Note — Jun 20, 2021

Planetary Sapience

Has anyone defined / named an axis—probably a 2x2 quadrant, actually—along which could be mapped climate crisis perspectives in relation to techno optimism and pessimism? Some people are resolutely on the policy end where technology is a problem or what’s needed already exists, and on the other end or opposite quadrant, the Bill Gates’ of the world who seem to feel it’s an entirely technological challenge and everything is to be funded and invented.

This piece at Noema by Benjamin Bratton threads an unusual combination somewhere in those quadrants. He seems to be resolutely on the “we’ll achieve this with new tech and lets cyborg the planet” end of things, while at the same time advocating for something like more-than-human design, a much more holistic, multi-species, save the ecosystems viewpoint.

Bratton reconciles the two in his usual excellently written, though in parts opaque, way by saying that “we must reclaim the artificial — not fake, but designed,” revisit the distinction between the “artificial” and the “synthetic,” and view terraforming alongside planetary-scale computation.

Greatly condensed: our planet-spanning infrastructures have brought us a new planetary understanding, a new sapience, we can’t go back but should properly understand our impacts, reinvent how we do things yet continue our technological advancement in a more reflective manner, so that we can invent and orient towards a future which would make the past worth it.

His view on synthetic intelligence, “a genuine and meaningful version of something that was deliberately created,” instead of an artificial intelligence, “something that merely resembles an original,” and “the synthesis of human and machine intelligence” overlaps nicely for me with Rao’s Superhistory, not Superintelligence, which also emphasizes a different intellect vs an artificial copy—plus of course his excellent compressed time insight.

I call this terraforming — not of another planet, but of our own. It is a deliberate, practical, political and programmatic project to conceive and compose a viable planetarity based on the secular disenchantment of Earth through the ongoing artificialization of intelligence and the emergence of a general sapience that conjoins human and nonhuman cognition. […]

Is the very long-term evolution of “intelligence” — human, animal, machine, hybrids — a fundamental purpose of the organization and complexification of life itself? If so, now that intelligence begins to migrate to the inorganic substrate of silicon, what planetarities does this portend? […]

The approach to these questions cannot avoid the correspondence between honing our own sapience through machinations of war and strategic violence, and the emergence of machine intelligence that is dependent upon the provisions of material extraction, military applications and their ecological and social devastations. […]

How can the ongoing emergence of planetary intelligence comprehend its own evolution and the astronomical preciousness of sapience and simultaneously recognize itself in the reflection of the violence from which it emerged and against which it struggles to survive?

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