The third great decentering ⊗ Natural Intelligence ⊗ Stiegler’s philosophy of technics

No.306 — What are the odds? ⊗ We need more calm companies ⊗ Future Days festival recap ⊗ Much of “AI” is just outsourcing

The third great decentering ⊗ Natural Intelligence ⊗ Stiegler’s philosophy of technics
Twenty unmissable installations and exhibitions at Milan design week

The third great decentering

NOEMA’s editor-in-chief Nathan Gardels summarising the thinking of Jonathan Blake and Nils Gilman’s new book Children of a Modest Star: Planetary Thinking for the Age of Crises.” Before I get to the vision presented in the piece, I found it weird that it wasn’t mentioned that Gilman is Gardels’ Deputy Editor, seems like a valid disclaimer to include. Second, the publication is published by the Berggruen
Institute which is also incubating the Benjamin Bratton-directed Antikythera, “a think tank reorienting planetary computation as a philosophical, technological, and geopolitical force.” Seems that the two fit together and I was surprised the latter wasn’t mentioned/integrated into the article.

The authors propose that, after Copernicus’s heliocentrism (the First Great Decentering), and Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection (the second), a Third Decentering is now emerging, “supplanting the figure of the human as the measure and master of all things.” The book proposes a shift towards planetary governance, recognizing human interdependence with Earth’s systems. The authors put forward “planetary subsidiarity” as a decentralized governance approach for global challenges. The concept emphasizes shared decision-making at different levels to address planetary issues effectively.

Basically; decisions made at the scale that demands it. Global issues at a global level, local issue locally. The article, and book I believe, ‘just’ presents a vision, not necessarily a way towards it. “Their approach rests on the hope that if you can show a way, circumstances one day will generate the will.” Roughly the same thing as ‘imagine better futures,’ which I can get behind. Or, as Madeline Ashby said “talk, loudly and frequently and in detail, about the future you want,” and in the words of David Graeber, “the ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make. And could just as easily make differently.”

Drawing on earth system science and systems biology, this holistic understanding is being enabled by new planetary-scale technologies of perception – a rapidly maturing technosphere of sensors, networks, and supercomputers that collectively are rendering the planetary system increasingly visible, comprehensible and foreseeable. This recently-evolved smart exoskeleton — in essence a distributed sensory organ and cognitive layer — is fostering an unprecedented form of planetary sapience. […]

In their multiscalar institutional approach, governance would be distributed, like natural systems themselves, reaching scale through networks, decentralized spatially in appropriate measure to the relevant action and empowered with authority at higher levels where necessary. […]

The principle of planetary subsidiarity guides the allocation of decision rights: the planetary institution sets the targets, national states decide how to handle the political-economic implications, and localities decide on the implementation details.

Natural Intelligence

In the piece above, the author says that “the Planetary as a scientific concept focuses on the Earth as an intricate web of ecosystems, with myriad layers of integration between various biogeochemical systems and living beings—both human and non-human.” For some reason at the time I thought of humans as a species (which should be) there to take care of those systems. This is pretty much what Thomas Klaffke describes in his excellent piece on Natural Intelligence, “an intelligence that arises out of the nurturing of nature,” where humans “are using our unique skills as a species—e.g. being able to collaborate in large numbers, to apprehend certain things that other animals might not be able to do, or, even more importantly, to contemplate the future—to become stewards or guardians of nature.”

I’m not quite convinced (yet?) about the parallels with AI, AGI, and superintelligence, but otherwise Klaffke’s concepts are very much ‘my jam,’ with ecosystems, humanity aiming to be bioproductive, biomimicry, and a mutualistic relationships with nature. When he asks “what would be the equivalent when it comes to Natural Intelligence, i.e. Natural General Intelligence or Natural Superintelligence?” Perhaps we don’t need to assemble it, perhaps we ‘just’ need to follow Paul Stamets; “I see mycelium as Earth’s natural Internet, a consciousness with which we might be able communicate.” (Longer quote here.)

Many other members of our biosphere are actually bioproductive simply with their existence and their typical day-to-day activities. How could we humans become more bioproductive? How could all the stuff we produce and how we produce it be productive to nature as well? How could our very existence become (almost) entirely bioproductive? […]

Biomimicry is basically the Generative AI version of Natural Intelligence – General NI, so to speak. There is this input of massive datasets of patterns and strategies found in various diverse ecosystems, which nature or we humans then turn into new designs, new language, new output. […]

The essential perspective shift or reframing at the bottom of all of this is to include nature (or other non-human ecosystems) within the framing, whether it’s the framing of democracy, economy, community, or intelligence. […]

How amazing and rich could the future be if we became stewards of nature, produced goods that nourished nature, learned from nature to create regenerative designs, and cooperated with nature to build mutually beneficial systems?

Bernard Stiegler’s philosophy on how technology shapes our world

This by Bryan Norton, a Mellon Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, is one of those ‘maaann I wish I could read books all day because there’s so many interesting thinkers out there to learn from’ kind of essays. I knew of Stiegler but have never read his books or dived into his thinking. Norton takes us along the philosopher’s thinking, from his time in prison to his mentorship by Lyotard and Derrida, marxism, ancient Greeks, Foucault, and Plato’s pharmacy. Fascinating read.

To horribly summarise; Stiegler believes that from the very beginning of philosophy, ‘we’ haven’t properly recognised the importance of understanding technics, the making and use of technology, and the complex interactions between technology, society, and individual identity. The essence of technology is not a device, it’s “an open-ended creative process, a relationship with our tools and the world.”

Stiegler believed that technology is not just about the effects of digital tools and the ways that they impact our lives. It is not just about how devices are created and wielded by powerful organisations, nation-states or individuals. Our relationship with technology is about something deeper and more fundamental. It is about technics. […]

The more ubiquitous that digital technologies become in our lives, the easier it is to forget that these tools are social products that have been constructed by our fellow humans. […]

Technological development can destroy our sense of ourselves as rational, coherent subjects, leading to widespread suffering and destruction. But tools can also provide us with a new sense of what it means to be human, leading to new modes of expression and cultural practices. […]

Stiegler’s theory of technics urges us to rethink the history of philosophy, art and politics in order that we might better understand how our world has been shaped by technology.

Chain of thought → I’ve mentioned a number of time how I’m fascinated by the serendipity of how we find things, how they connect, and the moment we find them. I think the three featured articles above—which I ‘randomly’ read in that order—can definitely be seen as a sequence of concepts pointing forward.

From third to first; humans understanding our relationships with our tools—as given by Prometheus “to humans in place of a biological talent”—more deeply, including the “recently-evolved smart exoskeleton,” to better understand ourselves. Seeing our place more clearly and taking up a role of stewards for the “intricate web of ecosystems, with myriad layers of integration between various biogeochemical systems and living beings.” All at a planetary scale that we would better understand, respect, and care for.

§ What are the odds?. Somehow I knew but had never realized. “There are so many mind-blowing things about eclipses but the one I can’t stop thinking about is the nearly impossible coincidence that the sun and the moon are the same relative size in the sky. If the moon were a little bit smaller or farther away, we wouldn’t have total eclipses where you can look directly at the sun, see the corona, the sky goes dark, you see a sunset effect all around the horizon, etc. That is some spooky magical shit.” Via a commenter on the post, Hank Green on Tiktok on the same topic. The programmer of our simulation was having a good day when she set this up.

§ We need more calm companies. Justin Jackson has been doing a lot of thinking and writing (and executing) about bootstrapped startups. In this piece he’s attaching a lot of it under a framing I very much support. “Calm companies provide meaningful work, healthy interactions, and flexibility for people's lives. If your kid is home sick, you can set work aside and take care of them. If it's a beautiful day, you can go for a run on the beach.”

Futures, Fictions & Fabulations

Future Days festival recap
Every person I follow who was at this event in Lisbon was raving about it. I’m very much due a swing by Europe, maybe I’ll manage to do it and align with the next edition. In the mean time, you can use Lydia Caldana’s recap to indulge in some post-FOMO and discover or re-discover a bunch of smart people.

Distinguishing futures literacy, futures studies, and Foresight
Riel Miller in 2022, haven’t read yet. “Ever wondered what is the difference between foresight and futures literacy? Are there moments when it seems difficult to untangle tools and capabilities? Do you find yourself feeling like you need to take sides or choose between one set of terms, techniques, and colleagues and another set?”

Futurescape: Trajectories for tomorrow
I don’t expect much from big agencies, but good to keep track of anyway. “Today we find ourselves at an important crossroads. It’s time to make choices that will have lasting impact on how we live and work. For each of the five shifts we explore in this report, we look at two directions they could take. Sometimes they’re opposing, sometimes overlapping—but they all feed into a complex vision that leaders can look to as they reinvent their organization for tomorrow.”

Algorithms, Automation, Augmentation

‘Lavender’: The AI machine directing Israel’s bombing spree in Gaza
Entirely expected, also entirely horrible. “The use of AI to generate targets for assassination, Lavender has played a central role in the unprecedented bombing of Palestinians, especially during the early stages of the war. In fact, according to the sources, its influence on the military’s operations was such that they essentially treated the outputs of the AI machine ‘as if it were a human decision.’”

Humane AI Pin review: the post-smartphone future isn’t here yet
Ouch! “That raises the second question: should you buy this thing? That one’s easy. Nope. Nuh-uh. No way. The AI Pin is an interesting idea that is so thoroughly unfinished and so totally broken in so many unacceptable ways that I can’t think of anyone to whom I’d recommend spending the $699 for the device and the $24 monthly subscription.”

Don’t be fooled: Much of “AI” is just outsourcing, redux
“The promise of AI, for corporations and investors, is that companies can increase profits and productivity by slashing their reliance upon a skilled human workforce. But as this story and many others show, AI is just today’s buzzword for “outsourcing,” and it comes with the same problems that have plagued outsourced companies and workforces for decades.”


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