations—just the sort the technosphere prefers.

Thus it appears that the technosphere, viewed as an organism, possesses a sort of primitive emergent intelligence. If this claim seems like an outlandish conjecture, then compare it to James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis. According to Lovelock, all of the living organisms that inhabit the Earth's biosphere can be viewed as a single super-organism. It is a complex, self-regulating system that interacts with the inorganic elements of the planet in such a way as to make it habitable. Its basic functions include regulation of temperature, atmospheric concentrations of various gases and ocean salinity. This ability of the biosphere to maintain homeostatic equilibrium, and to restore it in case of disruptions in the form of, say, volcanic eruptions and major asteroid impacts, can be viewed as an emergent intelligence that strives for the greatest possible complexity and diversity of the web of life. Although somewhat controversial, and not directly testable, the Gaia hypothesis is taken quite seriously in a number of academic disciplines.

Taken in this context, my hypothesis—let's call it the Technospheratu hypothesis—seems rather less outlandish. It is that the technosphere, having risen up on top of and in opposition to Gaia and the biosphere, possesses a certain primitive emergent intelligence that allows it to grow in complexity and power and to dominate the biosphere to an ever-greater extent.

Unlike Gaia, which is an organism unto itself, the technosphere is a parasite upon the biosphere, using living organisms as if they were machines, and striving to replace them with machines as much as possible. This is perfectly obvious in industrial agriculture, which replaces complex ecosystems with machine-like simplicity of chemically fertilized monoculture. The factory farm, in which animals are confined in a sort of mechanized hell, is a perfect example of how the technosphere prefers to treat higher life forms. When it comes to us humans, the best example of technosphere's influence is the modern corporation, in which people are incentivized (and in fact required by law) to act as perfect psychopaths, blindly pursuing shareholder profits to the neglect of all human concerns. In politics, the technosphere gives rise to political machines, which treat voters as if they are laboratory animals, conditioning them to press certain voting machine levers in response to certain mass media stimuli.

Also unlike Gaia, which strives to maintain homeostatic equilibrium, this intelligence strives for disequilibrium—for continuous growth, which, on a finite planet with limited stores of nonrenewable natural resources, is an obvious dead end—“dead” as in “extinct.” To compensate, the technosphere dreams (with the help of certain humans who are in thrall to it) of universal conquest: it dreams of breeding a race of self-reproducing, space-faring robots. It dreams of leaving this exhausted, devastated planet behind and of colonizing other worlds—ones with lots more nonrenewable natural resources for it to mindlessly squander and, crucially, whole new biospheres for it to dominate and destroy. This last bit is very important, because the technosphere's existence loses all meaning without living things it can force to act like machines. Without a biosphere to destroy, the technosphere becomes just a blind, deaf robot whistling to itself in the dark. Without the miraculous, wondrous goodness that is life, the technosphere cannot even aspire to being evil—only banal. “Widgets in space! Yawn...”

22 comments :

Helix said...

I like it. Can I get a signed copy of your book when it comes out?

I've often meditated on the idea expressed in your passage "Were it not for the need to keep up with the arms race, some nations might prefer to forgo industrialization and remain agrarian, but because of the threat of war the choice is between industrialization and defeat." It seems to me that wars are largely due to the machinations of sociopathic people. What normal and compassionate person would want war? And yet war has been a constant throughout human history. In a way, sociopaths resemble the machines they marshal so effectively in their quest to dominate others -- neither possess a conscience.

From my own experience, I would say that true sociopaths make up a very small proportion of the population -- perhaps only one or two percent. Yet this very small cadre exercises a hugely disproportionate and negative influence over human affairs. If the technospehere does anything positive on its slide down the backside of Hubbert's curve, I would hope that a clinical test of sociopathic tendencies would top the list.

BruceH said...

Sounds like this is an updating and expansion of Jacques Ellul's "La Techniques". (The Technological Society.) I'm looking forward to it.

Robo said...

We are all grist for the mill. Consumables as well as consumers. This is hard to see from inside the mechanism, but painfully obvious from the outside.

mike said...

I highly recommend Bill Plotkin's book "Wild Mind: A field guide to the Human Psyche in this regard. Personally I have no interest in the Singularity and would rather kayak on Slocan Lake in B.C. and listen to whatever the natural world/Gaia/the soul of the Earth has to say. Thank's for taking this subject on Dimitry.

Al Low said...

Then there are those eco-minded who go about the business for exterminating NON-NATIVE flora and fauna in an effort to right the wrongs introduced either by accident or intent. The irony is that they are themselves NON-NATIVE.
As GEORGE CARLIN once opined: “And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice toward plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?”

mary said...

I am just reading Matt Ridley's new book "The Evolution of Everything". He makes a convincing case that technology is an emergent phenomena which he likens to Darwin's description of evolution. "...invention is an evolutionary phenomenon." This is a fascinating perspective! And I believe that understanding the contrast (relationship) between the Gaia Hypothesis (biotic life) and the technatosphere is very important today. Thanks Dmitry.

inohuri said...

I find myself hanging on the word "technosphere".

I don't know what you mean by it here and I can't find a satisfactory definition.

What is your definition?

Sparks McCoy said...

Nail hit on head. Can the techosphere be tamed? What would that be the luddosphere or Orchestrosphere (where we use some technology in a beneficial way alla musical instruments).

M said...

More technosphere blathering between Andrew Revkin and Bill Gates at the NYT this morning, Clean Energy Shot to the Moon. Bill is putting up a few bucks--probably at least as much as his rec/media room in his house--to, I kid you not, "invent a solution" to climate change. Mind you, it will be difficult, and could take longer that making a new operating system. But, good news, could be worth a fortune, once it is "scaled up." With geniuses like this running the show, who needs idiots.

alex carter said...

Oh, if I had money I'd pay grandly for a signed copy of your book too!

But sadly I bet my life on tech, and lost. I make just about 10 grand a year, the official poverty rate. About half of the population of San Jose, California, makes this or less; it's a very poverty-stricken place with a very few tech superstars, soon to be seen pushing a shopping cart full of meager possessions in 10 years.

Listen: I talk to homeless people like they're actually people, and the vast majority are from a tech background, a few I know were engineers.

The "embodied energy" in tech devices is immense. Years ago I read that an "avatar" in a game like Half-Life used more energy than the average 3rd world person and it's only become worse.

At age 53 I'm hoping to embark on a new profession as sign painter. The dirty secret about tech in this area is: it's cheaper to have someone who can letter whip out a sign than it is to go to Kinko's and have one done on a computer in vinyl. Same goes for shoemaking, cooking, gardening, tailoring, etc yadda yadda.

Baxter The Robot supposedly costs $6 an hour to run. OK automatically double this, plus the $20K cost of Baxter, amortized over 3 years or whatever the standard is for a business, plus upgrades and maintenance ....

A human will happily work for less and be less trouble. You can't 'ave Baxter climb up into the rafters to find a dead rat (I have!!) or suddenly run up the street to Postal Instant Press to drop something off (I swear they were all high on copier fumes in there!).

TECH IS A SCAM.

John D. Wheeler said...

I agree with Helix, I'm ready to pre-order a signed copy right now.

I am curious what your take is on the Global Village Construction Set that Open Source Ecology is working on. If you are covering them in the book, no point in repeating yourself, I can wait.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Interesting. John C. Lilly wrote something in this vein, but I cannot remember where, just that some alternate states of consciousness were involved. He painted a nightmarish vision of Borg-like electronic entities waging insidious war on biological life.
Also worth reading: The real world of technology, by Ursula Franklin. Ursula Franklin notes that new technologies are introduced and transform society before society gets a chance to discuss the pros and cons. At first the early adopters have an advantage, and adopting the new tool is optional. But before long the new technology becomes another necessity, another link in the chain of enslavement to stuff.

Unknown said...

The controllers and parasites always come up with great sounding names - Renaissance, Enlightenment, Evolution, Democracy, Progress - to hide the fact that they are barely functional, and even that only to the degree that they are masters of mimicking healthy human behavior.

The Technosphere, brought to its ontological conclusion, is just that: perfect mimicry of all natural processes in biology, chemistry, physics, etc. - better known as 'the matrix'.

Will it work? Good joke, how could it? It is not even supposed to work. The technosphere is about something altogether different - copyright, trademarking, ownership, enslavement...

The Jews did the same farcical trick already some 3500 years ago, when he contracted nobody else than God himself:

"Sure," they said, "when you declare as the Chosen People (i.e. the copyright owners) we will follow only you and no other god. Deal?"

The Technosphere, therefore, is the Torah updated, Judaism 2.0.

__samir

Hendrik Hilberdink said...

The story of cancer is more pertinent to your Technospheratu Hypothesis than perhaps you realize. The biological solution to cancer appears to have been found by the English embryologist John Beard over a century ago. The medical community was immediately hostile and buried it, in preference of non-solutions based on a kind of engineering: tinkering with things to kill cancer cells. This state of affairs persists to this day, and is more lucrative than ever.

In the 60s a Texan dentist by the name of Donald Kelley developed clinical protocols based on this same biological solution, and apparently cured thousands. Medical doctor Nicholas Gonzalez, who died last summer, picked up where Kelley left off. He re-published John Beard's book The Enzyme Treatment of Cancer of 1905, and wrote a monograph on Kelley's work that no academic journal would publish, a book on Beard's theory of cancer from the perspective of modern molecular biology (with colleague Linda Isaacs), and an account of how the NCI and NIH sabotaged a clinical trial of the enzyme treatment of cancer. For details see his website.

Your book looks to be a timely contribution to a vital topic - good luck!

Hendrik Hilberdink said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
porphyrius said...

Dima, that's brilliant. Interestingly, in Old German parlance Technospheratu was given the name Kapitalismus. It is still revered under that name by the winners of the big Class Struggle.

horizonstar said...

Whenever the urge strikes to make more enemies in the lunchroom at my workplace I make a statement like "the smart phone is the most harmful drug ever created in the history of civilization."

Now it usually takes repeating it at least three times at ever-increasing volumes before the conversation about the latest football scores grinds to a halt. I understand -- most Americans are no more capable of understanding such a concept than they are of analyzing the collapse of the WTC buildings by referring to the principles of Newtonian physics.

But it is really a simple analytic problem. On the one hand we have the benefits of being able to trade stocks while at work until the market masters extract the last of your wealth, twitter away at new friends you will never meet, or exchange photos of your private parts with potential or imaginary partners. And to be fair if you are a sailor, view inexpensive navigational apps that represent surveys done in the age of the lead line in full living color.

On the other hand you have the cost of trillions of hours spent in meaningless activity accessing random bits of information or fake "friendship" and the dollar cost of hardware and air time which can easily amount to 3% of your net income. To say nothing of the loss of the ability to think and respond in complete sentences.

Walk through any airport lobby and tell me that what you are observing is not addictive behavior-- the triumph of the Technosphere over actual human social interaction.

10100003 said...

Excellent peice.


Quite funny, while reading this there was an add on the page from GE (general electric?) finance. We'll work this out was the catchphrase, with a backdrop of green trees and blue sky's. I find it amazing that the of more dept or the dream of endless progress will somehow defy all known reality and snap of the fingers "work it out". Amazing it's prevalence and it's ability to instantly kill all discussion.

Skydda Bråbygden said...

"let's call it the Technospheratu hypothesis—seems rather less outlandish. It is that the technosphere, having risen up on top of and in opposition to Gaia and the biosphere, possesses a certain primitive emergent intelligence that allows it to grow in complexity and power and to dominate the biosphere to an ever-greater extent."

The hypothesis is a sound one, and the only one could come up with since the core of it is the obvious non-human origin of Technospheratu.

What is this entity? Where does it come from? Why does it operate the way it does? How can it be stopped?

These questions are often ignored. One who has dared try and answer them is John Lamb Lash.
http://www.metahistory.org/siteauthor.php

He maintains he found answers to these questions in gnosticism as recorded in the Nag Hammadi codices that were discovered in the late 1940s. His book "Not In His Image" is recommended.

Get a glimpse of what these answers are about here
http://www.metahistory.org/gnostique/archonfiles/AlienDreaming.php

steve said...

If you're thinking along these lines, you might enjoy this piece from the last Dark Mountain anthology:

http://dark-mountain.net/blog/key-posts/song-of-ea/

ANNA TULCHINSKY said...

I am in agreement with the Gaia hypothesis about the biosphere. Obviously not possible to prove but not possible to disprove either. Intuitively it makes a very good sense to me.

"Without a biosphere to destroy, the technosphere becomes just a blind, deaf robot whistling to itself in the dark." - brilliantly said.

I am really looking forward to this book! It will be a treat for the mind, as all Dmitry's writing.

With sadness I often think about the myriad of reasons for which humans are so destructive and so self-destructive, as a species. No other species would be collectively pressing the self-destruct lever, no other species would allow for a few individuals (aka leaders) to be able to "accept" risks on behalf of the entire planet and dump billions of tons of toxic waste into oceans, build high-risk nuclear facilities, poison water with fluoride, etc. What is the underlying mechanism that makes humans so different from all other species in this biosphere? is it ego? self realization? No matter how you look at it but collectively humans are not able to function so that the interests of the species are protected. And while technosphere is an "organism" of its own, it is perpetuated by humans, at least for now. AI is not yet emerged on any significant scale, so self-perpetuation is not yet possible for the technosphere in technical terms but it is clearly possible by other means, as we humans can't stop doing what we are doing. Collectively, we are the failed species.

ANNA TULCHINSKY said...

I am in agreement with the Gaia hypothesis about the biosphere. Obviously not possible to prove but not possible to disprove either. Intuitively it makes a very good sense to me.

"Without a biosphere to destroy, the technosphere becomes just a blind, deaf robot whistling to itself in the dark." - brilliantly said.

I am really looking forward to this book! It will be a treat for the mind, as all Dmitry's writing.

With sadness I often think about the myriad of reasons for which humans are so destructive and so self-destructive, as a species. No other species would be collectively pressing the self-destruct lever, no other species would allow for a few individuals (aka leaders) to be able to "accept" risks on behalf of the entire planet and dump billions of tons of toxic waste into oceans, build high-risk nuclear facilities, poison water with fluoride, etc. What is the underlying mechanism that makes humans so different from all other species in this biosphere? is it ego? self realization? No matter how you look at it but collectively humans are not able to function so that the interests of the species are protected. And while technosphere is an "organism" of its own, it is perpetuated by humans, at least for now. AI is not yet emerged on any significant scale, so self-perpetuation is not yet possible for the technosphere in technical terms but it is clearly possible by other means, as we humans can't stop doing what we are doing. Collectively, we are the failed species.